Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SNRE profiles: Leif Albertson does it all in Bethel

Leif Albertson coordinates the community garden in Bethel.
Photo by Cindy Andrechek

On any given week, Leif Albertson might present programs on canning fish, improving indoor air quality or eradicating bed bugs.

It’s all part of his job as the sole Cooperative Extension Service agent in Bethel. He is a health, home and family development agent, but he responds to diverse community requests and needs for educational programming in Southwest Alaska.

Albertson got involved with bed bug eradication when he realized there was a problem in rural Alaska and few resources existed for people trying to get rid of the persistent insects. Albertson, who has a background in public health and worked in an insect lab during college, studied up on bed bugs, gave presentations at state health conferences and co-authored an Extension publication on the subject.

As a new Extension agent, in 2008, he consulted with other Alaska agents about the kind of programs they were doing. He was advised to assess the needs of the region and to offer research-based programs to meet those needs.

Albertson said food preservation seemed like a good place to start because of the price of food.

“It’s much more expensive in Bethel,” he said.

Extension home economists showed him how to preserve foods and adjust pressure canner gauges. Interest in food preservation classes has remained high, he said, in part because of diminished fish runs some years on the Kuskokwim River. He offers classes in canning meat, fish and vegetables, pickling techniques and making yogurt. He also has taught classes on butchering moose and chickens.

Before coming to Extension, Albertson earned a master’s degree in public health policy and management from Harvard, and he managed more than 40 health clinics for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. As “the public health guy” in Extension, he provides programs on a number of health issues that affect rural Alaska, including indoor air quality, diabetes and tobacco use.

Albertson became interested in indoor air quality after he realized that children in Western Alaska younger than age 5 have some of the highest rates of respiratory illness in the world. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in the Yukon-Kuskowim area, he said.

“It seemed like a need because there were a lot of sick kids,” he said.

A lack of ventilation in homes, high rates of smoking and living in close quarters all contribute to the problem in rural Alaska, he said. Albertson undertook training through the National Environmental Health Association to become certified as a healthy homes specialist, the first in Alaska. That led to a number of programs in Southwest Alaska and presentations at statewide conferences. He also became certified to train others, and a number of Alaskans now hold that certification.

Albertson grew up in Anchorage. After he graduated from college, he moved to Bethel in 2002 for a job as a health program associate for the state, providing educational outreach to individuals about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. When he left Bethel for graduate school, he said he didn’t plan to return but found that he really missed it.

He has many ties to Bethel now, but his first community connection came almost by accident. Shortly after he moved to town, he started volunteering with the Bethel Fire Department simply because it had the best gym in town, he said. He has volunteered with the department for nearly 15 years as a firefighter and now as a paramedic.

He also served on an energy committee affiliated with the Bethel City Council for several years before getting elected as a city councilman in 2013 and re-elected two years later. Another public role he has is coordinating the community garden, with the help of an advisory board. He assigns plots and sometimes offers gardening programs on soils, growing potatoes or handling root maggots.

Although Albertson’s district covers more than 60 communities in Southwest Alaska, a limited travel budget means that he often works with other agencies to travel to communities outside of Bethel. He also coordinates with Extension staff in Bethel, who provide nutrition education and work with the 4-H program and youth.

You won’t find Albertson in his office very much. He’s usually out doing programs and has his office phone forwarded to his personal cellphone. Because people know he’s the Extension agent, opportunities for community engagement present themselves often, at the grocery store, the airport or just around town. He gets questions on a wide range of issues, sometimes from people in the middle of canning salmon. Albertson likes taking those calls and finding answers.

“I like the flexibility and the variety and that any day someone might call me and ask a question that I don’t know the answer to,” he said.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eight SNRE students receive scholarships

Congratulations to eight undergraduate students with the School of Natural Resources and Extension who received scholarships for the coming year.

The scholarship awards range from $500 to $1,800. A SNRE scholarship committee recommends students for the scholarships based on their criteria, and UAF notifies the students. The recipients for the 2017-2018 year and the scholarships are:

Hannah Christian: Paul and Flora Greimann Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to any natural resources management major, but students studying agriculture are preferred.

Jessica Herzog and Trevor Schoening: John B. and Mae M. Hakala Scholarship (two awards). The scholarship is awarded to students pursuing a degree in natural resources management, wildlife biology, biological sciences or nursing.

Kimberly Diamond: Bonita J. Neiland Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students in the natural resources management degree program who study the biophysical aspects of forestry or agriculture, or whose studies emphasize biology or ecology. The scholarship honors Dr. Neiland, who was director of instruction and taught natural resources management and botany at what was then known as the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management.

Abigail Steffen: Liu Huang Chou Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students who study plant pathology, plant biology or agriculture.

Dawson Foster, Mike Hoyt Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

David Rhodes: Walt Begalka Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a student who is studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Sagen Maddalena: Richard W. and Margery Tindall/Society of American Foresters Scholarship. The award is given to a student studying forestry within the natural resources management major.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

School hosting field seminar for Hokkaido University

Hokkaido University students and their professors, representatives from
UAF International Programs and Initiatives and Miho Morimoto
and Dave Valentine gather on the first day of the field seminar.

Eight students and two professors from Hokkaido University arrived Monday for the second edition of the Alaska Natural Resources Sustainability Field Seminar hosted by SNRE and UAF International Programs and Initiatives.

Miho Morimoto and Professor Dave Valentine are again coordinating the seminar and a busy schedule of field tours and lectures relevant to the natural resources theme Aug. 8-17. Conveniently, the group will fit in a 12-passenger van to be piloted by Miho, a postdoctoral researcher.

Valentine said the seminar will be similar to last year’s, with many of the same lecturers, but the students will visit the permafrost tunnel near Fox this time and will spend a night in Trapper Creek after visiting Denali National Park.

Valentine said that he got some good feedback from the students and professors who participated in the seminar last year. “Hokkaido wanted to do it again,” he said.

Seminar topics will include sustainability, the boreal forest, permafrost, the trans-Alaska pipeline, fisheries, permafrost, historical gold mining, Native corporations, timber use, wildland fire, forest and wildlife management, Alaska livestock and agriculture, and rocket research. Lectures will be given by UAF professors and representatives from agencies, businesses and a Native corporation. Lecturers from the School of Natural Resources and Extension will include Jan Dawe, Valentine, Morimoto, Glenn Juday, Milan Shipka, Mingchu Zhang and Art Nash.

The group will travel to the pipeline, a gold dredge, the Poker Flat Research Range, the permafrost tunnel, Denali National Park, Creamer's Field, Superior Pellets, the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, Georgeson Botanical Garden, the Large Animal Research Station, the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, Northland Wood Products and other locations.

As before, students participating in the seminar reflect a variety of disciplines, including forest sciences, medicine and engineering. The two Hokkaido professors, Masahide Kaeriyama and Xiao Lan, are participating for the second year. Morimoto also has Hokkaido connections. She is from Japan and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hokkaido University before earning a doctorate from the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

High school teachers study natural resources at O'Neill

Nineteen high school teachers from across the U.S. are at UAF this week, attending a training to help them use applied science with an agricultural theme in their classrooms.

Iowa teachers Susan Krummen and Alan Spencer
 examine soil to determine its texture in the O'Neill Building lab.
Most are agriculture or natural resources teachers. The School of Natural Resources and Extension provided lab and classroom space in the O'Neill Building for the CASE institute, which focuses on hands-on activities.

The Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators hosted the training, which runs from July 24-Aug. 3 and provides certification from CASE, which stands for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. CASE is sponsored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

The focus for this training is natural resources and ecology. The idea is to show and provide teachers a year's worth of curriculum and activities that they can use when they go home.

Dan Jansen, the national project director for CASE and its founder, was in Fairbanks for the first few days of the workshop.

“If you’re a new teacher, this gives you labs to take back to your classroom,” he said.

Jansen is a former Oregon high school agriculture teacher who also trained agriculture teachers at Oregon State University. He said the approach for the CASE institutes came out of his experience teaching. He saw how kids responded to learning practical applications of science that involve critical thinking.

Agriculture classes and FFA activities also serve as a natural pipeline to natural resources and agriculture university programs, such as SNRE, he said.

This is the first CASE institute offered in Fairbanks, but State FFA Advisor Kevin Fochs and Sue McCullough of the Alaska Association of Agriculture and Natural Resource Educators would like there to be more.

McCullough, who serves as a FFA advisor at Effie Kokrine Charter School, said only one Alaska teacher, in Palmer, is currently certified to teach agriculture and teaches the subject full-time.

“He’s the only one,” she said.

Iowa teacher Eddie Wadsworth helps measure
the slope of the ground.
Fochs said one of their goals is to increase the number of teachers who teach agriculture in Alaska high schools. The Alaska Department of Education recently added agriculture as a certification for teaching.

Although they reserved space for Alaska teachers in the training, only one signed up, from Fairbanks. The other teachers are from Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington State and New York. All are staying in Wickersham Hall at UAF.

Alan Spencer, an agriculture teacher from Red Oak, Iowa is attending his sixth CASE institute. The subjects he teaches in high school are all based on CASE institute curriculum, including basic agriculture, plant science, natural resources, animal science, food science and ag power technology.

There are definite connections between natural resources and agriculture, he said. “Part of agriculture is taking care of the land.”

Spencer grew up on a farm that raised cattle, hogs, corn and soybeans, and his father also taught agriculture at the high school level. He has been teaching agriculture for 20 years, and said he wished he had the curriculum as a beginning teacher.

He noted that the additional expenses needed to stage the labs often have been covered by grants he has applied for and other sources of funding he has pursued, but he considers the effort worthwhile.

The sees the value of the curriculum as opposed to lectures and students’ standard note taking. “They actually get to do these things that they are learning about,” he said.

Cheryl Sanders, who teaches earth science and natural resources at Hutchinson High School, is the only Alaska teacher attending the institute. She is taking the institute to develop a natural resources class that emphasizes physical science in addition to her class with a life science focus. The agricultural examples would fit in well with that curriculum, she said.

Sanders, who is the FFA advisor at Hutchison, said students there developed a raised-bed garden this past year and are already interested in agriculture.

She notes that natural resources education is particularly important in Alaska, which depends on natural resources such as timber, fisheries, mining, oil and coal.  At the same time, natural resources are interconnected with soils and agriculture.

“In order to have sustainable agriculture, you have to take into account natural resources.”

During their time in Fairbanks, the teachers have studied soils, water, air quality and agriculture. They toured operations at Chena Hot Springs one day and enjoyed a swim. Two teachers who are former participants in the institutes, lead the training.