Dawe said the year she was born Edgar Anderson wrote a book, “Plants, Man and Life.” When she read the book at age 13 Dawe “imprinted” on it. “Anderson really shaped my academic and intellectual interests,” she said.
Another influence on Dawe was poet Robinson Jeffers. Quoting him, she said, “For what we love we grow to it, we share its nature.” To Dawe, this is the essence of place-based inquiry both for children and adults. “We love our boreal forest home,” she said. “In studying the science and art we become more connected to this place.”
While at Beloit College, Dawe researched the evolution of potatoes and became intrigued with chromosome work. She earned a master’s in botany at UAF, where she studied cytotaxonomy, using chromosome number change as a tool to understanding species change and evolution during the Pleistocene.
Dawe earned her Ph.D. at the Institute of Botany, University of Vienna in 1989. Her research focused on using more advanced chromosome techniques to delineate taxonomic groupings within the grass genus Festuca. She examined breeding relationships among Festuca, Vulpia, an annual grass, and Lolium, a perennial ryegrass.
“I’m a nontraditional scientist,” she said. When her children were young she tried to stay home with them but got pulled into directing the Alaska Boreal Forest Council.
“I’ve always had an abiding interest in community,” Dawe said. “Community is where it’s at.”
She took that love of community to heart when she tackled the OneTree Alaska project in Fairbanks in 2009. The program, which was started through Assistant Professor Valerie Barber’s Wood Utilization Research project, sought to demonstrate all the artistic and useful things that could be made from one tree. In July 2009, a birch tree was cut in the Nenana State Forest. By chance, four teachers were there that day and decided to bring the forest to their classrooms. When more teachers expressed interest in joining the project that fall, it was necessary to get more materials for scientific and artistic endeavors with students. Luckily, Dr. Barber required 16 saw log birch trees from Nenana Ridge for a milling study and the treetops provided just what was needed for OneTree’s work in the schools.
Hooking children on science through art is a natural offshoot of OneTree, Dawe explained. “Art serves as the invitation to explore STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) skills in a natural way,” she said.
Dawe gives much credit to dedicated teachers for helping OneTree grow like wildfire. The beauty of the program is its ability to reach teachers who love science and those who may be hesitant about teaching it but realize the value of it to their students. She explained there are four core instructional methods:
- Integrative curriculum.
- K-12 professional development.
- Peer teaching.
- Community collaborations.
Boreal Alaska – Learning, Adaptation and Production, which OneTree is part of, brings together research, education and outreach, Dawe said. BAKLAP is a two-part program to upgrade Alaska forest research facilities and management practices to improve the value of Alaska’s forests in meeting the rapidly expanding demand for wood biomass energy in a changing environment and to improve STEM teaching and learning outcomes by developing a model integrated K-12 curriculum based on hands-on experiences with the Alaska boreal forest through inquiry science and art. Dawe is co-principal investigator of BAKLAP and director of the K-20 STEAM Education component.
As the program evolves it will continue to take the concepts of phenology, citizen science and forest product development on a small scale into classrooms. Students learn how to take natural materials and work with them, creating things both useful and beautiful. Also scheduled are a Forest Entrepreneur Camp, Tapping into Spring (birch syrup project), community workshops, retail outlets and more teacher courses.
Dawe was excited to report on a Generation OneTree birch plot planted in June 2011 by a Scout troop. An ecology class used it as a lab this fall and in May six middle school field trips will kick off the development of the plot as a long term citizen science tree growth and phenology training site.
“BAKLAP is helping us define the strengths and opportunities of the project and helping us focus on them,” Dawe said. “The future will see much more development of the strands the teachers and we have been working on in the past few years.”
|Dawe working in the woods.|