Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Transitioning from a Homeschool High School to UAF

My name is Agnes and I moved to Alaska from Central Texas in 2008. My family and I got to Fairbanks just in time to watch the Beijing Olympics. That year I was signed up as a student at IDEA, the Interior District of Education in Alaska. IDEA is one of the homeschooling options in Interior Alaska that helps homeschooling families get anything they need to learn and graduate with a high school diploma.
During my senior year, there was a Guide to College lecture session early that Fall available for all high school students through IDEA. It included how to apply and take the SAT and/or ACT, how to apply for scholarships, the differences between grants and loans, and other helpful information. Most importantly there was a representative from UAF named Aaron. He was passionate about UAF and he told us why. He got his degree at UAF too! That helped me to finally decide to apply only for UAF.
Transition forward and I’m at UAF. Act and SAT taken, acceptance letter received and orientation all in my past! In high school, as I’m sure is normal for other homeschoolers, the largest class I have been in had 7 other students from different families for a co-op Chemistry class. Now, on average, I am in class sizes of around 20-30. I don’t get to take my time drinking coffee in the morning because I have to drive from North Pole to get to class.
The great thing about being homeschooled and now going to college, in person, is the surprise on people’s faces. I love it when they find out, this chatty personable person, was homeschooled. They’re surprised when I have friends, and I’ve been called more than once the “Social Butterfly” because of the amount of other homeschoolers I see around campus going between classes.
The best thing for any homeschooler to do is prepare yourself, hang out with friends in high school, get to know the other students that will be graduating your year though things one of the clubs or at the curriculum fair. Knowing those faces when you get to campus makes you feel at home. The helpful professors and schedule made for you is just another perk!
Homeschooler or not, feel free to leave a question in the comments and I will try to answer in my next post!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Constructing a Fire For Starvation Gulch

My Freshman year I gathered hundreds of pallets to build a fire for Starvation Gulch, and ever since that moment I have been hooked.

Starvation Gulch is
 a tradition started at UAF in 1923 as a way to pass the torch of knowledge to the incoming Freshman students. From that point on it has grown into a massive campus ice breaker, that helps ease students back into school, and helps to kick off a new school year.

Since getting hooked my Freshman year, I have now been the captain of two bonfire building teams here at UAF. And what most people don't understand about the fires is that it is a lot of work not only to build one of those massive fires, but also a ton of work to collect all of the pallets. 

The first step in having a successful bonfire build is having the perfect place to store your pallets. Since you only have four hours to move your pallets onto location, and build your fire. Your hiding spot has to be close to campus, easy access, but hidden enough so other teams don't steal your pallets. Often times this is the most difficult task of the building process, since most college kids don't own property near the University. Regardless, every year we have found a sufficient spot.

The next step is to start gathering pallets, or really anything that is wood. This requires lots of trucks, trailers, and time. You travel from business to business asking for their pallets until you get a big enough load to haul back to your super secret hiding spot. This part can get interesting sometimes with some of the people you encounter, as well as the tie down jobs on the pallets. No matter what, everything always turns out fine, and it is an absolute blast.
Once the mad dash for pallets is over, it is time to get a quick nights rest as Saturday morning everyone is up at 6;30 to meet at school by 7:30. This year the roads were EXTREMELY icy and made hauling trailers very interesting. Anyways, we all met up and headed to our secret hiding spot to load up as many pallets on the trucks as possible. Once the trucks and trailers were loaded we headed to the Nenana Parking lot, the place where we would be building our fire this year. We parked and waited until the clock struck 10 am, and then it was a mad dash. We quickly unloaded all of the pallets we had on the trucks and ran back to get the rest that we had. Meanwhile while people are running back to get pallets, a few stay behind to begin building. Once all of the pallets are on site it becomes a crazy, but systematic building process of people passing pallets higher and higher up the structure. I am usually one of the people that is on the very top of the structure building as it gets higher and higher. At times it can be very nerve racking being so high n the air on something built out of wood that you quickly just threw together, but the structures are always very well built, and surprisingly stable! Before we knew it, we were throwing the last pallets on the fire and stepping back to look at our beautiful creation.. We had done it! With sore backs, tired faces, and hungry bellies, we retired to the local pizza place where we gorged ourselves with delicious pizza to prepare ourselves for the fun night ahead. 

With a full belly and a tired back, I went home and took a well needed shower and nap before the main event was to kick off. The fires are started every year at 10 pm by the University Fire Department, and let me tell you, Starvation Gulch is a huge deal. There are six of the biggest bonfires you have ever seen, a DJ, and tons of booths with delicious food and fun. But being someone who has put so much blood sweat and tears into their fire, my focus is on the fires more than anything else. I want to see how big our fire is going to get, and see if it will win the coveted "Big Ass Flame Award". There is always a lot of anticipation leading up to the first fire lit, and this year, ours happened to be fifth in line.  I was a little nervous right before they lit it, but as soon as the flame hit the structure it certainly did not disappoint. The fire instantly ripped through the structure straight to the top, just like we had planned. The flame started to vortex, sucking more air into the center ,which created an even larger flame. Everything worked just as planned, and now it was time to sit back and enjoy our fire with a complete sense of satisfaction. 

I still get the same satisfying every year when I see all the word work going up in a huge flame for everyone to enjoy. I only have one starvation gulch left, and I am planning on going out with a bang!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Advice I'd Give Myself

Everyone comes to college with different experiences and abilities. Some people have been totally self sufficient for a while, others don't know how to load the washing machine. I was somewhere in the middle when I arrived for my freshman year of college. These are some of the things I wish I'd known:

How to cook for one. I learned fairly young how to cook for a family, but had no idea how to make meals for just one or two people.

How to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. I spent the first part of freshman year trying to "get the most" out of my meal plan. All I got were stomachaches and the freshman 15.

How to make a budget. I'd had a bank account and checkbook for years, but didn't know how to make a budget and stick to it.

Where to go for advice. I spent a lot of time asking other students questions because I didn't know who else to ask. For most of the questions I had, my adviser would've been the best person to ask. When in doubt, that's exactly what they're there for!

What to do when I got sick. I didn't realize how inexpensive (or sometimes FREE) the Health and Counseling Center on campus was! I could have avoided some drawn out illnesses.

Where to go to ask for help. Professors are super willing to help students out with assignments, especially if they make appointments or show up to the professor's office hours.

Where to go when I need to talk to someone. The Health and Counseling Center offers 6 free counseling sessions each semester. It's amazing how helpful they can be!

How to get involved. UAF has several excellent resources for extracurricular activities First, the LIVE (Leadership Involvement and Volunteer Experience) office, which has a list of all the active student organizations  and always has something gong on. UAF also has the Student Activities Office which always puts on great events.

I'm sure there are so many more tidbits of information I'd pass along to freshman me, but those were the most important. I hope this list helps others figure things out that took me quite some time on my own. Best of luck!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Classes Classes Classes

We knew it was coming...  


Yep, it's that time of year where suddenly we have to plan out what we are doing for the next year. 

It's the time to figure out which classes to take, what times you want to get up in the morning, which teachers you have an option of, and if you want to add anything fun to the mix. 

So step 1:
Contact your advisers and make an appointment if you already haven't.

Step 2:
Talk with them and have them help you plan out which classes you should take. 

Step 3: 
Get them to sign your registration form and take it to either the registration office or give it to the necessary person in your department. 

Step 4:
Log on to UAonline and register for your classes. 

Seriously that's it.   

Now maybe you think this advice is unnecessary, maybe you want to wait and do it later....

I mean it will probably be fine... I'm sure there is still that one calc 2 class open at 8am. I'm sure none of the classes that still have open sections are going to conflict with each other....nah....you got dis....

But instead of getting this teacher...


You might end up with this teacher...... 


Trust me I can confirm that this has happened to me....

So my advice is to get your classes as soon as possible if you haven't already. 

Just don't be this guy....


So get your classes together, get your semester in check. And I wish you a very 


Friday, March 20, 2015

Software That Can Make Your College Life Easier

The word "software" might sound intimidating, but try not to freak out. I'm going to be talking about software (computer programs, phone apps, websites, and so on) that can legitimately make your college life (and life in general) easier.
First I'll give a little background information about myself so that you believe that I know what I'm talking about. My name is Noah Betzen, and I'm a computer science undergrad here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I essentially live on the Internet, and I do a lot of browsing, especially for cool programs that make my life easier in whatever aspect I need help with. According to Google, I've made more than 3000 searches in January alone, most of which are related to various programs and websites that are helpful. That obviously isn't a great metric for Internet credibility, but this is my blog post and I do what I want.
There are tons of free and cheap computer programs, phone apps, and websites out there that exist to make your life easier. Some of them are garbage, but others are legitimately useful and fun to use. Some of you might be averse to trying new things, especially if you don't consider yourself a computer person. Don't worry too much. Most of the software I'm going to talk about is designed to be user friendly.
I'll be covering a few different categories of software. Those categories will be:
  • Budgeting (Making The Most Of Your Money)
  • Time And Task Management (Keep Your Life On Schedule)
  • Taxes (Don't Let Taxes Be A Nightmare)
  • Textbooks (How To Find And Pay For Textbooks)
  • Homework and Studying (Learn To Help Yourself)
NOTE: I'm not going to go into too much detail on each of these apps. I'm going to briefly describe them, link them, and let you choose for yourself. Check out their features and read reviews (this advice applies to anything you find on the Internet). A lot of the apps are considered "freemium". This means that they have free versions/options but you can pay for more features. Always be sure to check out pricing information for these to make sure that the free version has the features you want. If I recommend a commercial application (i.e. something you have to pay for regardless, but generally you only pay once instead of monthly subscriptions), I do so only because I think the price is worth it. Keep in mind that I rarely like to spend over $20 for such software.

Budgeting is difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Most banks have some decent software for this, but there are a couple programs that I enjoy that make it a much easier and more entertaining process.
The entire purpose of a budget is to put everything on the table for you to see. You'd be surprised how much more careful you are with your money once you actually see and understand how much you spend. Purely by starting a budget and keeping it updated, you will subconsciously start being more careful.
You Need A Budget is a cool program that helps you create a budget (as the name suggests). YNAB is nice because it is actually fun to use and they offer a bunch of help and tutorials for learning how to budget your money. Normally it costs a bit of money (and it's totally worth it if you want to spend the money), but it was announced last year that YNAB is free for college students now! Info about that is below:
GNUCash is an open-source (read: completely free no matter what) program to help with personal and small-business money management! Open source software (especially software related to GNU) is generally documentation heavy and not the easiest to use at first glance, but if you are willing to read a bit and watch some tutorial videos it's great. If you need help figuring out how to use it, head over to Youtube and search "gnucash tutorial" and you'll be up and running in no time.

Like budgeting, keeping track of how much you spend on various tasks is important. Keeping helpful calendars and to-do lists is also important. Most people have used a calendar before (whether a physical or virtual one), but sometimes those just aren't enough. If you've got a busy life, you've got multiple things to keep track of at once and simple calendars just don't cut it. This will probably be the largest category, because from what I can tell this has the most options available.
The first website I will mention is one that I use religiously… and that is Google Calendar. If you have a Gmail account (all UAF students are given one with their @alaska.edu email address), you have access to Google Calendar. At first glance it might seem like a simplistic calendar that isn't very useful, but I highly encourage you to look through its features and see what it can do.
The second website I will mention is one I have actually used and love, Trello. It's freemium, but the free version is incredibly useful, especially for projects and deadlines.
HabitRPG is a freemium game that helps you build good habits and break bad ones. You level up and gain gold and fight monsters and all of that. If you like video games and have a lot of bad habits, give this a try.
This is an interesting one, but imagine using an interactive stopwatch to keep track of how much time you spend doing certain things? That's what Toggl does. I've never used it, but it looks cool and I'm definitely going to give it a try.
The following five websites/apps all fulfill the same (or at least very similar) functions. Check each of them out, Google some screenshots of them, and give one of them a try. I sorted them in order of which I think look the best or have the best features or have the best pricing.
These next two sites are similar to the previous five, but these are specifically geared towards school homework. Helium is the freemium fancier version, and Get Organized is the older (slightly clunkier, but completely free) version.

Taxes are kind of stressful. We are lucky in Alaska because we don't have state taxes, so we only need to worry about federal taxes. Most popular software for this will offer a free version for federal taxes, so you have plenty of options. However, I will list my favorites (in case anyone reading isn't from Alaska, which is likely).
TaxACT is nice because it's most expensive option for doing federal and state taxes (with some other features) is only $20.
If your income is under $60,000, MyFreeTaxes will help you do your federal and state taxes for free.

This is a touchy subject, as you might understand. I'm going to keep this short and simple. Check your official campus bookstore, then check Amazon and compare. Amazon will also buy used books from you if you want to do that. Shop used if you can. I'm not a fan of renting books, but that is just me. I also highly recommend checking Facebook for various book swap groups (there are a few for UAF, for example). These are nice because you can find books people are getting rid of, request books, or offer your old books.
One tip I can give you is how to find out the books you need. If you aren't a UA student, then this won't be very helpful to you, so I apologize for that.
  1. Head to https://uaonline.alaska.edu/ and log in.
  2. Go to the "Registration" menu.
  3. Go to "Register/Add/Drop Classes".
  4. Submit your term.
  5. On the bottom of the class sign up page, you will see two buttons called "Bookstore Directory" and "Get Books".
  6. Clicking "Get Books" will automatically generate a list of textbooks listed for the courses you are signed up for. Sometimes this doesn't work, but "Bookstore Directory" will lead you to the bookstore site where you can search for classes by course number and such and then you can find your books from there.

Homework help is tough because there are so many subjects, but I've found a few things that are helpful.
Quizlet is great for flash cards. Many subjects and topics can be adequately studied with flashcards, and Quizlet is a great service. I personally used Quizlet to write down over 4,000 words and phrases in Norwegian when I was in Norway studying language, so I know what I'm talking about here.
I'll be honest, I've never used Evernote, but I've heard great things and it looks solid. You can import all sorts of items or create your own and tag them and easily search them. This could greatly simplify your note taking.
If you've ever needed math help, you've probably heard of WolframAlpha. Give it a problem and it'll have an answer and a guided solution (sort of). It used to be completely free; now it is not so free. If you want detailed walkthroughs of problems, you have to pay a subscription (~$6 per month, ~$4 per month for students). However, there are WolframAlpha iOS and Android apps that are only $3 (one-time payment) that give you detailed walkthroughs of problems as well. Even without that feature, the stuff WolframAlpha does for free is still great.

All of the software I've listed here was found using a few different things. Google is your best friend. Learning how to Google is a valuable skill and will help you for the rest of your life. For example, most people know about Quicken (the proprietary budget software by Intuit). Why not search Google for "alternative to quicken"? In general, Googling "alternative to [insert-popular-commercial-software]" is pretty useful. Generally, I Google "best [insert-topic-here] app/program", check out the results, read reviews, and look up popular alternatives to what I find. By doing this a few times on a few different websites and platforms I can get a very informed opinion on what is available and compare it to what I want and need. Although some people hate it, reddit is a pretty good place to find helpful communities (or at least a ton of links to cool stuff). For example, www.reddit.com/r/frugal is a subreddit devoted to learning how to save money. Do a few searches there and you can find all kinds of cool things.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Getting Paid To Learn! Life as A Petroleum Engineering Intern

Swanson River Sunrise

Can you picture working a week on week off schedule, getting paid to learn hands on information in your major, and working in a beautiful National Wildlife Refuge? This was my experience this summer as a summer intern for Hilcorp Alaska, in Swanson River Oilfield inside Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

My name Is Josh McNeal and I am a Petroleum Engineer major who is currently in their 4th semester of study here at UAF.

So how did I get the internship?

Although getting an internship is very unlikely as a freshman, it is still possible! The company that I ended up working for came to UAF looking to hire specifically freshman petroleum engineer students. In order to get an interview, I submitted my high school transcript, ACT scores, and my resume. Based on these three things, I was granted an interview. The interview process was very straightforward. As always for interviews, I was dressed in a full suit, face freshly shaved, hair just cut, and teeth sparkling. During the interview we just went over my resume and my accomplishments as well as previous work experience. The interview was quick and fun. A few weeks later I got the call and was awarded the job!

Who did I work for and where?

The company that I worked for is called Hilcorp. It is one of the largest independent oil and gas producers in the United States, and is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Hilcorp made their first appearance in Alaska in 2011 with the purchase of many assets from Chevron. Since then they have purchased many other assets within Alaska, and have grown their operations significantly. My work location this summer was Swanson River Oil and Gas Field. Swanson River was the first major oil discovery in Alaska, and many people argue that this discovery ushered Alaska into statehood. Swanson River Oil and Gas Field sits directly next to the Swanson River within the beautiful and pristine Kenai National Wildlife refuge, 60 miles south of Anchorage near Sterling, Alaska. Almost every day of work, I saw black bears, moose, and coyotes. It was absolutely amazing to work in such a beautiful place.

What did I do during my internship?

So now you know who I worked for, and where I worked, you are probably curious what I actually did for work. Since I had just finished up my first year, and had taken only an intro engineering class, and had no industry experience, they started me working in the field where I could get my hands dirty. My first four days were spent in the instrument shop where I rebuilt pressure regulators. This was dirty and tedious work but I enjoyed it at the same time.

One type of regulator I rebuilt.
Another type of regulator I rebuilt.

After proving myself in the instrument shop, I moved into the field with the operators to learn daily functions, well testing, bringing new wells on, and how to deal with problems. As I learned more and more, I began to take on rate add projects, and coordinate specific projects. I also got to do pipeline surveys, cost analysis, and well tests. Once I had learned enough, I was sent off on my own. The last 4 weeks of my internship, I often operated by myself. I was in charge of operating approximately 15 wells, 5 of which were rod pumps, 4 gathering stations, shipping pumps, flares, settling tanks, and the main oil line heater.
Standing next to an oil well.

Standing next to a rod pump.

Me standing by the drill Rig Saxon 169.

Pipeline survey with the lead operator.

Standing next to the ATV used for pipeline surveys.

Shutting the swab valve on a gas well to soap it.

Releasing pressure from the well getting ready to remove the cap to soap the well.

Since I had spent all summer learning to be an operator, I asked to return for a week over Christmas and work for people who may have been on vacation with family, and allow me to learn the field when the temperature was below freezing. This was an awesome experience that I greatly enjoyed.

 A rod pump during winter.

 The original discovery well in Swanson River. This well helped usher Alaska into statehood.

Morning sunrise over the field.

Let me take a selfie!

March 27th is UAF Inside Out Day!

Things look different from far away. Edges are blurred, and detail is lost. It isn't until you're up close that every tiny element is present and tangible.

When you're searching for a college that is the right fit for you, that detail is really valuable. College is kind of a big deal. You'll probably be spending a good portion of the next 4 years of your life there! Do you like the atmosphere? The people? The recreational activities? The food? With such a big decision, details really matter. 

Inside Out at UAF gives people a chance to see those details! On March 27th, we invite you to come to campus and get a up-close, personal, all-questions-asked view of our university, so you can start to see if UAF has the details you're looking for!

We are ready to welcome you to UAF! Photo by JR Ancheta

If you are:
  • Somebody who wants to see what college is like
  • Somebody who wants to go to UAF
  • Somebody who wants to learn about the college admissions process, scholarships, and more!
  • Somebody who likes meeting some enthusiastic people and doing fun activities
Then UAF Inside Out is perfect for you!

Here's what we'll be doing:

7:45 a.m.Check-In and Registration 

  • A casual social atmosphere to start your morning right with coffee and breakfast!
8:40 a.m. Welcome 
  • Learn what it means to be a Nanook!*
*Body paint is not necessary to be a Nanook. It is pretty rad though! Photo by Todd Paris
9:15 a.m. 
Students: Mock Classes 
  • Find out more about the schools and colleges within UAF which interests you most.
Parents: Transitioning to College
  • learn how to support your college-bound child!
10:15 a.m. Walking Tours 
  •  Get acquainted with the layout of UAF.
Make sure you ask your tour guide to point out the Terrain Park! Photo by Todd Paris

11:45 a.m. -1:45 p.m. Choose your own Schedule
  •  Individually choose sessions on what you want to learn more about!
 2:00 p.m. UAF Student Panel
  • Ask current students your burning questions and get their honest answers.  Send parents to the the "Taking Care of Business Panel" to let them ask the serious questions.
 3:00 p.m. Reception at the Wood Center Ballroom 
  • I'm not saying anything...but...this has involved cookies in the past!
3:30 p.m. On-the-Spot Admission and Q&A
  • Students must register and submit the required admission documents prior to the event date. See the UAF Admissions page for more details!

Inside Out is a super great way to see the details. Whether or not you end up coming to UAF, it's good to know what your options are, and Inside Out gives you the opportunity to see those options! We hope to see everyone on March 27th! 
Nanook wants YOU to come to Inside Out! Photo by Todd Paris