Traditional lifestyle inspires studies in petroleum engineering

Patterson and oil rig

By Leona Long
UAF College of Rural and Community Development

Jesstin Patterson attends petroleum engineering classes in Fairbanks, hundreds of miles from his home villages, but those places remain foremost in his mind — and often on his taste buds.

Patterson, born in Kotzebue and raised in Barrow, brings coolers filled with traditional foods to share at potlucks when he returns to UAF each fall. The menus often include caribou, salmon, halibut, moose and whale — both beluga and bowhead.

Traditional food like beluga is more than comfort food and potluck fare for Patterson; it’s a big reason he chose petroleum engineering as a major.

“I want to balance our traditional way of life with industry and ensure the environment and our traditional land is handled with the utmost respect,” he said. “This is why I study petroleum engineering.”

Download Arctic Sounder article about Patterson (PDF)

As a very young child, Patterson’s grandparents in Kotzebue taught him respect for the environment and the subsistence lifestyle.

“I felt safe, with my mind completely open to learn. I was a sponge soaking up the knowledge as my grandfather spoke,” Patterson said. “The vast quietness with the only the animals splashing or flying in the distance — I felt at home with my grandparents out in the middle of nowhere.”

School can interfere with his enjoyment of such activities. The fall semester coincides with fall whaling, and spring semester ends after spring whaling, he said.

“I miss hunting,” Patterson said.

Nevertheless, Patterson sticks to his academic program. He wants to ensure that Alaska Natives succeed and become leaders in rural communities. His countless hours of community service and drive for academic excellence comes from a commitment to follow in the footsteps of the role models who inspired him.

Patterson is co-president of the UAF chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which not only organizes the traditional food potlucks but also dedicates time to numerous other service projects. In April, the UAF club won the 2015 national chapter of the year award for the sixth time since 1994.

“We hold ourselves to a high standard of excellence,” Patterson said. “Giving back and sharing helps strengthens the fabric of our community and makes AISES stand out.”


Patterson has received scholarships from the University of Alaska, the Alaska Space Grant Program, the Aqqaluk Trust, the NANA Regional Corp. and the Kikiktagruk Iñupiat Corp.

“The scholarship funding from NANA Regional Corp. and Kikiktagruk Iñupiat Corp. is more significant than money, because it means that my community believes in me,” Patterson said. “I feel encouraged, and it’s positive reinforcement to work harder.”

It helps that school doesn’t require a complete sacrifice of his traditional lifestyle.

“Luckily, spring semester ends just in time for geese hunting — my favorite,” he said.

UAF’s AISES chapter is a student organization sponsored by Rural Student Services at the College of Rural and Community Development. For information on the chapter or how you can earn your certificate or degree in any of CRCD’s 40 programs, call 1-866-478-2721 or 907-474-7143. Visit AISES on Facebook at