Vision Task Force Final Report:

Shaping the Future of UAF

Research and Scholarship

In 2017 UAF will be a place where research and scholarship are fully integrated in the undergraduate and graduate experience. As core functions of UAF, research and scholarship require prominence in our vision for UAF and the highest priority for future investments. These core missions must permeate our purpose, our plans and their implementation.

The recommendations presented here are based upon these basic assumptions: UAF should serve the people and state of Alaska by addressing the problems and needs of our community, the state and nation.

UAF should build upon its unique strengths, expertise and location to address local, national and international problems and needs of the state and nation for which the university is particularly suited.

UAF scholarship and research should focus on areas that will yield economic benefits and address Alaska's and the nation's intellectual needs while being mindful of our responsibility to also address issues of global importance.

Comprising a strategy for UAF's future, these recommendations link assessment, investment and measurement by evaluating our current abilities and demand for services, and the need to invest in tomorrow's infrastructure and measure performance against expectations and need. The world is changing and we must be responsive to the needs of our society in the areas where we have recognized expertise and can make valuable contributions.

Recommendation One:

Create a research and scholarship consortium to focus on scientific and societal issues associated with rapid environmental and societal change.

Requirements

This consortium should:

  • Be based on the concept that multi-institutional, cross-discipline collaboration will leverage our strengths for addressing the greatest needs of our northern societies.
  • Incorporate state, federal and private stakeholders where appropriate.
  • Ensure that policy decisions concerning resource management are based on interdisciplinary studies that incorporate a broad understanding of interactions among changes in physical, biological, social, and cultural processes and values.
  • Bring understanding to the public and government of likely environmental and social changes and the timeline on which they are likely to occur.
  • Provide a quantitative assessment of probable impacts to the ecosystem, infrastructure, economic, and demographic changes.
  • Involve government planners, geophysicists, biologists, engineers and social scientists in the analysis.
  • Include oil and gas extraction and transportation, mining, fisheries, agriculture, forestry, tourism, transportation and infrastructure among the societal activities considered.
Engineering student

Impact

  • UAF lies at strategic and geographic crossroads where expertise, opportunity and obligation meet. We are home to many of the nation's experts in climate change and arctic studies in numerous disciplines, and home to the impacts of change to the environment, infrastructure, economies and traditions will be great. Strengthening our capabilities and facilities through this consortium will:
  • Foster viable strategies and solutions to complex societal and environmental challenges.
  • Increase the number of people in Alaska who have the expertise to affect solutions to these challenges.
  • Draw researchers and scholars from around the globe to UAF.

Recommendation Two:

Focus on research and scholarship that promote well-being and sustainability for Alaskans

Alaskans pride ourselves on being independent and self-sufficient, and with the right kind of research, we can be. We value our unique cultures and the Alaska way of life. Our geographic remoteness and isolation make life more expensive but much richer. As the world changes, we must meet the challenge of sustaining Alaska's communities.

Future success depends on building a more diversified economy and developing infrastructure integrated with our northern environment. It means charting and understanding demographic trends to formulate policies that lead to healthier individuals and communities. Most dramatically, it requires us to be aware of the natural forces that pose a threat to human lives and property, such as forest fires, flooding, erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, mud slides, invasive species and pandemics. It requires an awareness of and commitment to change the current disparities in personal and community health that prevent all Alaskans from leading positive and productive lives.

Research for healthy communities: education, public and mental health

Requirements

  • Preparing northern societies to adapt to social-ecological change and developing tenable policy strategies for addressing that change require healthy, educated, productive and engaged citizens. The health status of Alaska Native communities is of particular concern, as these populations have experienced dramatic increases in a number of complications over the past several decades, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition, many northern communities suffer extremely high rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug dependency, depression, school drop-out and other social problems. Certain groups are at particular risk, such as low income boys and Alaska Native communities undergoing rapid social change.
  • Understanding how genetic, nutritional and/or cultural-behavioral factors contribute to disease and disease-related risk factors is important for creating interventional programs to improve the health status of these communities.

Impact

  • Healthier communities will be fostered within the context of our ethnic diversity, high rates of migration, vulnerability to climatic change, and susceptibility to educational and social challenges. Research will advance understanding of genetic, nutritional and/or cultural-behavioral factors that contribute to social and behavioral issues, diseases, and disease-related risk factors for health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Research will also advance understanding of the educational problems affecting young men and Alaska Native communities and the strategies that promote their economic and social well-being.

Research for transition from oil and gas economy to a broader economic base

Requirements

  • The survival and prosperity of communities requires us to overcome high fuel and transportation costs, and the threatened and real loss of subsidies like the Power Cost Equalization Program and by-pass mail that help offset those expenses. Directed research that enables Alaskans to take advantage of affordable local renewable and alternative energy resources or grow and harvest our own food ensures economic opportunities without sacrificing our unique cultural character.

Impact

  • Alaskans have become dependent on oil revenues over the last 30 years. Since a sustainable state economy must be more diversified, we will move from a dependence on oil revenue to one that is more dependent on other nonrenewable (e.g., natural gas, coal, gold, zinc, boron and molybdenum) and renewable natural resources (e.g., energy, fisheries, forestry, agriculture), as well as other revenue sources, such as tourism.

Recommendation Three:

Build partnerships, working with Alaska industry, business and other institutions focusing on economic diversification through intellectual and value-added product development.

Biology student

Requirements

  • Focus on intellectual product development that yields more advanced technology for the state’s industries and that emphasizes emerging needs and technologies.
  • Discover and implement ways to affect cold climate adaptations in construction, renovation, energy conservation, production efficiency and food resources as examples.
  • As oil and gas resources are depleted and their use is further limited by the need to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, northern communities will need to adapt to increased costs of electricity, heating fuel and transportation. Two major areas of adaptation will be in the construction and operation of buildings and the production and distribution of food. UAF has significant resources in both areas that could be the basis for a consortium focused on improving the sustainability of Alaska communities.

Impact

  • Development of local economic opportunities.
  • Reduced net energy use in buildings.
  • Advances in construction, renovation and the development and selection of heating, ventilation and power systems (such as solar and bio-fuel systems).
  • More secure food production and distribution.
  • More cost-effective transportation.

Recommendation Four:

Development of and reliance on Cyber Infrastructure is key to the viability of UAF and Alaska.

Requirements

  • UAF needs to invest in computational sciences required to meet the challenging needs in wide range of disciplines, including biological sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering.
  • Investment in high bandwidth connectivity to and across Alaska with the goal of continuously upgrading the connectivity so that UAF meets the minimum standard expectation of the consortium of universities who make up the National Lambda Rail.

Impact

  • Improved competitiveness in disciplines that rely on computational sciences.
  • UAF will be able to compete for funding to participate in virtual communities where instruction, creative expression, collaboration, and computational science were allowed to flourish. 
  • Students will be practiced and prepared to fully engage in the technologies required for their futures.
  • Distance delivery of education will focus on improved continuity for learners, improved quality of instruction beyond classroom limitations, and increased access to real-time content. 
  • Computing and information processing services/businesses will be developed.
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