Friday, March 20, 2009

Local Rotarians toast UA Geography professor

UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga, left, with Don Lynch
UA Geography Program Professor Emeritus Don Lynch was honored March 16 at the College Rotary Club meeting in Fairbanks. Affiliated with the geography program at UAF since 1970, Lynch earned a PhD from Yale University in 1965. His research interests include regional, economic, and historic geography in Alaska, northern Scandinavia, and Siberia.

UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga told the audience it was a daunting task to follow in Lynch’s footsteps. “He is a true Renaissance man,” Sfraga said. “We are building on what Don has left us at the university and he has built a legacy.”

Sfraga said Lynch’s former students inevitably say they learned a great deal from him and that he is a big thinker with an incredibly big heart. “He brought a definitive way of thinking,” Sfraga commented. “He had the vision to grow the geography department. Now we have four degrees instead of two and we have grown to include the graduate level.”

He said Lynch had challenged the geography department to connect with teachers and students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and now there is a tremendous outreach effort in that area, through National Geographic Society and Google. “It is a pleasure to be a small part of what Don has created at the university and in the community,” Sfraga said. “The measure of an institution is the students we put out there as thinkers and the faculty members who serve the university and the community. I don’t know anyone who has done as well for as long as Don Lynch.”

Colleague John Kelley said, “I have the highest respect for Don as a scholar.” And colleague Rudy Krejci said, “Thanks to Don, geography became a solid discipline.”

Lynch grew up in Seattle and attended Yale University, where he majored in history and Russian studies for his undergraduate work and geography and Russian studies for his graduate degrees. He worked as a civilian with the Air Force, for a research analysis corporation, then Teledyne Corp. before getting the offer to teach at UAF. His family had been in and out of Alaska since the Gold Rush and he had worked on a survey team in Sitka and the Kenai Peninsula.

He said he loves geography because it is an integrated discipline that helps you understand the world in which you live. He praised the students and faculty at UAF. “You won’t find students like ours anywhere in the world,” he said. “Our students have done things with their lives.”

In addition to Rotary service work, Lynch has been very active in the Elks Lodge, Phi Kappa Pi, and the UAF Faculty Senate. He has traveled extensively and speaks Russian, German, Norwegian, and Finnish. For twenty years he served on an International Geophysical Union commission for marginal lands. “I’ve had the kind of life where you are constantly doing things you want to be doing,” he said.

Further reading:
Geography of Alaska study guide by Donald Francis Lynch, 2003, University of Alaska, (PDF)

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