Monday, June 15, 2015

Interim Dean Steve Sparrow to retire in June

Steve Sparrow came to University of Alaska Fairbanks in the mid-1970s as a research technician for a professor he describes as the “predecessor to the predecessor” of SNRE soil scientist Mingchu Zhang.

Steve Sparrow
After earning a doctorate at the University of Minnesota, he returned to UAF in May 1981 as an agronomist for what was then known as the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management.

Sparrow retires June 30 after 34 years as an agronomist, eight years as an associate dean of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and, for the last three years, interim dean of the school and interim director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

Sparrow’s primary research included forage crops, biomass crops and soil management.  He researched the effect of different levels of tillage on erosion and potential crops that that were feasible to grow as biomass, particularly the ones grown successfully elsewhere, such as willows, poplars and grasses.

He has taught or team taught many university classes, including undergraduate courses such as soil biology, soil management and Perspectives in Natural Resource Management and a graduate level soil microbiology course. As an administrator, he continued to teach, most recently a soil biology course in 2014.

Darlene masiak worked with Sparrow as his research technician for 27 years before retiring two years ago.

“He was a great boss,” she said. “He was generally right by your side working when you did fieldwork in the summers and labwork during the winters.”

Grad student Amanda Byrd demonstrates soil measuring techniques.
Amanda Byrd demonstrates soil measuring techniques.
Usually he was easygoing. Masiak only saw him lose his temper when he was dealing with machines, particularly a recalcitrant copier. After a few incidents of lively verbiage, a 2-by-4 soon rested on the copier for Steve to use for “repairs.”)

Darlene says Sparrow was always supportive of students and their research. She points out that the two research technicians who preceded her were Joan Braddock and Larry Hinzman, who went on to earn doctorates. Braddock serves now as the interim dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Hinzman is currently the UAF interim vice chancellor for research.

Sparrow says he’s come full circle with the merger of the school and Extension­, because the dean of the school and the Extension director used to share a suite in the Arctic Health Research Building — the same suite where his office is now.

He is proud of the merger, which has been considered or attempted at least two and maybe three times previously.

“We certainly got the merger up and running,” he said.

He believes it makes sense since the school and Extension are mandated to report together to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and both entities share similar interests.

Asked about his retirement plans, Sparrow joked, “I’m going to buy a TV.” Apparently, the household did not upgrade after the television signal went digital.

Other retirement plans include pursuing some of his hobbies, including fly tying, fly fishing and woodworking.  Only half of the Sparrow family intends to retire. His wife, Elena Sparrow, will continue working for SNRE as a research professor and outreach education coordinator. Eventually, they may consider a move to the Portland, Oregon, area to be closer to their two adult children, although that is still very much undecided.

The School of Natural Resources and Extension will celebrate Steve Sparrow’s time at the university with a retirement potluck event from 4 to 7 p.m. June 26 at the Georgeson Botanical Garden Pavilion.

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