Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poinsettias raised by students in perfect condition for holidays

Shimmer Surprise poinsettias enjoy the perfect lighting conditions in the SNRAS/AFES greenhouse.

Students in the NRM 211 (introduction to applied plant science) course have something tangible to show for their efforts at the end of the semester. Right now, the SNRAS/AFES greenhouse is bursting with vibrant poinsettias just in time for the holiday season.

The plants were started from cuttings over the summer and the students have tended them since classes started in August. Poinsettias require short days, and can only handle eight to nine hours of daylight.

Professor Meriam Karlsson explained that light conditions are controlled by opening and closing blackout curtains. Poinsettias will suffer without an uninterrupted dark period.

Red and blue LED lights are used for comparison and both have been just as effective as normal greenhouse conditions, Karlsson said.

A new variety that has produced delightful results this year is the Shimmer Surprise. The naturally variegated blossoms feature red, pink and white, but are unpredictable in their patterns. “You don’t know what you’re going to get,” Karlsson said.

In addition to poinsettias, the students grew corn, beans, tomatoes and sunflowers. In the process they learned about light conditions, humidity and temperature control in the new greenhouse. “It’s amazing,” Karlsson said. “It more fun because we get good results and the plants grow faster. We have time to see results in one semester.”

The course stresses basic plant concepts and what plants in northern conditions need as far as nutrition, water, light and temperature.

About half the students are NRM majors and the rest show up with a desire to know more about plants. “Mainly they are interested in nutrition and fertilize,” Karlsson said. “And LEDs.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Student ponders life in The Gambia vs. life in Fairbanks

Samantha Straus (right) in The Gambia.

By Samantha Straus
SNRAS Master's International student and Peace Corps Volunteer

Off the grid and off the main paved road, in a ‘dry’ mud hut, (not cabin) you’ll find UAF MIP student now known as Roxe (Rowhee) Ceesay living in a small West African Wolof village of some 250-300 residents. From Alaska to Africa you could say. And while the climate here is somehow stiflingly different and the mosquitoes a bit more potent, potentially carrying that fatal cerebral coma causing malaria, I find my life here to be not all that different from the one I left back in Alaska.

Instead of warming myself, I spend my time with a hand fan trying to keep cool to avoid heat rash and the many other skin infections catered specifically during the rainy season. And while I’m not starting the fire or even making one for heat, I discourage the use of plastic kindling which does burn hotter and faster, while also hurting lungs, soil, and atmosphere, by shredding the cardboard from care packages, and splurged-on mac and cheese boxes etc. (which are sold here for about $1!) for my host family’s cooking needs.

Instead of a slop bucket I have a Mauritanian made plastic wash bowl and kettle embossed with the Islamic crescent moon and star. The bowl holds considerably less than a slop bucket (maybe 12 L), but serves the purpose of both kitchen and bathroom sink. It comes with a draining lid to discourage the practice of dipping hands in dirty grey soapy water. The common hand washing practice, if practiced at all, is to shake dirty hands into a bowl of clean water. We then proceed to eat, with our right hands, (not the left! The left is reserved for wiping, if you know what I mean) out of one large serving bowl, not individual bowls or plates. When I moved into my permanent site, I gifted another Mauritanian wash bowl to my host family with whom I live, to encourage better hand washing practices, like simply washing with running water from the spout of the plastic kettle.

Unlike Fairbanks however, when it’s time to dump the slop water, it doesn’t leave pink brownish stains in mounds of snow, stubbornly waiting until spring breakup to disappear back into the thawing soil. When we dump our laundry or hand washing water here, the plants or ducks reval in it, soap and all, to get a nice drink or wet their feathers in the relenting heat of the day.

Like Fairbanks too we have a window of about four months or so to grow our crops, depending on the rains! In theory it is possible to grow year round here. However in some areas, especially up country and farther from the river, the water table can be as much as thirty or more meters in depth. Some of these areas further require either strong woman power (water duties in West Africa are predominantly the responsibility of women, rarely will you ever if ever see a man fetching water for his family) to pull twenty plus liters (~5 US gallons) up the length of the well. Some villages have wells so deep that horses are employed to walk back and forth from the open well to lift water from the dry depths of the nearly desertified soil.

The Japanese and Taiwanese governments have assisted several villages throughout this country with solar powered boreholes or taps. Fortunately I get to benefit from one of these projects where my water hauling is almost as easy as it was in Fairbanks if not easier as you never have to worry about freezing, and the tap is within walking distance, maybe less than 50 meters, to my hut. Of course here I’m the one hauling the water and not my car, but like I said, it’s not too far and I’m sure it’s a good strength building exercise!

Because we have solar powered taps, the pump is only unlocked for use in the morning and evening. Both of these times correspond with compound sweeping time where women will sweep the dirt around the compound to make nice manicured looking… dirt. This may sound ridiculous and was perceived as such by me initially. But now having lived here for a while (almost seven months in village and nine in region!) I have come to appreciate this practice as it clears any and all manure and food scraps left over from harvesting which can help to reduce the number of house flies which is typically high in village. There is no Waste Management infrastructure to speak of. Instead of a transfer station there are communal dumping spots which experience their fair share of scavengers, besides just from goats! Also like in Fairbanks, and perhaps even more so, people will use an item and re-use that item again and again until it is completely exhausted. Scrap pieces of fabric become rope or sections of a blanket (aka quilt), oil containers become water containers which become bike baskets, which become watering ‘cans’ which become vegetable nurseries, which become fuel for the cook fire, etc. and so forth. Trash that does not get used or re-used, or after it’s use has been exhausted, gets burnt permeating the proximal area with toxic aromas of burning plastic and metal.

Perhaps the most reminiscent thing to home is the beanie style hats worn by men. Part of Muslim culture is covering the head. So even at 80-90˚F, you’ll see men wearing impressively warm beanies both traditional and non-traditional (as from all those donated clothes coming to West Africa from Europe and the States. Those donated clothes are sold in piles on the streets for about fifteen US cents).

Besides comparing and contrasting The Gambia to Fairbanks, an entertaining but mostly painful game as Fairbanks tends to win more often than not, especially in the climate category, I’ve been working on small projects, slow slow as we say here, both with Gambian counterparts and fellow volunteers. Due to the small size of the country and thusly small number of total Peace Corps volunteers (averaging around 80), a number of projects here are large scale involving several volunteers from the various sectors of environment, health, and education. Those of us interested will work together to sensitize large areas of the country on projects that include HIV/AIDS sensitizations, gender and development including empowering women and encouraging men to work with and support women as partners (called MAP or men as partners), environmental and global awareness, community leadership, healthy lifestyles, etc.

One downfall to these large scale projects is that it often takes the volunteer out of his or her site for a period of time and rarely can include all of our communities. A plus to this though is that we often can bring a representative from our own communities to partake in the particular training or event, and then between the volunteer and counterpart, we can bring that information back to our places of posting to further help in our own areas.

My village, one of many small villages in a cluster, has a small community with no NGO’s, no extension workers, and really not much English to be heard. Working in those conditions requires a lot of patience and creativity. I find most of my work these days to be at the local school about 200 meters from my house. Because English is the official language of The Gambia, it is the language that is taught, rather unfortunately really as these students speak only their local languages at home. This would be the equivalent of being instructed in French or Spanish only in the States. At any rate it allows me to communicate well with the teachers and from there discuss the best ways we can support each other in our work as improving environmental education and education/environmental interest in the community.

Some teachers started an Environment Club with an initial enrollment of 60 students from grades 4-9. The main motivation for the club is the end-of-year excursion, if the funds can be raised. This is sometimes the only opportunity for the child to ever leave their small village to see what the rest of their country looks like. Besides the environment club, the school has also started to rehabilitate the school garden. The main barrier here is that the hand pump is once again broken down, a common and tired story in West Africa. Without water, there is nothing to grow in the dry season. But the students cleared the space and have been bringing thorny bush cuttings to re-enforce the locally made fence. The school is showing great interest and dedication even without my input which is a great place to be!

Outside of the school I am trying to work with members in the community. I am able to work fairly well within my host family in particular. My host mom has a garden and my host father several acres of farm. This last rainy season we planted some Cashew, Mango, and Leuceana trees. I bought my mom the ingredients needed to make laundry soap and she’s been making it ever since from the profit she receives from selling it. I hope to work with her and more women in the community on more environmentally focused income generating activities like homemade fertilizer (compost), tree nurseries for sale at the weekly markets (people love cashew and mango trees!), plastic bag crocheting to make coin purses etc., etc.

I also have a counterpart who is interested in starting beekeeping. If he and his team continue to show interest, we’ll start with making grass hives and go from there. Beekeeping is a strongly encouraged activity to engage in within the environment sector as it is a forestry supported non-timber product activity. Bees love trees and honey makes good money, if gone about correctly. But starting can be costly and timely and is a risk which is why we’ll start slow and move from there.

I’m not sure if that sounds like a lot or a little anymore as I’ve lost a lot of that American work sense in the need to integrate into The Gambian work ethic in order to work effectively here. That ‘go-go-go’ and ‘get to the point’ thing is not only ineffective but debilitating here. You have to always greet one another for at least a few minutes before any business can be discussed. For me it’s a lot to focus on for now. And it doesn’t even include the inherited project that has taken most of my time thus far in the neighboring town some 10-12 km away from me. A volunteer had to leave their service early but before doing so had written a food security grant in cooperation with USAID to secure the funds for constructing a space for a school garden from scratch. The grant rehabilitated a hand pump, procured a chain-link fence, garden tools, seeds, a garden training, and labor for all of the above. The students at the Upper Basic School (grades 7-9) will work in the teaching garden to grow vegetables for the school as well as community with any surplus. We’ll have some ally-cropped citrus trees and perimeter mango and cashew trees. This has been a difficult project to pick up in the middle of its life and beginning of my service especially as it’s not my community. Just knowing and living with the people you work with, forming relationships and gaining an understanding of how they fit into the hierarchy etc. is so helpful and supportive for sustainable effective work. But things are finally starting to take root making all that effort feel finally worthwhile!

On top of that all I have my master’s research to tackle. I’m interested in documenting the traditional ecological knowledge of my community to support us in our approaches toward environmental education. In addition we may be able to embark on a community forest project through the German forestry program here. Whatever I do I want it to be community based and so need the support and approval of my community which makes the process even slower.

So that’s it, in a groundnut shell. If you need a place to thaw out during that cold and dark winter, you are always welcome to enjoy our version of the “cold season” here in The Gambia, the smiling coast of West Africa. The lowest of the lows might be as low as the high 40s but that’s probably the extreme. And no, there’s not really any cheese here, but the food is good and the people are some of the most hospitable, and the music and dancing, at least where I live, is non-stop! Bisimillih, meaning you are welcome, in Arabic. If you have more questions or greater interest you are welcome to email me and peruse my public blog documenting my service. See you all in a year and a half, Inshallah!

Samantha Straus's mud hut.

Black face monkey at Janjanburegh camp in Macarthy, CRR North Bank, The Gambia.

Mauritanian wash bowl and kettle on left.  Laundry pan front right.  Blue bucket for bucket baths and rinsing laundry top right. Liter sized cup for pouring water, center.

Monday, November 19, 2012

GeoFest shines light on geography awareness

Sophia Potter, 3, points out places on the globe for her dad Ben Potter at GeoFest.
Geography was everywhere at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wood Center Nov. 17 for the GeoFest celebration.

The event, which concluded Geography Awareness Week, brings a family-friendly, fun focus to the study of the Earth and its people. Children darted from the Giant Traveling Map of North America to activities designed to get their brains wrapped around geography. Beaming parents watched with pride when wee ones demonstrated their knowledge of global awareness. The theme for this year, as set by National Geographic in Washington, D.C., was “Declare Your Interdependence.”

“It’s great for kids to get a sense of all the ways geography can be used,” said Nancy Fresco, network coordinator for the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning. As she manned a booth with a puzzle map explaining climate change, she brought along her 6-year-old twin daughters. “Geography is not just maps but the ways people and animals relate to the land,” Fresco said. “ It’s also nice for kids to interact with scientists and researchers.”

Another mom said she brought her children to GeoFest in case something fires up their interest. “I want them to understand that it’s a big world out there and there is lots going on. The more geography they see and do the better.”

Ellen Lopez said her 6-year-old son learned about maps and how to use maps in different ways at the event. “And they’re having fun,” she said.

Dorte Dissing, a GIS specialist at ABR, said, “Anything geography is fun. I wanted the kids to do mapping type things and have fun.”

Tom Duncan, borough GIS coordinator, teaches how to use ARC GIS at GeoFest.
Volunteers from the Northern Alaska Spatial Data Users Group participate in GeoFest routinely. One of the activities this year was using ARC GIS to pinpoint locations around Fairbanks. Children were invited to name a favorite spot and then find it on the computer. They learned how to move in computer maps and create a point, selecting places such as Fred Meyer, the donut shop or Pioneer Park.

Dayne Broderson, a technical services manager for Geographic Information Network of Alaska, said he gets involved because of the awareness and outreach. “We want to introduce kids to remote sensing. Many are very familiar with Google maps and Apple maps,” he said. Visitors were shown aerial photographs of familiar Fairbanks locations and asked to identify them. “We get to show off the neat products we do and parents get engaged too,” Broderson said.

Immaculate Conception School teacher Mary Vail Butcher had maps for children to color and be creative with. “It gets kids excited about learning geography,” she said. “It isn’t easy to get them excited by talking about it you have to show them.”

Eielson Air Force Base Geobase program had a game of Alaska trivia. John Bailey, a researcher at SNAP and geography instructor, had a Google Earth session on the "Geography of Thanksgiving Food."

The UA Museum had fossils-making and a paleontology find-the-bones activity.

Katie Kennedy, UA Geography Program education and outreach coordinator, said, “We put on GeoFest every year to shine the spotlight on geography and remind people how important, relevant and fun geographic education is. Geographic education is vital if we want to prepare our students to be effective 21st century decision makers. We need to give students the knowledge and critical thinking skills to understand their world.”

The Fairbanks GeoFest has grown in popularity over the past three years, she said. “It has gotten to the point that geography lovers are contacting us and asking if they can bring an activity to share, which is so wonderful. I hope to keep up the momentum and to carry on into the future the awareness we've developed. The real purpose is to get students, families and educators to see the great need for geographic education, which will hopefully translate to their calling for more of it in our schools.”

Arlene Slocum won the GeoQuiz.

One of the activities was a contest, GeoQuiz, which asked questions such as: "Rotterdam is a major port located near which sea?" Norwegian Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea. As GeoFest closed up shop, it was announced that Arlene Slocum, wife of SNRAS visiting geography professor Terry Slocum, was the grand prize winner. Elated that she had won an entire set of National Geographic magazines on disks, Slocum said, "I never took a geography course in my life but I read a lot and if you read a lot you learn about places."

Geography Awareness Week and GeoFest were sponsored in Alaska by the UAF geography department, a program of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and Alaska Geographic Alliance. Throughout the week of Nov. 12-16, volunteers visited area fourth grade classrooms, taking a National Geographic activity called Geography of a Pencil, which explored locations where things that go into making pencils are grown or manufactured.

Children created maps of Alaska.

Britta Schroeder, graduate student in natural resources management, helps children figure out where their clothing was made.

The Giant Traveling Map of North America was a big hit with children and parents.

Globe balloons were eye catching at GeoFest.

Professor Meriam  Karlsson captured the geography of agriculture at GeoFest.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Morimoto publishes in Landscape Ecology and Engineering

Miho Morimoto is a second year PhD student in Natural Resources Management. Her paper, Forest restoration following a windthrow: how legacy retention versus plantation after salvaging alters the trajectory of initial recovery, was just published in Landscape Ecology and Engineering. The work was done in northern Japan as part of her master’s project at Hokkaido University, Japan.

Japanese forest management policy for decades has been based on maximizing economic values of forests. More recently, Japanese forest management has gradually increased its emphasis on ecological values, such as biodiversity. Morimoto’s objective was to compare the revegetation trajectory in the first three years after a large windthrow event between sites, salvage logged vs. not salvaged, in terms of the conversion of forest plantations into more natural forest systems.

Salvage logging after natural disturbance has been a common forest management practice in Japan in which damaged trees are taken away for economic revenues. Morimoto’s study showed the importance of leaving biological legacies created by windthrow in plantations when restoration of more natural forest conditions is the goal. Salvage logging removed biological legacies, such as residual seedlings and coarse woody debris, which is expected to result in delay or failure in restoring diverse natural forest.

Morimoto is pictured on a bluff above the Yukon River collecting aspen samples in August. (Photo by Glenn Juday)

Time and Tides of Change

By Brooke McDavid
SNRAS Master's International student serving in the Peace Corps in Fiji

We just set our clock an hour forward for the next three months, our short little daylight savings. It is nice to have the evening light! It gets dark at 7:30 now, and inches closer to eight each evening. This short time difference allows the farmers to get more work done in the field and provides more daylight hours during the school holiday months of December and January.

Lately everything has finally began to come together... all these little pieces of "work" that I've been involved in. I'll start with a short re-cap.

This past March I found out that the government wants to develop Nabouwalu into Fiji's next Town, starting in 2014. Nabouwalu is our Provinical headquarters, but as Bua is the most undeveloped and forgotten about place (besides the outer islands), "headquarters" doesn't amount to much. However, upon hearing this I was struck with two thoughts: 1) "Oh, shit! We aren't ready for this." 2) "This could be an amazing opportunity to bring needed infrastructure to rural people and an opportunity to plan for sustainable development. How can we go about it? What does Town Planning in Fiji even entail?"

So I started on a quest. I've been proposing the idea of a "Green Town Initiative," sustainable development, and putting together a Development Committee to go through the planning process, basically, to anyone who would listen. I started local. I talked with the Provincial Admisistrator and the local government in Nabouwalu... they directed me to Labasa. Couldn't figure out anything. I sent out a bunch of emails. Everyone directed me in circles. A treasure hunt with no treasure. I met with a man from Town Planning in Labasa who showed me maps and gave me a little more info about what the possible proposed Town could look like, but still we were no closer to actually planning than before.

Because things in Fiji don't tend to be planned, I really wanted to make sure proper planning was done to take advantage of this opportunity to make Nabouwalu an attractive town that people will enjoy living in and visiting, as well as avoid any unnecessary environmental degradation. I felt bummed and began to lose hope because I didn't hear much for months and no one seemed interested in my idea.

So I focused on other work. I have been networking with Wildlife Conservation Society who is doing ecosystem based management planning with all the districts in my province (Bua). They are going district by district and although they were not in our district yet (soon to be!) I wanted to make sure we were on the same page, because we are working towards the same goals of helping local landowners manage their natural resources, from ridge to reef, in a sustainable manner and to seek out alternative livelihoods options.

The work they are doing is great. They are creating these really comprehensive natural resource management plans that the communities themselves are involved in writing. But I saw a gap. Yes, environmental issues are very important to address in these rural places, but they aren't the only issues that need addressing. Education, health, sanitation, governance, infrastructure... these are all very pertinent issues facing these communities. Was there a way to bridge ecosystem based management with rural community development planning? (HELLO, THESIS!?!)

So I talked to WCS, and proposed that we coordinate. I could work with the local government to help these communities do development planning, while they continue to focus on EBM and incentives for conservation. They liked the idea! And so did the local government, so now we are just starting to work out the details of how to go forward. In addition to my work in the village I am going to be commuting two days a week to Nabouwalu to the Provincial Office. I am so excited because for a while I have felt like I could be doing more. And this is really work that I am passionate about! We may be developing a template for Village Development Plans that can be tailored for use in all villages throughout Fiji. Sitting in the village... reading... gardening... this is great, but ultimately not the real reason I joined the Peace Corps.

At the same time this began coming together, I received a call from the man at Town and Country Planning in Labasa. He had been to Nabouwalu to do some field checking on the maps for the proposed town, and found they were extremely outdated. He wanted me to help come up with the new proposed Town Center Plan! The last two days I spent hiking all over the place in Nabouwalu. We carried maps and frequently spread them out in random places, pointing and talking excitedly. That treasure finally turned up when I least expected it. The man, Francis, turns out to be a very educated, forward thinking individual who had actually listened when I had talked about "livability principles" and proper planning.

It was so cool to be discussing and sketching maps for proposed development... Hell, I'm helping design a town! Pretty sweet! Where should the roads, parks, and commercial/ residential areas be? Where do we put the market and bus stand? Where are good ecotourism or accommodation sights? When I brought up issues of a landfill, sewage, and energy, we decided we needed to put together a "Team" of government officials from different departments to plan together. Apparently for the past 6 months I've been using the wrong word! The word "committee" refers only to village operations, government uses the word "team" or "taskforce"... well, excuse me! It just goes to show that tiny cultural misunderstandings can be a real hindrance to progress. But now that we're on the same page, I can see some faint light ahead.
I really am doing my dream job here. It's too damn bad it's not a paid job, but nonetheless, it's still awesome! Rural community development planning AND land use planning with a bunch of conservation thrown in? I must be dreaming!

However, it is a long and bumpy road ahead. Progress and change are not smooth, but I have hope. I also have a big decision to make about extending my service for the third year. I don't have the heart, or the want, to pull out now when things are really getting started... so my decision may well already be made. (I also don't know if I have the heart to be away from Alaska for so long.) But like I've said a many time, we play it all by ear here.

Life here follows the weather and the tides... and is always subject to change.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SNRAS welcomes first Peace Corps Fellow

Eric Schacht is welcomed by Associate Professor Susan Todd. They met in Namibia and Schacht came to UAF to become SRNAS's first Peace Corps Fellow.

SNRAS’s first Peace Corps Fellow, Eric Schacht, came to UAF in a roundabout way. Armed with a fish and wildlife degree from the University of Nebraska, Schacht gained experience on ranches in the West, including Fawn Lake Bison Ranch with a herd of 3,000 bison. He also worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Nebraska and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. He served in the Peace Corps in Mali from 2006 to 2008 and this past year met SNRAS Associate Professor Susan Todd while she was on sabbatical in Namibia.

As Dr. Todd and Schacht worked together on a community-based natural resource management of grasslands project, she mentioned the new opportunity for returned Peace Corps volunteers to earn a master’s degree at UAF. Schacht arrived in Fairbanks for fall semester.

Telling of his time in Mali, Schacht said his neighbors used camels, oxen and donkeys to plow their fields. “The Mali people didn’t know any Americans except for George Bush, Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Schacht said. “It was great for me to see the perceptions change, for them to see that an American is just another person on the planet.”

Mali, the sixth largest country on the continent, is mostly desert but has sub-tropical regions. At least 80 languages are spoken in Mali. “It’s a very diverse place,” Schacht said. He observed that the inequalities between men and women led to a lot of problems in the Mali culture.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, Schacht went to Mali with 90 Americans, most going to densely populated places. Schacht’s area was sparsely populated. Over half the people live in poverty and 60 percent do not have clean drinking water. The fertility rate is high and infant mortality is at 20 percent.

Schacht lived with a host family for three months, studying the language and culture. One of the first things he noticed was a sign: “La vie est un combat,” meaning life is a struggle. “Even though there are struggles the people are friendly and welcoming,” he said.

One struggle Schacht faced right away was contracting dengue fever and being hospitalized for six days. After he got back to his host family he learned his host father had died of malaria.

Because Eric was too difficult to pronounce, the Mali people dubbed Schacht Samba. “I was accepted in the Mali culture; people were happy to accept us.”

After the first three months a ceremony was held making the volunteers official. They visited the house of the American Ambassador to Mali and swam in the swimming pool. “I’d just gotten out of the hospital and was happy to be there,” Schacht said.

He was assigned to Debere and asked to help build a community garden. “At first all I could do was greet people in their language,” he said. “Children really helped with the integration into the community and they really helped with the language. They were good teachers.”

One of Schacht’s regrets was that he didn’t take many photos. “If I brought out my camera I was swamped by kids.”

His home was a little hut. “It was so hot I spent most of the time sleeping outside,” Schacht said. The average temperature was 110 but it could get as hot as 125.

As work on the community garden progressed, Schacht applied for a grant that included a fence and well for the one hectare garden. He also organized an association of gardeners, which included men and women, that were to sustainably manage the community project.

Asked if he thought his volunteer service made a difference Schacht said, “Slightly. I feel like my impact there was pretty small but I did make meaningful relationships with people.” He keeps in touch by phone as much as possible.

Peace Corps service changed Schacht’s view of the world. “I had a bitter taste in my mouth when I got done; I felt like a failure. It definitely feels different now. I reflect on the lives I touched and the people who touched me. I feel like I grew more than I gave.”

In fact, it is the people Schacht will remember the most from his time in Mali. “I would wake up at 6 a.m. and people would be yelling at me to get up, then I wouldn’t have a minute to myself all day.”

While Schacht would love to return he will have to wait. Due to a rebellion, the Peace Corps has been removed from Mali for now.

As he studies for his master’s degree Schacht is working with Tanana Chiefs Conference on a project to understand the attitudes of Native Alaskans toward hunting, fishing and ecotourism enterprises. “If we receive positive feedback from villages I want to work with them to develop a management plan.” He is examining successful projects in Namibia, Canada and Arizona.

“I am back with indigenous people,” Schacht said. “I do well with different cultures and I enjoy it.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

SNRAS celebrates Geography Awareness Week

This Alaska map made by Pearl Creek Elementary School students was a big hit at GeoFest last year.

SNRAS, which houses the geography department at UAF, joins the nation in celebrating Geography Awareness Week Nov. 11-17.

Festivities kicked off Nov. 10 in Juneau with the 2nd annual GeoFest there. The Fairbanks version will be Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. in the UAF Wood Center. The free event features hands-on geography-related activities for children, including the Giant Traveling Map of North America and the Geophysical Institute's Planetarium. Parking is free on campus for the weekend. For more information, contact Wanda Tangermann.

Also, trained volunteers are visiting Fairbanks area fourth grade classrooms this week, taking the activity, Geography of a Pencil. Hosting teachers receive a gift bag from the Alaska Geography Alliance. Gov. Sean Parnell signed a proclamation declaring this Geography Awareness Week.

Following is the national press release:

WASHINGTON—Seventy-five percent of the farms that produce cocoa beans (the main ingredient in chocolate) are in West Africa; Cote d’Ivoire alone produces more than 30 percent of the world’s cocoa beans. However, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the world’s chocolate consumption. Schools and communities across the country will explore global connections and intersections like this during this year’s Geography Awareness Week, Nov. 11-17, with its theme “Geography: Declare Your Interdependence.”

Geography Awareness Week, established by presidential proclamation in 1987, is an annual public awareness program led by National Geographic that celebrates the importance of geography education. Each year, more than 100,000 Americans take part in Geography Awareness Week activities through programs in their schools, local communities and even their own backyards. Every year, National Geographic chooses a theme for Geography Awareness Week; this year’s “Geography: Declare Your Interdependence” theme investigates the idea that we are all connected to the rest of the world through the decisions we make on a daily basis, including what foods we eat and the things we buy.

“This year’s theme explores the fact that every place on Earth is connected to every other, directly or indirectly,” said Danny Edelson, National Geographic’s vice president for Education. “For example, a drought in Mexico could affect the availability of fresh produce in the United States, especially in the winter and spring. To make good decisions in today’s world, people have to understand the connections that link places together.”

Geography Awareness Week’s online hub, hosted on National Geographic Education Programs’ award-winning website, offers access to activities, games and more, all relating geography to a variety of subjects as well as day-to-day life. This year’s new online activity is the global closet calculator, which lets site users examine the contents of their closets to see where on the planet their belongings come from, and compare their closets to those of others around the world.

The site features contributions from National Geographic and partner organizations such as WorldSavvy, National Environmental Education Foundation, National Council for Geographic Education and Esri. Educators and parents will find valuable lists of activities for at home and in the classroom, geographer profiles, family-friendly games and a downloadable Geography Awareness Week poster. Site visitors also can read and contribute to a Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-Thon, updated multiple times daily with commentary and multimedia features.

The website provides the opportunity to join nearly 10,000 geography supporters in promoting geo-literacy. Speak Up for Geography invites visitors to write to their senators and representatives to request federal funding for geography education.

Geography Awareness Week recently launched a CafePress store, with customizable merchandise. From Nov. 5 to 17, shoppers can get a 15 percent discount by entering the code GAWEEK at checkout.

In addition, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and self-described “Guerrilla Geographer” Daniel Raven-Ellison will be hosting a Google hangout video chat on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. ET. Check out the Nat Geo Education blog to find out how to participate.

Raven-Ellison, who believes in encouraging children and adults to experience the world around them in a more meaningful way, will present a lecture on “guerilla geography” at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., on November 13 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available online via the National Geographic Live website.

On the local level, during Geography Awareness Week, grassroots organizers around the country will host events, workshops and contests at local schools and community centers. The website offers a toolkit with resources on how to host a local Geography Awareness Week event, such as a community festival or a geography trivia evening.

Geography Awareness Week 2012 is supported by the Geo-Literacy Coalition, whose members include CH2M HILL, Esri, Google and the National Geographic Society.

About the Geo-Literacy Coalition

The Geo-Literacy Coalition is an alliance of organizations working to improve the preparation of Americans for 21st-century decision-making. The members of the Geo-Literacy Coalition are CH2M HILL, a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients; Esri, which develops the world’s leading geographic information system (GIS) technology that enables organizations of all sizes in both the public and private sectors to take advantage of their geographic data; Google, a global technology leader focused on improving the ways people connect with information; and National Geographic.

About the National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society works to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 400 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; travel programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit