An immersive BBNA internship in the natural sciences provides hands-on experience

Aug 5, 2021

Since 2000, the Bristol Bay Native Association has offered annual internship opportunities for Native students with a focus on biological and social sciences. The experience provides a unique learning opportunity, and a window into scientific research.  

Walrus hauling out on Round island. June 2021
Credit Ashe Christensen

Seventeen-year-old Ashe Christensen recently wrapped up a unique, six-week summer internship with the Bristol Bay Native Association that had her counting walruses, seabirds and salmon in remote parts of Alaska.

Christensen, who is from Anchorage, was one of two summer interns at BBNA. The internship program started in 2000, and, so far, it has included about 100 students interested in biological and social sciences.

Christensen wants to study natural sciences at college.

Her summer internship started at the Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary on Round Island, helping biologists with their research.

“I was there shadowing the researchers that stay out there all summer. They keep an eye on how many walrus show up on each beach every day and how many sea lions show up on each beach every day. Also, they keep records on any observations they noticed of birds or other animals,” she said. 

Round Island is the only island in the sanctuary with structures and amenities. And, Christensen said, the sleeping arrangements on the island made for an adventurous experience.

“I got to sleep in the tent every night which was quite the adventure. The first week was amazing weather and you could hear the walrus swimming along in the bay and making noises,” she said. 

The trip was originally planned for ten days, but the stormy summer weather kept the group in place for almost two weeks.

In addition to helping count walrus, sea lions and birds, Christensen took the opportunity to explore.

“On the fifth day I was there, we hiked to the summit and we looked around and one of the coolest things I remember is looking over on the other side of the island, and seeing a rock spire with a eagles nest in it, and it had an eagle chick in it. It was amazing -- I've never seen anything like that,” she said.

Christensen returned to Anchorage last week to prepare for the fall semester at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

She is also a student in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program’s University Success program.  She participated in ANSEP in high school too, an experience that led to the summer internship.

The Bristol Bay Native Association internships are also supported by the Office of Subsistence Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Contact the author at stephanie@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.