Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Outgoing borough mayor shares tips with students

From left, SNRAS graduate students Tracy Rogers, Benjamin Rance, Leah Roach, former borough mayor Jim Whitaker, Yosuke Okada, and Tina Buxbaum examine Whitaker's files.

When former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker arrived at the UAF campus Nov. 19 to be the guest speaker for the SNRAS graduate seminar he did not show up empty-handed.

During his four years as a state representative and six as the borough mayor, Whitaker had accumulated forty-three bankers’ boxes of files. He randomly selected one from his garage to take to the seminar and as he talked to the students about policy he grabbed papers from the box and read excerpts. Each file had a story behind it. Items he pulled out brought forth tales of Bill Allen of VECO, former Sen. Ted Stevens, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, BP price fixing, and proposed legislation.

“Public policy is frustrating as hell,” Whitaker said. He urged the students to imagine what it would be like if they weren’t able to trust the people who make public policy. “We expect people to be honest and we should require them to be so,” he said.

“It’s easy to be cynical and it’s appropriate to be critical. The system works because of all the components.”

Whitaker advised the audience to look at lands in the context of global warming. He said Alaska is in an uncomfortable position right now. “Maybe we will get a slap in the face from Washington, D.C. Maybe it’s OK we are moving in that direction, away from Ted Stevens having all the power. Things are changing and we have to recognize that. We can’t have old set values; we know so much darn more now.”

As much planning as there has been in Alaska for a gas pipeline Whitaker predicted the state would be lucky to have one by 2054 if counting on Outside assistance. “We need to find a way to do a gas pipeline ourselves or find alternative energy. If we don’t take care of our energy needs we are at risk.”

He said public policy works best when people get involved. “It’s slow; it’s cumbersome and I’m proud to be part of it,” Whitaker said. “The system works; I didn’t say it was perfect.”

Serving the public has been the most rewarding experience of his life, Whitaker said. His advice to anyone considering running for office is to put others ahead of themselves, tell the truth, and to be straightforward, thoughtful, and considerate.

“If I were young and idealistic like you I would ask why aren’t things better,” Whitaker said. “My invitation to you is to change it. This is one of the few places in the world where you can do it.”

Since leaving the mayor’s office in mid-November, Whitaker said he will shy away from anything political for a while and is looking forward to going to back to school.

Related reading:
Former mayor says borough needs to solve its own problems, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Nov. 21, 2009, by Amanda Bohman

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sfraga named vice chancellor

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers has named Mike Sfraga (pictured at right) UAF’s new vice chancellor for students.

Sfraga is currently the director of the UA Geography Program and associate dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. As vice chancellor, he will oversee a broad range of departments that serve UAF’s students, including admissions, the registrar’s office, financial aid, student activities, and residence life.

"Dr. Sfraga has the background and experience UAF needs to build its reputation as a student-focused research university,” Rogers said. “Mike has shown that he takes the ‘for students’ part of the new title seriously."

Sfraga’s career at the university has spanned nearly twenty-five years. During that time, he has served in a variety of student services and academic positions, from his first job at UAF as a residence hall director to associate vice president for student and enrollment services at UA statewide. He assumed his current duties in 2005.

Sfraga earned his bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree in geography and northern studies from UAF. He also holds a master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.

Sfraga said he hopes to provide a supportive and responsive atmosphere for students.

"I am honored to lead a division of committed professionals who work hard each day to foster a student-centered university,“ Sfraga said. “I'm excited and motivated to be a part of this institutional commitment."

Sfraga replaces Tim Barnett, who left UAF in June to take a position as vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Jake Poole, vice chancellor for advancement, has filled the position in the interim. Sfraga will start his new job on Jan. 1.

SNRAS/AFES Dean and Director Carol Lewis said, "This is an opportunity to have an important voice for research on the chancellor's cabinet."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alaska Farm Bureau lauds SNRAS researcher

Radishes are just one crop Jeff Werner grows at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The Alaska Farm Bureau selected SNRAS Research Professional Jeff Werner as the 2009 recipient of the Ag Appreciation Award. The award is presented annually to someone who makes continuous contributions to Alaska’s agricultural community. In addition to his horticultural work for UAF, Werner serves as the state FFA advisor and partners with local businesses to provide jobs for youth and extend UAF research to the community.

Werner said he is fortunate to serve Alaska as the FFA advisor. “I had such great experiences as a young person in FFA,” he said. He works with middle and high school students as well as members of the UAF collegiate chapter of FFA.

Werner began partnering with Chena Hot Springs Resort six years ago when owner Bernie Karl requested help. “His generosity and enthusiasm have driven the success of the project that has provided an example of year-round large scale greenhouse production for Alaska,” Werner said. The cooperation with Pike’s Waterfront Lodge greenhouse originated as an opportunity to employ young people in the Fairbanks area, and has evolved to become an additional research site for small scale short season community greenhouse production.

Throughout his tenure with FFA and agriculture in Alaska, Werner said he has enjoyed working with farmers, producers, agency people, and young people of Alaska. “I hope that the work that I have been involved with, and will continue to be involved with, is beneficial to the people of the Alaska,” he said.

As an advocate of Alaska’s agriculture Werner said he “will continue to strive to make a difference in the lives of Alaskans through service at the university, the FFA, and as a friend.” He said he owes thanks to everyone who has been a part of his career, including the pioneers of Alaska’s agriculture who employed his parents, such as Max Sherrod, Paul Dinkens, and Bud Barnhardt, and to his UAF instructors Jim Drew, Jay McKendrick, Fred Husby, and Meriam Karlsson.

Werner could not be present to accept the award at the Farm Bureau annual meeting in Anchorage Nov. 13. He was in Japan at an international greenhouse lighting conference, presenting the research from Chena Hot Springs, and looking forward to returning with more information to benefit Alaska’s greenhouse industries.

Werner’s family moved from Michigan in the late 1960s, settling in the Palmer area, raising nine children and working primarily in sawmills.

As a student at Palmer High School, Werner was active in FFA and was a member of the Alaska Farmers and Stockgrowers Association. He spent much of his time helping others harvesting hay, digging potatoes, and milking cows. He also raised his own beef and pigs and started and operated a landscape management business. Mowing lawns became a new pastime, and flowers became a passion. FFA was a big part of his high school career. He served as a state officer for the Alaska FFA from 1983 to 1985, and has attended most of the ag symposiums since 1983.

Werner graduated from UAF in 1993 with a degree in natural resources management with an emphasis in plant science and fisheries. In 1996 he was employed with the Cooperative Extension Service working in water quality. In 1997, he became a SNRAS research professional and has spent the past twelve years working with Professor Meriam Karlsson in controlled environment, greenhouse crop, and commercial field crop opportunities, discovering new and innovative techniques for crop production.

Related posts:

Who says you can't grow corn in Alaska? SNRAS Science & News, July 30, 2009

Growing opportunity: UAF hydroponics and the FFA at Pike's Waterfront Lodge, SNRAS Science & News, June 10, 2009

Fair garden showcases SNRAS research, SNRAS Science & News, June 12, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Eating Alaska" to be shown at UAF Tuesday

What happens to a vegetarian who moves to Alaska and marries a commercial fisherman and deer hunter? Find out by watching the film Eating Alaska Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. at UAF's Schaible Auditorium in the Bunnell Building, 303 Tanana Loop East.

Join Ellen Frankenstein on a wry search for a sustainable, healthy, and ethical meal. Women try to teach her to hunt, teens gather traditional foods, vegans give cooking lessons, she fishes for wild salmon, scrutinizes food labels with kids, and finds toxic chemicals getting into wild foods. With humor and compassion, the documentary Eating Alaska shows Natives and non-natives trying to balance buying industrial processed foods with growing their own and living off the land. Made by a former urban vegetarian now living in Sitka, the movie is a journey into regional food traditions, our connection to where we live, and what we put into our mouths.

Eating Alaska has been shown at the Mendocino Film Festival, American Conservation Film Festival, Food for Thought Film Festival, National Food Security Conference, UC Sustainability Conference, Alaska Public Health Summit, and Slow Food Boston.

There is no fee to see the movie, which is being hosted by the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market. At UAF parking is free in the evenings.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More films on food and farming

Palmer is holding its inaugural Local Food, Local Harvest Film Fest from Thursday, November 19th through Sunday, November 22nd. This brings more movies to Alaskans on local eating and food growing.

Aside from movies profiled before on this blog, a few more (not necessarily at the film fest) include:

Alaska Far Away is a movie about the Matanuska Colony.

Good Food, a film on sustainable food and farming in the Pacific Northwest. From the website:
Something remarkable is happening in the fields and orchards of the Pacific Northwest. Small family farmers are making a comeback. They're growing much healthier food, and lots more food per acre, while using less energy and water than factory farms.

For decades Northwest agriculture was focused on a few big crops for export. But to respond to climate change and the end of cheap energy, each region needs to produce more of its own food and to grow food more sustainably.

Good Food visits producers, farmers’ markets, distributors, stores, restaurants and public officials who are developing a more sustainable food system for all.

Ingredients is a documentary on local food. From the website:
At the focal point of this movement, and of this film, are the farmers and chefs who are creating a truly sustainable food system. Their collaborative work has resulted in great tasting food and an explosion of consumer awareness about the benefits of eating local.

Attention being paid to the local food movement comes at a time when the failings of our current industrialized food system are becoming all too clear. For the first time in history, our children’s generation is expected to have a shorter lifespan than our own. The quality, taste and nutritional value of the food we eat has dropped sharply over the last fifty years. Shipped from ever-greater distances, we have literally lost sight of where our food comes from and in the process we've lost a vital connection to our local community and to our health.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Community sustainability forum: food security

Sustainability has many faces: economic, industrial, social, environmental, agricultural, political. The definition used by the Sustainable Community Action Network for Fairbanks is “the ability to meet everyone’s needs without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs.” SCANFairbanks hosted a forum on this topic Nov. 4 at the Noel Wien Library in Fairbanks.

The Natural Step

Suzy Fenner of SCANFairbanks introduced speakers Ritchie and Mike Musick, who used the example of the port city of Göteborg, Sweden, to explain the concepts of the Natural Step for Communities. Mike Musick, a Fairbanks North Star Borough assemblyman, carpenter, and former contractor, has had a longstanding interest in green and northern building techniques and recycling. Several years ago the Musicks went to Sweden and attended a conference in Göteborg, learning how the city has incorporated recycling, renewable energy, urban agriculture, waste heat recapture, public transportation, and other systems into its aim to become a zero-environmental impact municipality. The couple also traveled elsewhere in the country, looking at how Sweden manages its forests.

The Natural Step is a science-driven framework of guiding sustainability principles that outline the conditions essential for life on the planet. This became national policy in Sweden, which plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050. The Natural Step is now an international organization with offices in 11 countries. As shown on the Natural Step website, the basic conditions and principles derived from the program are:

The Musicks pointed out that Sweden’s culture and government are different than that of the US, and that therefore a different approach to implementing these principles in Alaska is appropriate.

Food security for Alaska

Food security and sustainable agriculture in Alaska were the other forum topics, speakers Gary Currington and Hans Geier. Currington described his interests in energy efficiency and gardening: he is experimenting with various mulches (shredded newspapers, etc.) and hydroponics, has a water catchment and cistern system, a composting toilet, and a wood stove.

Hans Geier spoke on the imminent establishment of the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market. Geier, who is a board member of the FCCM, is also a Cooperative Extension Service agent, an instructor with SNRAS, and a farmer. The FCCM will concentrate on selling locally produced goods and food. He described one of the difficulties in getting Alaska-grown food into the hands of consumers, saying that most Alaska seafood in the state’s supermarkets has been first shipped to distributors in Seattle and then shipped back up to Alaska. The market will try to establish direct shipping from Alaska businesses, such as seafood cooperatives, farmers’ cooperatives, the two dairies (Matanuska Creamery and Northern Lights Dairy), Alaska-grown oyster producers, and so on.

Many villages and towns in Alaska have created plans to improve the sustainability of their communities, and a frequent feature of this endeavor is encouraging local food production. This does not always come as a result of seeking environmental or economic sustainability. For example, the Sitka Health Summit wanted a healthier populace; as a result, the city now has the Sitka Local Food Network, which features a farmers’ market and a community garden, farm, and greenhouse. Sitka is working to reinvent itself as a bicycle friendly community, and is organizing to build a community health and wellness center. Villages such as Chickaloon are building community greenhouses or establishing community gardens.

The audience engaged in a discussion about state and local policy toward agriculture, zoning and agricultural development, the effect of rationalization of fisheries (it’s now safer, but can be permits can be very expensive because of the limited number of shares of catch, so it is harder for new fishermen to enter the fishery), and support available for growers and consumers (such as the Alaska Farmers’ Markets Association, the Alaska Farmers’ Union, the Alaska Cooperative Development Program, and the like). Geier gave an example of the isolation of Alaska agriculture through such policies as restrictions on importing livestock: cattle cannot be trucked through Canada from the Lower 48—they can be flown in to Alaska (which is of course prodigiously expensive), or cattle already resident in the state can be artificially inseminated with imported semen. Still, he explained, there is good potential for agricultural expansion in Alaska: “Only about 10 percent of the designated farmland in the state is actually being used. There’s plenty of demand, plenty of land, just not enough farmers.”

During the course of the discussion, Tom Paragi, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, described the results of a study he and others did on the relative proportions of red meat imported, produced in-state, or from Alaska game: 85 percent of red meat from hoofed animals came from Outside. Paragi estimated that there is a ten-day reserve supply of food in most of the state, but only a three-day supply in Fairbanks.

SNRAS professor on agenda for TEDx Anchorage

UA Geography Program Director Mike Sfraga (pictured at left) is one of the featured speakers at TEDx in Anchorage Nov. 14.

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share their passions. TEDx is based on the TED Concept (Technology, Entertainment, Design--elements that are shaping the future). Attendees have called it “the ultimate brain spa.” At international TED events, the diverse audience of CEOs, scientists, creatives, philanthropists is almost as extraordinary as the speakers, who have included Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Frank Gehry, Paul Simon, Sir Richard Branson, Philippe Starck, and Bono. TED is an annual event where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about.

At the Anchorage seminar, Sfraga will speak on climate change modeling, highlighting the research being conducted by the SNAP program. Other speakers include storyteller Jack Dalton; Chris Rose, executive director, Renewable Energy Alaska Project Clean Energy Opportunities for Alaska; poet Kima Hamilton; George Martinez, founder/president of Global Block Foundation Sustainable Americas: A Global Block Perspective; Phil Klein, founder Pen & Pexil; Mead Treadwell, chair of the US Arctic Research Commission. Speaking via video will be Bill Clinton on rebuilding Rwanda and Bill Gates on mosquitoes, malaria, and education.

TEDx is free to the public, with limited seating. Registration is required. TEDx will be held Saturday, Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a reception following. The location is the Sydney Laurence Theatre, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, 621 W. 6th Ave., Anchorage.

UA Geography takes giant map to Alaska schools

Fifth graders at Woodriver Elementary in Fairbanks learned geography skills Nov. 12 when UA Geography's Katie Kennedy visited with the Giant Map of North America.
The state's first tour of the Giant Map of North America is off to a great start, according to Katie Kennedy, education and outreach coordinator of the UA Geography Program. More than a dozen school gyms around Alaska will become geographic learning labs as Kennedy takes the map to selected locations.

Children kick off their shoes and traverse the map, following Kennedy's instructions for geography games--all the while learning about population centers, longitude and latitude, physical features of the land, and much more. The map is part of UA Geography's involvement in Geography Awareness Week. Following is the map's itinerary for the coming weeks.

Giant Map of North America schedule:

Thursday, Nov. 12, Fairbanks, Woodriver Elementary
Friday Nov. 13, Fairbanks, Woodriver Elementary
Monday, Nov. 16, Fairbanks, Weller Elementary
Tuesday, Fairbanks, Two Rivers Elementary (Also there will be Family Geography Night with the giant map, a GIS activity, and a geography jeopardy game. The activities occur from 5:30 to 7 p.m. This is for Two Rivers students and their families.)
Thursday, Nov. 19, Eagle River, Ravenwood Elementary
Friday, Nov. 20, Eagle River, Homestead Elementary
Monday, Nov. 23, Anchorage, Chester Valley Elementary
Tuesday, Nov. 24, Anchorage, Ursa Major Elementary
Wednesday, Nov. 25, Eagle River, Fire Lake Elementary
Monday, Nov. 30, Juneau, Harborview Elementary
Tuesday, Dec. 1, Douglas, Gastineau Elementary
Wednesday, Dec. 2, Juneau, Mendenhall River Community School
Thursday, Dec. 3, Juneau, Floyd Dryden Middle School
Friday, Dec. 4, Juneau, Riverbend Elementary

Related post:
Geography knowledge spreads around Alaska, SNRAS Science & News, Nov. 9, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Geography knowledge spreads around Alaska

This photo provided by the National Geographic Society demonstrates the impressive size of the Giant Map of North America.

In celebration of Geography Awareness Week (Nov. 15-21), the UA Geography Program will transform school gyms around Alaska into geographic learning labs. Thanks to the National Geographic Society, the gym floors will temporarily be covered by the Giant Map of North America, a 26-foot by 35-foot cartographically accurate map modeled after the National Geographic Atlas of the World.

From Fairbanks to Juneau and points in between, UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy will take the map to elementary and middle schools for lessons on the map (literally) and family geography nights. Along with the map, the evening events feature GIS activities and a geography jeopardy game. Kennedy makes the map lessons memorable and fun by incorporating age-appropriate explorations, traversing the continent from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to the Panama Canal and from Iceland to Baja. The children identify common land and water forms, learn cardinal directions, locate the largest cities, track population growth, compare carbon dioxide emissions, and explore major watersheds. All the activities incorporate physical movement and games to teach students place names, physical geography, and cultural geography as well as map reading skills.Appropriately, the theme for Geography Awareness Week is “Get lost in mapping: Find your place in the world.” The site offers games, activities, and lessons about mapping, along with a blog-a-thon and a daily mystery location quiz.

The UA Geography Program works with teachers and students around the state to further geographic knowledge of the Earth. In addition to offering a bachelor of arts degree, three bachelors of science degrees, and a master’s degree, the geography program reaches thousands of kindergarten through twelfth graders with its various outreach programs.

In Fairbanks, Kennedy will take the giant map to five elementary schools from Nov. 10-17. Hunter and Two Rivers schools will host family geography nights. She will visit three schools in Eagle River and two in Anchorage, Nov. 19-25, one in Douglas and four in Juneau Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

Related reading:

Video of giant map of Africa in action, SNRAS Science & News, Jan. 27, 2009

Giant map of Africa tours local schools, SNRAS Science & News, Jan. 9, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

USFWS interviewing UAF students

The US Fish and Wildlife Service will visit UAF to interview students and alumni about various jobs Nov. 5, 6, and 9.

Employees/interns perform a variety of tasks such as wildlife and vegetation surveys, environmental education and outreach, fish tracking, weir and sonar operations, invasive species monitoring and control, and habitat restoration.

Possible summer jobs include:
  • biological science technician positions (GS-4 thru GS-7) in fields of plants, birds, wildlife, and fisheries
  • administrative clerks
  • interpretive/education staff.

Since no specific positions are currently advertised for the summer season, US Fish and Wildlife staff will speak to students and alumni about the types of positions usually available and will conduct informal interviews to identify potential job placements. US Fish and Wildlife staff will provide their hiring officials with an interview summary of qualified applicants. Sample cover letters and resumes should be brought along. Students/alumni do not have to have a complete resume to participate, but should provide a draft resume.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants. Programs within the service include national wildlife refuges, fisheries assessment, federal subsistence, fisheries management, project planning, endangered species, migratory birds, law enforcement, outreach, and habitat restoration. Internships and summer jobs are typically available for students as biological science technicians in the fisheries, wildlife, and plants disciplines.

The Student Temporary Employment Program is designed to introduce talented students to the advantages and challenges of working for the federal government, to provide opportunities for students to combine academic study with work experience, and to provide opportunities for students to earn money while continuing their education. Although US Fish and Wildlife positions require US citizenship, international students may want to explore volunteer opportunities.

Questions about this interview process may be directed to UAF Career Services at 907-474-7596.