University of Alaska Geography Program engaged in a number of initiatives
New program off to a good start
Welcome to the new home of the University of Alaska Geography Program
As the new University of Alaska Geography Program (UAGP) begins to take shape, several new alliances and developments have been announced by program director and professor Mike Sfraga. Based in SNRAS at UAF, the program was created to add depth and breadth to the university's activities in the field of geography, including opportunities for degree-seeking students.
The Alaska Geographic Alliance (AGA), a National Geographic Society-supported geography education and teacher training program for grades K-12, will now operate under the UAGP umbrella. AGA is co-directed by Dr. Roger Pearson, UAF professor of geography emeritus and Sitka school teacher Ms. Jody Smothers. Pearson has rejoined the geography program on a part-time basis to assist in geography education and program development. Smothers, a nationally recognized expert in geography education, has received many awards and recognitions, including the National Council for Geographic Education/CRAM Award for Exemplary Classroom Presentations, and the "Disney Channel and McDonald's Salutes the American Teacher" award. She is a past president of the National Council for Geographic Education, and has served on several national advisory bodies, including the AP Human Geography Reader for the College Board. Smothers was instrumental in shaping the state's classroom standards as co-chair of the Alaska 2000 Geography Standards Committee.
Pearson, Smothers, and UAGP director Mike Sfraga are currently working with the National Geographic Society to expand and enhance the AGA network, inclusive of summer programs for both teachers and students. In April of 2006, the UAGP will partner with Alaska's school districts and the AGA to coordinate and sponsor the National Geographic Society Geography Bee.
Outreach to the people of Alaska includes a series of public round-tables now being developed for broadcast throughout the state. Experts from many different areas will participate in the series, which will highlight issues of particular interest and relevance to Alaskans. Tentative round tables include: Alaska's Global Reach: The Strategic Military and Political Value of Alaska's Geographic Position; Not Remote Enough: The Impact of Global Health Issues on Alaska; Pipelines and Pundits: The Potential Impact of the Next Boom.
In spring 2006, the UAGP launches a public service lecture series. The lectures will constitute the first presentations in the recently developed UAF International Polar Year (IPY) lecture series. Both the geography program and SNRAS are well represented in UAF's IPY planning. Sfraga and Barb Pierson are participating on the UAF Education and Outreach Committee, and the overall UAF IPY Steering Committee. In February, internationally celebrated explorer Helen Thayer will give the first IPY public lecture at UAF. The lecture and subsequent educational programs are coordinated with and sponsored by the Alaska Geographic Alliance. Thayer walked solo to, and circumnavigated the Magnetic North Pole, walked across the Sahara, and trekked the entire length of the Gobi Desert. Along with the public lecture, Thayer will lecture in Dr. Sfraga's geography senior seminar course; work with research professor Martin Jeffries of the UAF Geophysical Institute; work with local school teachers in the ALISON Project (Alaska Lake Ice and Snow Observing Network); and will travel to the Denali Park area in partnership with the Denali Foundation.
With the support of the University of Alaska Office of Academic Affairs and Research, and Provost Paul Reichardt, the UAIGP will host Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steal, and current best seller Collapse). Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California Los Angeles. Diamond will give a public lecture at the University of Alaska Anchorage on March 27 and at UAF on March 28 (details forthcoming). He will also visit with faculty and students from throughout UAF, UAA and UAS. SNRAS faculty will be scheduled to participate in a school-wide discussion as well.
Instruction for the statewide geography program will be enhanced by the contributions of Jason Ohler, president's professor of distance education and educational technology. Ohler will work with the UAGP, and interested SNRAS faculty, in various capacities. A noted expert in educational technology and distance education pedagogy, he created the Educational Technology Program (Masters Degree in Teacher Endorsement) at the University of Alaska Southeast in 1986. Ohler has worked with teachers and government officials in Greenland, Ireland, and New Zealand in the effective use of educational technology and distance learning.
Ohler also is co-developer of a geography-based Alaska-wide initiative entitled "Stories of Place and Culture." The program brings together Native elders and youth to create stories of place that reflect regional and cultural values. Ohler and Sfraga presented the program at the recent meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Ohler will continue his affiliation with UAS, but direct the majority of his research and academic efforts toward enhancing the UAGP. Led by Ohler, the geography program will launch its new website in January 2006.
Katie Kennedy, formally with the Statewide Office of Student and Enrollment Services, has joined the UAGP as administrative assistant. Katie will support the program director, as well as UAGP faculty and programs in Fairbanks, Kenai, Anchorage, and Juneau.