published March 6, 2013

Connecting Where You Live With What You Teach – The Alaska SCEWest Node

Amanda Moodie, NCSCE

This article is the third installment in our monthly series featuring updates on current activities from each of the seven nodes in the Science and Civic Engagement Western Network. SCEWestNet, funded by the W. M. Keck Foundation, is a two-year initiative to forge durable connections and robust curriculum development across 17 states of the West. Individual nodes are made up of at least three partner institutions and one lead institution in each of seven regions comprising the western United States. In this issue, we feature Alaska. Dr. Lawrence K. Duffy, Interim Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at University of Alaska Fairbanks, serves as the nodal leader.

Larry Duffy, a SENCER alumnus has developed a strong nodal presence spanning all major regions of Alaska in an effort to develop a network of science educators working on three goals:
- improve the quality of environmental and biology education,
- increase underrepresented students' access to career pathways, and
- develop cohorts of graduate students and faculty capable of teaching science associated with these complex issues.

To meet these goals, Larry has partnered with Ilisagvik Tribal College and multiple branches of the University of Alaska system, including Southeast Campus and Bristol Bay Community Campus. Larry reports that, "the SENCER network and SCEWestNet node for Alaska are making an impact with rural and minority students in Alaska, where place-based science courses and activities about current issues are valued." He believes that, "where you live should have something to do with what you teach."

The SCEWestNet Alaska Node has organized several meetings as part of their nodal activities and has planned others for the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2013. In 2012, the Alaska node offered a local workshop as part of the SAGE 2YC program, an effort to connect rural and urban faculty to share information about preparing students in rural two-year colleges for science degrees and careers. In addition to this SAGE 2YC workshop, summer camps have been updated to incorporate elements of the SENCER ideals and offered by two of the partner institutions, Ilisgavik Tribal College and University of Alaska Bristol Bay Community Campus.


Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, instructor in Biology and Chemistry at Ilisagvik Tribal College summarizes part of this reformed summer camp program that focused on the 'Climate and Permafrost Changes on the North Slope in Cultural Context.' She reports:


As in this past year, Ilisagvik College located in Barrow, Alaska will hold a two-week summer session, the "Climate and Permafrost Changes on the North Slope in Cultural Context" camp for 12 high school aged Native youth. During the summer program (July 30 - August 12, 2013), the students will learn about weather, climate, ecology, carbon chemistry and air pollution, as well the physical impacts on permafrost, water distribution, and waste disposal. Also, students will be exposed to the place based and traditional knowledge on climate by learning the observations of local Elders. Information gained from this experience will help them to develop and enhance their personal understanding of the permafrost's significant relationship and impact on their local villages/communities. As was in the case in the 2012 summer camp, students will learn how to share their insights on a broader national and international platform though the use of technological tools such as the iPod touch, websites, webcasting, and social media applications. Two students and one chaperone will travel to the 2013 National Conference of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science on October 2-7, 2013. The conference theme is "Strengthening the Nation through Diversity, Innovation & Leadership in STEM."


Todd Radenbaugh, assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at University of Alaska Bristol Bay Community Campus, sent the following information about the upcoming Bristol Bay Salmon Camp to be held for both high school and college level students. The camp will provide college course credit for students learning scientific data collection and field techniques on Lake Aleknagik.


"Natural History of Salmon in the Wood Tikchik Lakes (Salmon Camp)" is held each summer in conjunction with Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) and the USFWS Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Salmon Camp provides school students an experiential learning in environmental science on Lake Aleknagik while earning college credit. Students come from Bristol Bay communities as well as from across the state. The course focuses on salmon and salmon habitat by teaching a variety of field techniques to collect scientific data. These techniques include beach seining, stream profiling, measuring water quality, and operating and monitoring renewable energy equipment. In addition to learning salmon natural history, students will focus on a research project that requires data collection and analysis. Last year, Salmon Camp concluded at the BBEDC's packed boardroom where the students made presentations on the data they collected and discussed what they learned during the camp. We expect to have the same impact this year. More information and videos can be found here (2012) and here (2010).


Along with the Salmon Camp, Dr. Radenbaugh is implementing two courses:
- Natural History of Alaska, a required lab intensive during which students from across rural Alaska meet in Juneau at NOAA's Ted Stevens Marine Research Station for a week of field and lab work; and
- Elements of Physical Geography, an innovative online lab for rural Alaskan students so they can complete the course from their home communities. Most students taking this class are not on the road system and live in villages with fewer than 400 people.


The Alaska node is hosting their regional nodal meeting on March 20 in Nome, Alaska at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference and Forum and attend SSI 2013 to share their current work with other SCEWestNet and SENCER participants.