Alaska students team with NASA on groundbreaking research

February 21, 2017

GCI’s TERRA network allows high school students to help solve global problems

 KODIAK, Alaska – February 20, 2017 Alaska is known as the biggest state, but it’s quickly gaining a reputation for even bigger ideas as NASA has asked high school students in Kodiak and the Yukon-Kuskokwim area to research community sustainability for NASA’s first-ever global CitySmart conference in Italy.

The students are part of the A World Bridge project, a partnership between the Kodiak and Yupiit school districts, Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in New York and real-time, project-based education group Trillium Learning. Together, the group is working on projects in renewable energy; agricultural systems development; water purification and treatment; and other critical community issues. (Release continues after the photo)

 Kiae Shin and Ron Fortunado at a windfarm in Oct. 2016 during a wind turbine inspection for the Kodiak Electric Association.
(Photo courtesy of Ron Fortunato)

Through A World Bridge, about 120 Alaska high school students have been virtually teaming up with scientists at NASA, NOAA and other organizations to design and implement real-world solutions to challenges facing Arctic communities. NASA hopes these virtual learning partnerships will stimulate greater interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and will help engage the next generation of NASA scientists.

GCI’s broadband networks are supporting students’ research and helping to connect them with some of the top minds in the nation.

“We love to see students using broadband for amazing projects like those coming out of A World Bridge,” said Dr. Pam Lloyd, vice president, GCI Education and Healthcare. “Not only do these projects help students connect each other, they offer an authentic learning experience, creating solutions to the challenges we face in the Arctic. These students are truly making a difference on an international scale.”

Kodiak junior Kiae Shin said A World Bridge offers her and her peers a chance to immerse themselves in subjects like nanotechnology, agriculture, biology, physics, computer engineering and electrical engineering. 

“The most exciting thing for me is that A World Bridge projects connect high school students with incredible professionals in the STEM fields, which helps students to understand how the curriculum that we learned in high school is connected to the real world,” Shin said.

Ron Fortunato, president of Trillium Learning, has been invited by NASA to present the students’ work at the CitySmart conference in Florence. The March event will be attended by mayors from cities across the globe and representatives from the United Nations, UNESCO, European Space Agency and more.

“We are extremely proud of the work our students our doing through the A World Bridge project,” said Stewart McDonald, superintendent of Kodiak Island Borough School District. “Our vision for education in the 21st century is a blended approach that leverages technology to connect students with peers, experts and resources from around the world. Learning becomes much more engaging and exciting when students have opportunities like A World Bridge.”

One of the A World Bridge projects is a real-time Earthquake Signal Precursors system based on the theory that tectonic plates generate electromagnetic signals prior to an earthquake. Students designed and built a system that can pick up on these electromagnetic anomalies and, in theory, forecast seismic activity.

Students entered the project in the NASA World Wind Europa Challenge in 2015 and took first place, beating teams from American and foreign universities. In 2016, they took first place among academic institutions again. They plan to submit their prototype for a NASA CitySmart application to this year’s competition.

Over the summer, Shin interned with NASA and worked remotely on visualizing the data being collected by the forecast system – more than 13 million data points per day.

Fortunato stressed that connectivity is crucial when working on joint projects like this.

“We need bandwidth because communication is the key to all of it,” Fortunato said. “When we have a good coms link, and we can see and share data over long distances, bandwidth becomes a critical factor in being able to collaborate.”

Shin, who moved to Alaska from Korea two years ago, said having broadband access in Alaska not only keeps her connected to family and friends, but also helps her pursue her passions.

“Ninety-eight percent of my life is on the internet,” Shin said. “I need it to communicate with other teams in other countries. And I do a lot of online research.”


About GCI

GCI delivers communication and technology services in the consumer and business markets. Headquartered in Alaska with additional locations in the U.S., GCI has delivered services for more than 35 years to some of the most remote communities and in some of the most challenging conditions in North America. Learn more about GCI at

Media Contact

Heather Handyside, GCI
(907) 301-3481;