For her first teaching positions out of college, Mariah Vraniak decided to put her Wright State education to the cultural test. Over the past two years, the 2015 Middle Childhood Education graduate has been successfully teaching math and computer programming courses to middle schoolers in Alaska.
“I originally chose to teach in Alaska because it sounded like an adventure to get to experience a unique culture first hand,” Vraniak said. “It was a big move, but luckily I was right. It was amazing to live and work in a totally different kind of community.”
Vraniak reports that many of her students and members of the local villages practice traditional Eskimo lifestyles. In order to better understand the residents’ perspectives and gain rapport with her pupils, she decided to immerse herself into the culture.
“Many Native Alaskans live a subsistence lifestyle, which means they hunt, fish and gather for most of their food,” she explained. “As a new teacher in a totally different kind of community, I sought to understand my students better by participating in as many of the community activities that I was able.”
Some of the events Vraniak has experienced include: picking berries in the tundra to use in akutaq or Eskimo Ice Cream, participating in a weekly traditional Eskimo dance, Yuraq, and harvesting moose, muskox, seal, and beluga meat with local women. As a result of her assimilation efforts, she received the traditional Yupik name, Nasgauq, by a respected local woman.
“It is a huge honor to be given a Yupik name because typically it is the name of someone who has passed on,” she said. “The belief is that the person lives on through you.”
Along with the privilege of being accepted into the community, Vrankiak reports that her Yupik name helped improve her relationship with her students.
“They loved being able to call me Nasgauq or Nus for short,” she stated. “It helped them feel connected to me on a level that would have been otherwise unachievable.”
In addition to integrating herself into the culture, for the past year Vraniak has implemented a new computer programming course into her school’s educational system.
“Since I was the first to teach it in the district, I was able to build the curriculum from the ground up,” she said. “I have been working a lot on the district level creating common assessments for other teachers to use once more schools adopt the course.”
Vrankiak accredits an assessment course taught by Dr. Patel, Wright State’s Teacher Education Department (TED) chair, as a helpful tool in this process.
“My favorite thing about Wright State’s TED program was the incredible faculty members,” she stated. “Each one had extensive classroom experience that they were able to share with us, and they were all so invested in our success as future educators.”
The Alaskan teacher suggests that current education students should make the most of their experiences at Wright State.
“My final advice would be to not do the bare minimum in school,” she said. “I still use a lot of my assignments from school. One of my favorites to use is my Integrated Unit.”