Wednesday, December 16, 2015

SNRE poinsettias to grace holiday gathering

Poinsettias in the SNRE Research Greenhouse will be borrowed for the
 Chancellor's Holiday Gathering.

Poinsettias grown in the SNRE Research Greenhouse in the Arctic Health Research Building will provide color for the Chancellor’s Holiday Gathering from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 19 at Wood Center. SNRE Professor Meriam Karlsson said that Facilities Services will box about 75 plants on Thursday and return the cold-sensitive flowers after the gathering.

Karlsson and her students study the poinsettias for color, size, nutrients, light and temperature responses. They are used in research and instructional activities. Poinsettias from the greenhouse also made an appearance at Gov. Bill Walker’s Fairbanks inaugural ball in January.

SNRE profiles: Marsha Munsell to retire Dec. 31

During her retirement party, Marsha gets a hug from Beverly,
one of the participants in her senior yoga class.
Marsha Munsell will retire Dec. 31 after 22 years with Extension at the Tanana District Office.
For most of her career, she worked as a nutrition educator, teaching low-income families in Fairbanks how to prepare nutritious fare on a lean budget. She also taught nutrition education to thousands of students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

Two years ago, after district home economist Roxie Dinstel moved to the state office, Munsell became a program assistant. She taught food preservation classes and a variety of cooking and healthy lifestyles classes in the Tanana District, including Tok, Tanacross, Tetlin, Nenana, Delta Junction, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base. The classes ranged from berry identification and cooking with game to a food preservation series, cleaning with green products, radon, indoor air quality and access for the elderly.

Munsell picks blueberries for a Preserving Alaska's
Bounty Flash module.
Most recently, Munsell coordinated the visit of Sandor Katz, a fermentation expert, which attracted great interest.

“That was an awesome success,” she says.

Before joining Extension in 1992, Munsell cooked for mineral field camps all over Alaska and worked as a baker or cook for several Fairbanks restaurants, including The Cookie Jar, CafĂ© de Paris and Pike’s.

 “That gave me a lot of experience to answer questions here,” she said.

At Marsha’s retirement event Dec. 7, Dinstel said when she first started working as a home economist with Extension, she was stumped by a caller who wanted to know why her cheesecake cracked. Since her training did not include that bit of information, she forwarded the call to Marsha.

Speaking at the party, Dinstel said, “She has been a wonderful credit to Extension.”

People who have known Munsell through a variety of ways came to the party. These included folks who take her yoga class at the Senior Center and her Osher Lifelong Learning Institute yoga class, former clients, colleagues, members of the herb bunch at the botanical garden and other people who have taken her classes.

Munsell is known for a high level of energy. She has been teaching yoga for 10 years and in 2011, co-founded Heart Stream Yoga in Fairbanks. She teaches yoga twice a week at the senior center, twice a week at Heart Stream studio, where she also fills in as a substitute. That all adds up to teaching five or six yoga classes a week —and that’s before she retired. She also handles the books for the business.

She got interested in yoga in 1975, after reading Richard Hittleman’s book, “28 Days of Yoga” when she and her husband lived in the Bush. Munsell, who is from Utah, came to Alaska with her husband to trap on the Chisana River, south of Northway. During her time in Chisana, she meditated and practiced yoga daily.

In addition to yoga, Munsell studied Sudokan and Gosoke-Ryu karate for 23 years and holds black belts in Shudokan karate, laido and Gosoke Ryu and a brown belt in Kung Fu.

Although she expects to work more at her yoga studio, Marsha will continue working on a grant with Roxie Dinstel for a time. It concerns using social media to promote the SNAP-Ed nutrition program.

Marsha shows participants in her kids' cooking class how to make Biscuits in a Bag.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Soils scientist Chien-Lu Ping prepares to retire

Chien-Lu surveys the landscape at Canada'a Ellef-Rigness Island.
After 33 years with the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Palmer, SNRE Soils Professor Chien-Lu Ping will retire at the end of the month.

He won’t be going away quite yet, however. He will work on two research grants through next summer and will continue to mentor two graduate students.
Chien Lu Ping
Chien-Lu Ping

Ping is known internationally for his work on carbon dynamics in arctic soils, a subject getting attention lately because of concerns about climate change. Research published in 2008 by Ping and a team of soil scientists showed that frozen arctic soil contains nearly twice as much organic carbon as was previously estimated. As these soils warm, more of the carbon stored in the deeper part of the soil can be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane.

The soils professor helped organize the first U.S.-Russia Joint Seminar on Cryopedology (cold soils) and Climate Change and U.S.-Russia soils exchange excursions in northeast Russia, Yukon and Alaska from 1992-1994. He led a UAF expert team that participated in the technical review of the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railroad and two international soils excursions in the Tibet Plateau from 2000-2004.

Chien-Lu examines soils for a color determination this past summer.
Ping has published over 65 scientific journal articles and has been invited to speak to soil, climate change and permafrost gatherings in Norway, Sweden, China, Japan, Russia and Iceland. In 2014, he was named a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, an honor accorded to only .3 percent of society members.

Ping was born in mainland China, but in 1949, when he was 8, the Communists came to power and his family escaped to Taiwan. He earned an undergraduate degree in Taiwan and received a master’s degree in 1972 and a doctorate in 1976, both from Washington State University. He worked for the State of Washington for five years assessing forestland quality and productivity. After an economic downturn there, he applied for a job as an assistant professor of agronomy at Palmer and came north in 1982.

In his early years in Palmer, he worked on fertilizer trials with Research Associate Gary Michaelson at the experiment station and developed procedures for testing Alaska soils. Initially he studied volcanic ash soils in many areas of the state. In the late 1980s, he worked with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service soil scientists to create a unified understanding of circumpolar arctic soils with Russian and Canadian soils experts.  According to Michaelson, Ping was instrumental in gathering the early and most complete data on permafrost-affected soils and was key in establishing the Gelisol soil order in the U.S soil classification system in 1998. He has continued his work on permafrost-affected soils with projects that examined soils across the tundra-taiga boundary, soils affected by frostboil-patterned ground in high-Arctic Canada and Alaska and arctic Alaska sea coast soil erosion. 

Chien-Lu evaluates polar desert moss soil on Canada's Ellef-Rigness Island.
Most recently he has been working with researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory to study the structure and carbon storage distribution of ice-wedge polygons, which are carbon storehouses. Ping said former Dean Jim Drew advised him to find a community of researchers to work with, rather than going it alone, and he took the advice to heart.

Twenty-three years ago, he developed the Alaska Soils Geography Field Trip (NRM 489) because students worked on Arctic research projects with him and he thought they should get field credit. As the word got out, the class attracted students from other universities in the U.S. and abroad as well as individuals from state and federal agencies who wanted to see the Arctic firsthand. More than 300 participants from 12 countries have learned about permafrost soils through the field trip.

“It’s a class for anybody who has an interest in the Arctic,” Ping said. This past summer, participants included three professors from Italy, professors from Virginia Tech and Texas Tech, and students from Alaska and other universities in the U.S. They studied soil geography from the Fairbanks area northward along the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay.

Ping says he is particularly grateful to Michaelson, who has worked with him on multiple research projects since 1983. He says, “I also want to share my appreciation for the support from the school, my colleagues and co-workers — and I will miss that.” Michaelson adds,  “It has been a pleasure to work with Chien-Lu for all these years. He has accomplished so much to advance our knowledge of and modernize concepts for northern soils, while collaborating with so many along the way and passing that knowledge and experience on to so many.”

After Ping retires, he will divide his time between Alaska and Orlando, Florida, where he has a home. He expects to spend more time with his family, including his grandchildren. He also wants to work more on his art. He paints with watercolors and oils and also does ink and brush painting.

The Matanuska Experiment Farm will host a potluck at noon today (Dec. 11) to celebrate Ping’s career and retirement. All in the area are invited.

Thanks to Gary Michaelson for sharing his photos.

Participants in the arctic soils field tour look at earth hummock soil in the Chandalar Shelf.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Food Security in the Arctic competition offered

Undergraduate UAF students may compete in essay, engineering and media contests that address food security issues in northern communities.

Hollembaek Farms harvests bromegrass for hay
near Delta Junction. Edwin Remberg photo
The Food Security in the Arctic competition will award $1,000, $500 and $250 prizes for first-, second- and third-place awards in three contests sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and Extension, Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) and the National Science Foundation. The deadline for the essay and engineering contests is Feb. 1 and media entries are due Feb. 29.

Contest co-chair Professor Jenifer McBeath said students are invited to address some of the issues involved with developing environmentally responsible agricultural practices in the North. She notes that food security is a special concern in Alaska because an estimated 95 percent of food consumed by residents is produced elsewhere and it travels over a tenuous transportation network.

For the essay contest, students may submit up to an eight-page, double-spaced essay about the challenges involved in growing and storing food in northern communities. Submissions should respond to the following questions: Why should growing and storing food be considered alongside traditional subsistence practices such as hunting, fishing and gathering? How might Arctic communities integrate these practices and what are some of the complexities involved?

Participants in the engineering contest are asked to submit an engineering design that attempts to address energy-efficient and environmentally friendly large-scale food storage in the North. Designers should research and consider the ideal conditions that aid in cold climate food storage. Currently perishable foods are shipped into many towns and villages from distant locations. The alternatives for residents involve growing and storing their own food or growing and transporting from a nearby location in the state. Individuals or teams may compete. The designer of the winning entry will be awarded $5,000 to build a prototype.

Students who participate in the media contest are asked to submit a 30-second public service announcement that represents some of the current challenges in growing food in northern communities. Films or videos should be submitted as an uncompressed MOV or M4P file. 
See more details about the contests and the entry form here. For more information, contact McBeath at jhmcbeath at 907-474-7431 or

Thursday, December 3, 2015

NRM student leads Resource Management Society

After graduating from high school in Maine, Trisha Levasseur and her best friend, who had relatives in Alaska, visited the state for a month. They camped from Fairbanks to Homer, went combat fishing on the Russian River, hiked on the Harding Icefield and took a helicopter ride in the Alaska Range to walk on Yanert Glacier.
Trish Lavasseur sits atop Mount Whitney last summer.

“Coming to Alaska was definitely was a life changer for me,” she says.

After returning home, Levasseur attended the University of Maine at Augusta for a year, but she transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the fall of 2011 to study wildlife biology and conservation. As part of her studies, she encountered an environmental ethics class taught by Dave Valentine and then outdoor recreation management from Pete Fix, classes she enjoyed greatly. She realized she was more interested in natural resources management than wildlife biology and switched to the major in 2014.

Levasseur is glad she changed majors. “It really is a small program, but the faculty make it pretty great and are always willing to help.” she said. “I would never have had the opportunities I've gotten here.”

She is particularly interested in outdoor recreation management. This past summer, she had an internship with the Bureau of Land Management in the White Mountains. She surveyed visitors at Nome Creek about their experiences, observed how BLM manages the national recreation area and helped rebuild trails. She is still working part-time with BLM to write up a report about the experience and help with other various projects.

Levasseur is also president of the Resource Management Society, the SNRE student club with natural resources management students who get together for activities, including occasional pizza and movie nights with a natural resources twist. Their goal is to introduce other students to natural resources management, so they invited students and the public to a showing and discussion of the environmental documentary “Earth Days” recently.

The club meets weekly to plan events, including this fall’s Farthest North Forest Sports Festival, a lumberjack-style competition, a holiday party and a winter Olympics in the spring. This past spring, members joined with SNRE faculty to ski to Valentine’s house for a potluck. The event gave students a nice way to interact with faculty outside of school, she said.

While the club is partly social, it also has an educational component, and the club hopes to get guest speakers to talk about natural resource management issues. They also hope to connect with the community more through volunteer activities such as litter pickup.

Levasseur expects to graduate in 2017 and she is not sure exactly what she will do next but it will likely be something with outdoor recreation management. Her hobbies include just about everything outdoors, she says, including hiking, ice climbing, snow machining, skiing, playing hockey, camping and biking. She is also interested in photography, playing various instruments, music and cooking.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Deb Cushing named SNRE Employee of the Quarter

Longtime employee Deb Cushing has been named the SNRE Employee of the Quarter for July to September.

Deb Cushing
When she started working in 1996 for the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management (now SNRE), Fred Husby served as the dean. Cushing’s jobs have included administrative assistant, grant writer and grant proposals coordinator for 15 years.  She remains the point of contact for researcher questions on grant proposals, including federal Hatch and McIntire-Stennis proposal projects and on Hatch Multistate research projects.

Most recently, she also became the program assistant for the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and she works with Research Director Milan Shipka and with Steven Seefeldt on event coordination and fundraising for the Georgeson Botanical Garden. And, she waters plants in the O’Neill Building!

 A nominating letter for Cushing notes, “Deb has worked extensively to cover several jobs at once while we are without an academic program assistant. She has worked hard to learn many skills beyond what had been required previously, all in an effort to serve the faculty, staff and students of SNRE.  Beyond that, Deb is well liked by her coworkers and is seen as an asset for accomplishing our jobs and as a friend to many of us in SNRE/AFES.”

Her work on the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Plan of Work and Annual Report, which is tied to SNRE federal funding, has been key. Several of the impact stories written by Cushing have been highlighted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also has helped academic faculty with numerous logistics, including the NRM field trip this past spring.

Cushing grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., and in Maryland, where her family moved  when she was in high school. Her father is a Pentecostal minister and she says she was raised as a  “preacher’s kid.” She received a bachelor’s degree in Biblical literature at Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash. She lived in Kotzebue for six years before working with the United Campus Ministries at UAF in a support and fund-raising role.

Cushing says she has stayed with the school for 20 years because she believes in its work, including research on important natural resource topics and in educating students in natural resources management, including agriculture and forestry.

Besides, she says, “I liked the people.”

Her interests include gardening, knitting, crocheting, spending time with three grandchildren, ages 8, 6 and nearly 1. Another favorite activity, she jokes, is writing murder mysteries in her mind, some of which involve former faculty.

Retired Dean Carol Lewis once gave her a sweatshirt that says, “Watch out or you’ll wind up in my novel.”