Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Coverdell Fellow working on NRM graduate degree

Steve Harvey poses in a dry season garden (dambo) with his neighbor, Charles
Katango, left, and headmaster Bright Simtime.


Steve Harvey spent a little more than two years as an agricultural Peace Corps volunteer in rural Zambia, demonstrating conservation farming methods to subsistence farmers.

The methods, which replenished the soil and reduced erosion, included crop rotation, planting nitrogen-fixing trees, minimum tillage, and adding compost and manure to enrich the soils. Representatives from surrounding villages worked with him on a demonstration plot. Continuing the work of a previous Peace Corps volunteer, Harvey hosted three field days to show his personal demonstration plot and methods to others. He grew crops like corn, beans and peanuts.

Steven Harvey identifies pests in a school nursery.
Some of the people adopted the practices, and he said he felt like he had accomplished something when the headman of one of the villages got up and explained the farming methods to a crowd of about 100.

The education went both ways. Harvey learned how to replace his grass thatched roof and cook local foods, such as nshima, which is made of corn, cassava or finger millet, with small dried fish, beans and/or vegetables.

Harvey was introduced to agriculture while attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, where he worked two years on a student-run farm with gardens, chickens, bees and fruit trees. After graduating, he worked on an organic vegetable farm for six months while applying for the Peace Corps, which provided training in conservation agriculture.

Midway through his two-year term, which began in February 2015, he applied and was accepted the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, which provides educational support for the returning Peace Corps volunteers.  The Peace Corps program is sponsored at UAF by SNRE and the College of Rural and Community Development. Harvey applied to the School of Natural Resources and Extension program because it was affiliated with an agricultural experiment station and he wanted to study natural resources management.

“Coverdell was a good opportunity to attend graduate school,” he said.

Under the program, students receive a $15,000 stipend and tuition for two semesters. Participants are required to work with an underserved community 10 hours a week.

Harvey, who is attending his second semester at UAF may be the fifth and final Coverdell recipient with SNRE. Associate Professor Susan Todd, who coordinates the program for SNRE, said the Peace Corps notified her in December that the University of Alaska Fairbanks could not guarantee another five years of funding for the program. SNRE received its first Coverdell Fellow in 2011.

Todd understands the financial realities of the university but is disappointed because the Coverdell students bring an international perspective to classes they participate in and enrich other students with their experience.

“They bring all that background into class,” she said.

Steven Harvey in the tree nursery he developed to give away fruit and
soil-improving trees.
They also contribute to their communities, she notes. Past SNRE Coverdell Fellows with SNRE have helped the Department of Fish and Game survey families about the type and amount of subsistence foods they have used, and have worked with villages in Southeast Alaska to address community problems, such as funding for water systems. Stefan Tangen, who recently graduated from SNRE, helped communities in Western Alaska plan for climate change. Julie Cislo worked with the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District to develop curriculum about soil and water for grade school students. Harvey is also working with the conservation district to put together a visual model that shows groundwater movement and contamination. He will also develop lesson plans about growing small grains.

For his master’s project, Harvey will work with Professor Mingchu Zhang on computer modeling of how different changes in climate may affect the growth of wheat in Alaska.

Harvey is also disappointed the Coverdell program will end. The program provides an incentive for individuals to volunteer for the Peace Corps and, he said, “It makes graduate school possible.”

SNRE also has three graduate students in the Peace Corps’ Master’s International Program. The Peace Corps announced in 2016 that it would end the program after current students completed their work. Under the program, students begin their master’s degree at UAF, apply to the Peace Corps and, if accepted, volunteer for 27 months and then return to complete their graduate degree.

Todd said Jordan Richardson recently returned from Paraguay and hopes to graduate in the summer of 2018. Lori Beraha is finishing her research project before she leaves for the Peace Corps. She will graduate this spring and hopes to go to the Philippines or Malawi in an environmental program.  Fiona Rowles finished her first year of coursework last year and is serving in Malawi. She will likely graduate in the spring of 2019.

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