University of Washington delivers Internet program to Bering Sea community

February 23, 2004

UW Extension and the Information School are teaching the online Certificate in Web Technology Solutions to a group of 17 students in St. Paul Island, a 40-square-mile island north of the Aleutian chain. The program has been sponsored by Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX), an Aleut native corporation, through a grant by the U.S. Department of Education.

Students in the program are learning basic web publishing and data management skills, with an emphasis on programming. They take their lessons online, via satellite link with the mainland, and hold regular phone and video conferences with their instructors in Seattle. The program also has a local teaching assistant and lab coordinator to support the lessons and help with the technology.

Helen Letts, project director for the program, said TDX is sponsoring the courses to provide new technology skills to the local population, in an effort to attract new business opportunities and diversify the local economy. St. Paul is a very small community (590 residents during the 2000 Census, only one general store) that relies on fishing, crabbing, tourism and government for jobs.

Though the UW program is still a novelty, she said most residents have eagerly welcomed it and are doing well. About a third of the students are high school seniors in St. Paul (and one student from the nearby island of St. George), but the rest are adult learners. Part of that has to do with the fact that St. Paul islanders are already very computer savvy.

“These kids live on the Internet out here,” Letts said. “The web is an easy way to deliver technology, so why not learn what you are already doing?”

“It’s really interesting,” said Zoe Holbrooks, instructor of the first course in the four-course program, Introduction to Web Publishing. “People expected them not to be at all savvy. But quite a lot of them have been using computers since elementary school.”

Holbrooks said the class represents the best aspect of online learning – providing education to folks who otherwise would have no access.

“I’m strongly committed to the idea that education should be available as remotely as you can get it,” Holbrooks said. “For some people, going to a campus at 8 in the morning is not a realistic option,” she said.

Students who complete all courses in the program will earn 12 UW credits and a certificate of completion. Letts said she hopes the program can spark students’ interest in technology careers, and eventually build enough of a skilled population to attract investments from the mainland.

St. Paul Island is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a small chain located about 250 miles from the Aleutian Islands. The Pribilofs were settled by Russian fur traders, who forcibly relocated Aleuts from the mainland to harvest seals. The islands have been part of the United States since 1867.

For more information on the program, contact:
Helen Letts
director, TDX Pribilof Tech Project
907-278-2312, or hrlets @

Zoe Holbrooks
UW Extension instructor

John Stephens, UW Extension program manager

For more information about the Certificate in Web Technology Solutions, visit