ASUAF hosts Fairbanks electoral town hall

The candidates present for the town hall. From left to right: Tim Lamkin, Grier Hopkins, Ed Alexander, Billy Toien, Van Lawrence, Adam Wool, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, and Bart LeBon. Not pictured: Sen. Mark Begich.

Though the town hall was small in attendance it was overall hailed a success.

With the midterm election just around the corner, ASUAF hosted a town hall on Oct. 24, allowing the Fairbanks community to ask questions of those running for office. However, the town hall lacked the presence of Sen. Mike Dunleavy, Sen. Pete Kelly, Kathryn Dodge, Rep. Steve Thompson, Rep. Tammie Wilson, Jim Sackett, Kevin McKinley, and Rep. David Talerico.

Over the course of 1 ½ hours, various hot-button questions of concern to the residents of Alaska, such as the Permanent Fund Dividend, affordable education, preservation of Native Alaskan culture and the environment were brought up. These questions showed the myriad of concerns that Alaskans have and the responses were just as myriad, some crystal clear, and others more difficult to discern.

“I gotta say this was an excellent event. Although I am not a Fairbanks citizen and I voted in Anchorage. It was really interesting to be able to understand what is affecting Fairbanks and the community, what’s affecting the community that I’m currently living in,” said Emma Ashlock, a current University of Alaska Fairbanks student.

Rep. Scott Kawasaki

That sentiment was echoed by UAF alum Christina Sinclair, “It went very well. I really like that UAF and the students are getting more involved in politics because it is very important to us. I recently graduated and getting involved in politics I see how it can go hand in hand. We have a very diverse community here especially at UAF and we need to make sure that the students are protected and the best way to do that is with legislation.”

 

The event featured the gubernatorial candidates, state house and representative seats. It allowed the population of not only the university but also of the greater interior a chance to ask questions of those they will elect to represent them on Nov. 6. The chance to come in direct contact with their representatives allows a more human approach to a political system that, more often than not, doesn’t allow the people to meet their representatives.

Grier Hopkins (right) and Tim Lamkin (left).

When asked how the event went from the coordinating side, the overall opinion from Daniel Vaziri, the public relations director for ASUAF was that the town hall was, indeed, a success:

 

“[The town hall went] Surprisingly very well, because we were expecting more people but after Walker dropped out then no one knows what to do, everyone’s confused. But with Audrey, Bernard, Peter, Dawson, they all were making calls until 10pm till the Wood Center closed trying to get as many candidates as they can, being as fair to everyone as possible, organizing it […] But I think it went very well because we still have candidates talking to people right now they showed up on time,” Daniel Vaziri, the public relations director for ASUAF.

Gubernatorial candidates Sen. Mark Begich (left) and Billy Toien (right).

Though the turnout was small for the town hall, the ability to watch democracy in action was invaluable, even with the swath with candidates who weren’t present. Which, in and of itself is telling of the priorities of those who chose to be at an event to earn money for their campaign than to talk to the grassroots supporters of politics, and the future of politics, the young people.




Voices of Our Ancestors: Documentary film to revitalize the Indigenous languages

 

Yup’ik, Inupiat, Tlingit, Alutiiq, Koyukon, Aleut, Tsimshian, Gwich’in, Haida… Alaska is home to more than 20 Native languages. From the fjords in the Southeast to the northern tundra where it meets the Arctic Ocean, the Alaskan languages have been spoken and sung for tens of thousands of years. Sadly, all of them are facing an imminent risk of extinction.

On this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct 8), the UAF community had an opportunity to reflect on revitalizing the Indigenous languages. An award-winning documentary short, “Voices of Our Ancestors”, was screened to the public in the Ballroom at Wood Center.

‘Waats’asdiyei (Joe Yates) is introducing his documentary short, “Voices of Our Ancestors” to the audience before the screening.

The event started with an introduction to the film by the director, ‘Waats’asdiyei (Joe Yates). Yates is a Haida from Craig, Alaska, majoring in Film here at UAF. “Our mission is to spread awareness on the state of our languages right now, to inspire others to learn their language, and to provoke them to teach what they know,” said Yates to the audience of about 50 people.

The 12-minute-long documentary was shot mostly at Yates’ home, starring his Yup’ik wife, Charleen, and daughter, Nayak’aq. Yates narrated how the Yup’ik and Haida languages are being forgotten as elders pass away, along with the hope to revitalize the languages. “After having my daughter, she re-woke my spirits. She made me realize that I don’t know enough to continue on our history,” said the Haida director in the film.

The film showed the Yates’ teaching their daughter Yup’ik and Haida by reading her children’s books and putting name tags on various objects in the house. Nayak’aq, who was at the screening with their parents, would grin and laugh whenever she saw herself on the screen. Although the circumstances of her languages are certainly not positive, the big smiles that she made to her elders’ songs showed a living hope. With parents like the Yates’, her languages will survive and be passed on to her and her children.

The documentary film, “Voices of Our Ancestors”, is screening in the UAF Ballroom in Wood Center.

The greatest moments in making “Voices of Our Ancestors” were “Seeing the growth of my daughter’s knowledge of both her culture’s language; that and my wife is understanding more Haida and I am learning more Yup’ik,” Yates told the Sun Star in an email interview. He said his family was his biggest inspiration to create this film.

“My wife’s culture is so beautiful and vibrant, it’s not hard to see how strong their culture is. With my language, Haida language is slipping away, my goal is to keep it alive and the best way I know is to teach it to my daughter. My wife and I agreed before our daughter was born that we wanted to teach her our languages.”

In fact, Charleen was not only his motivation but also one of his most valuable colleagues. The film’s authentic feels of home and intimacy that gave the audience a warm satisfaction naturally stemmed from his close collaboration with others.

“Charleen helped me out tremendously and not with just the cultural side, but she made sure the story was there and would notify me if anything looked of sounded off. I received a lot of advice from my professor, Rob Prince as well. After going to my wife, I’d go to him to get more of the filming side of the advice. Other than those two, my co-worker, Buck, helped me out a lot with my outline and helping me how to animate my title,” Yates wrote.

But not all processes were smooth, the filmmaker also mentioned. “On this project, I was doing both [the technology and story] sides. I was directing, starring, working with sound, everything. In the beginning we had to re-do a few interviews because the audio wasn’t up to par.”

‘Waats’asdiyei (Joe Yates) talking with the audience after the screening, holding his daughter, Nayak’aq, in his arms.

And it seemed like Yate’s endeavor has paid off. Wataru Takahashi, an anthropology exchange student and amateur filmmaker from Japan, praised “Voices of Our Ancestors” as a “very well-done film” with so much information in short runtime yet with the perfect amount of weight.

Takahashi said, “the reason I found [the film] very interesting is because, usually in university, all teachers and students think we have to study –in general, people have to study–their own language, but they don’t say they want to teach their own children in the future. Now I want to know more about the Alaskan languages.”

He sounded inspired by how the Yates’ taught their daughter Yup’ik and Haida. “I found it really cool that when they put stickers which he writes the name of the furniture in their language. It’s very cool to learn language as a life-tool in baby’s life. For me, I can use that way to learn the Athabascan, Yup’ik or Inupiat language,” said Takahashi. He was already a fan of Voices of Our Ancestors.

“Films are a really good tool to inform who don’t know or who don’t have really strong interest in this kind of issue,” he said with enthusiasm. “I really want to watch the full-length film.”

Image courtesy of FBX Films

Yates is currently making the 26-minute-long television version of Voices of Our Ancestors with a plan to have it completed by the end of this year. This longer version will contain the stories of the Yates’ visit to Kasigluk, Alaska, where Charleen is from. Yates is also planning on making a full-length version of the documentary but told the Sun Star that it is hard to predict what will be in it. “My goal is that we will go to my hometown, Craig, Alaska, and have both my wife and daughter adopted in the Haida culture so that they both can have a clan. Within the documentary, I explain further on what all that means,” the rising director showed his ambitions.

“A message I would like to share with the Indigenous communities at UAF is that I am honored every time I am able to speak. I know there was a time that if you were able to speak to a crowd, you were most high honored to do so,” Yates wrote.

He also shared a message to the UAF’s non-Native populations, “a Seawolf is a Haida creature that we share in our stories often. Before you chant ‘what’s a Seawolf’, Google the question first!”

“Voices of Our Ancestors” won Best Alaska Film by the MôTif Film Festival in 2018 and an award by the Ketchikan Film Festival in the same year. The documentary was also nominated and officially selected at other film festivals.

Yates can be reached at his team’s website. “Voices of Our Ancestors” can be found on Facebook and Instagram.




Rainy days, enduring lessons, all part of inspiring girls award-winning expedition

 

Muddy, gray water shot out vigorously as Kim McNett, in a glossy suit of soaked rain-gear, rapidly worked her kayak bilge pump. Only she was not bailing water from a boat. The sea-kayak guide, stood on shore at bended knee, ridding water from a trench built around a flooded tent.

McNett was anything but discouraged, “Welcome to Girls of Rainy Fjords!” She yelled, with arms outstretched in triumph

Girls on Icy Fjords is one of several expeditions offered through UAF’s housed Inspiring Girls Expeditions program. Every summer, each year, teams of high school girls, instructors and mountain guides immerse themselves in wilderness, science and art on these tuition-free 12-day excursions. The girls spend time collecting data and analyzing in field projects. Over 200 students have participated to date.

The goal is to spark the girls with an interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “They leave with an understanding of why field science is different,” said glaciologist Aurora Roth, one of four UAF researchers instructing the Girls on Ice Alaska expedition this past June.

“Field science,” as she put it, “is this combination of understanding your surroundings and your landscapes and being able to move safely within them.”

The efforts, aimed at igniting interest in STEM fields among a traditionally underrepresented demographic, recently drew a national award for UAF’S Inspiring Girls program. INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, a 40-year-old subscription-based publication serving the higher education industry, listed UAF’s summer expedition program among it’s 2018 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award.

INSIGHT publisher Lenore Pearlstein characterized the magazine’s award as an incentive for change: “To advocate diversity, promote equality and build a stronger US work force, we at INSIGHT recognize the importance of increasing the number of people from underrepresented groups entering the STEM professions.”

UAF and other recipients were recognized in INSIGHT’s September issue.

“The best parts about that are that it feels like we have a good reputation among the university level,” Erin Pettit, a UAF glaciologist and founder of what has developed into a national program. Even though it is for high schoolers, the program is being recognized on the university level. “I appreciate and value having that feeling that we have that respect among our collegial institutions.”

Caitlynn Hanna, a current freshman engineering student at UAF, participated in the 2017 Icy Fjords expedition. Her team spent 12 days in Seward where they collected and analyzed data and studied things like shore birds.

Hanna was inspired seeing “tough, strong ladies in their career field and doing really well in it.” She made lasting friendships with her team members. “We celebrated the one-year anniversary in August,” she said.

On her last day in Seward, she and the other girls wrote letters addressed to themselves one year in the future. “I wrote a lot about the people I was with and things to remember.” Hanna recalled with a laugh, “Like when Rosemary got stuck in the mud.”

Rosemary had to sit down and use both hands to pull her feet out of the mud. She then had to retrieve her wetsuit shoes from the bottoms of the pits.  Courtesy of Caitlynn Hanna

To stay warm after getting out of the Kayaks, the girls started to run laps on the sandy beach. “When she [Rosemary] stepped on it, the sand moved,” said Hanna. “She decided to stand in one place and move her feet. She quickly got stuck in the sand. Like shin deep.”

Rosemary stood, seized by the mud, in her vivid blue raincoat on a foggy, grey beach below a sunless sky. Her eyes peaked down behind her glasses at her predicament while the corners of her mouth turned up, forming the slightest smile.

When Pettit founded the program in Washington in 1999, girls taking part were mainly involved in mountaineering. Since emerging in Alaska in 2012, Girls on Ice has become much more.

Pettit hopes to broaden the ideas on what science is. “It helps them realize there is not one way to be a scientist,” said Pettit.

“Many girls choose not to go into science because we all grow up with very particular ideas of what science is. Science is a lot more than the stereotypes they were given as kids.” In both the scientific and outdoor-adventure worlds that are still very white-male dominant, Pettit said they do anything they can to help give these girls an experience that will give them a leg up.

The program gears the girls up with the confidence that carried into their first college science classes.

Inspiring girls encourages any high school girl with an interest in science, outdoors, art or environment to apply. A team is chosen as a whole. After members reach Alaska, the program provides transportation to the expedition locations well as food, gear and art supplies.

This is not the first time UAF’s Inspiring Girls drew recognition from INSIGHT, an influential publication with a combined print and online subscription base of 60,000, according to its online advertising fact sheet.

Three years ago, UAF’s expedition program earned the magazine’s Inspiring Women in STEM Award.

Lessons from these field expeditions go beyond science.

That rainy trip in Seward expedition’s gear tent was not placed in an ideal location, leading to so much rain collecting underneath it was, as Hanna described it, “like a waterbed.”




Indigenous Peoples Day at UAF

UAF Hosts 2nd Annual Indigenous Peoples Day

Gwich’in elder Luke Titus gives a blessing at Troth Yeddha’ Park, the future site of an indigenous studies center.

The University of Alaska held day-long celebrations for Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, October 8th with guest performers from around the community and a visit from the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska.

“There was a time that this university reflected a society that was not particularly embracing of or understanding of or even welcoming of Alaska’s First Peoples and other races, and that has changed powerfully as society has changed,” said Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallot, a Tlingit from Yakutat in an interview with the Sun Star.

The day began with an invocation ceremony that was shortened by the cold temperatures that left the twenty or so spectators shivering as they circled up around the grass at Troth Yeddha’ Park on West Ridge.

After delivering the invocation in Gwich’in, Vice Chancellor of Rural and Native Education Evon Peter announced new funding goal.

“Our number one fundraising priority for the university is getting Troth Yeddha’ built,” he said, referring to the planned indigenous studies center. Troth Yeddha’s architectural plan was completed in 2014 by a renowned national architect, but lack of funding has stalled construction since then.

At the invocation, Gwich’in elder Luke Titus recounted a story of growing up in his home village of Minto, 60 miles down the Tanana River from Fairbanks. He recounted waking up in an unheated cabin on days much colder than Monday’s 20 degrees.

“Who in the heck would wanna get outta bed when its -30, or -40 outside?” he joked, “My uncle taught me to do those things without complaining.”

Celebrants walk from Troth Yeddha’ Park to the Wood Center on Monday Morning

Titus said his uncle would wake him on those cold morning and he would pretend to be sleeping, but eventually was forced to go outside to “run out,” for a morning jog. He was supposed to go to a certain tree a ways down the trail and come back to the cabin. One day his uncle caught him turning around before his tree.

“In life you can’t take shortcuts,” he said, “In life you are going all the way, and if you try to cut off, you’ll get caught like that.”  

After the 10am invocation, celebrants walked down to the Wood Center for an impromptu dance performance that redirected traffic through the side stairs.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed the bill establishing indigenous peoples day in July of 2017. That makes Alaska one of only two states to recognize the day, which was formerly celebrated in Alaska as Columbus Day.

Dancers Julian Thibedeau, Evon Peter, and Travis Cole perform an Athabaskan dance at the Wood Center

Julian Thibedeau, a second year student in Rural Development and a member of the Troth Yeddha’ drumming group at UAF, echoed Mallot’s optimism about the progress the university has made in recognizing indigenous heritage.

“It’s huge,” he said referring to the celebration, “When we ignore the facts of the origins of our country–and don’t get me wrong, American has done a lot of good, and stands for a lot of good things–but it’s huge for the university to acknowledge us. It doesn’t fix all the wrongs.”

He said that he sees reasons for optimism elsewhere too.

“Not just at the university but around Indian country there’s progress being made,” he said.




Celebrated Ceramics Artist Patti Warashina Visits UAF

Patti Warashina explains her creative process at a presentation on Wednesday

Patti Warashina, an iconic Japanese-American ceramics artist from Seattle, visited Fairbanks last week for a workshop sponsored by the UAF Students Ceramics Arts Guild.

“When the Ceramics Guild proposed Patti I said, ‘No way, she’s too big of a star!’ ” said the Faculty Adviser for the guild, Jim Brashear, in introducing Warashina, “But she was super excited to come up.”

Brashear said that Warashina is considered a pioneering iconoclast in a movement of ceramics called California Funk that evolved from a hyper-masculine ceramics styles of the 50s and 60s.

“California Funk started looking at mold making: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and that kind of shit, that was considered kitschy,” said Brashear, “Patti was one of the first successful artists to come out of that and she was the first successful female [ceramics] artists.”

Warashina hosted a public two-day workshop at the UAF ceramics studio as well as giving a presentation about her work that was attended by about forty people. The 78-year old Warashina talked about her wide-ranging influences–from the religious fragmentation of the Japanese American community she observed during her upbringing in Spokane, to her flower garden and King Tut– that have inspired her art over her iconoclastic 50-year career. While a lot of her recent work has included political commentary, she says she hasn’t let it get her down.

“My work is so happy,” she said.

Warashina says that she never tried to make explicit feminist commentary, but that it was taken as such.

Despite her trailblazing achievements, Warashina said she usually wasn’t trying to make feminist statements, but that they came out naturally from influences she was feeling.

One of her earlier pieces entitled “Clothesline Robbery,” portrays a naked woman smiling ebulliently from atop a car towing the scraps of a run-over clothesline. “I wasn’t consciously doing it as a women’s thing, but because of the timing it was taken as such,” she said.

In another example of her light-hearted irreverence, Warashina talked about her portrayal of her then-husband sitting atop a rat in “A Procession.” “My husband asked, ‘Why’d you do that to me?!’ I said, ‘It’s my work, I can do what I want.”

Despite her age, Warashina said that she continues to work in the studio and sleep only a few hours per night.

“I cat nap, but I sleep for two hours and then I’ll wake up and I just gotta read something,” she said, “But I still love going into the studio, and I feel bad when I don’t go in.”

Zoey Hensley, a sophomore art student, attended the workshops and said she was interested in Warashina’s entry into pottery.

“She talked about what was popular when she started was these large, macho, pots, and she started using things that were considered kitschy,” said Hensley.

Hensley said that she has never run into the barriers of being a woman that Patti described from her early career.

“She got picked on a lot,” said Hensley, ”I haven’t had any problems with gender issues, and thinking about what she did is so much more impressive.”




Nanook Hockey Dominates Simon Fraser in Exhibition Game

Nanook hockey fans cheered gloriously Saturday night as the University of Alaska, Fairbanks outscored Simon Fraser University 13-1.

Coming from Burnaby, British Colombia, Canada; Simon Fraser University’s hockey club from the BCIHL (British Colombia Intercollegiate Hockey League) arrived in Fairbanks to play against your Alaska Nanooks. The Nanooks played a high scoring hockey game to start off their season in the Carlson Center. The Alaska Nanooks had a combined total of 34 points amongst its players with senior defenseman and captain Nikolas Koberstein scoring a powerplay goal and assisting in five other goals, giving Koberstein a six-point game.

Freshman forward and Indiana native Sam Ruffin got his first collegiate hat trick in his first collegiate hockey game as he put the puck in the back of the net for the last three goals. All three goals were scored within a two-minute and three-second time span, two of which were scored merely nine-seconds a part. Ruffin scored his hat trick and last goal of the game with five-point-five seconds left on the clock as the crowd chanted “one last goal”.

Junior goaltenders’ Anton Martinsson and Niko DellaMaggiore played a perfect goalie game, keeping the puck out of the net with seven, and six saves respectively, with freshman goaltender and Latvia native Gustavs Grigals making eleven saves while letting in one goal, giving him a save percentage of 0.917.

Alaska Nanooks will be traveling to the desert of Tempe, Arizona to play against Arizona State in a non-conference official game next weekend, October 6th and 7th. You can listen in on KSUA 91.5 FM at 5:05 PM AKDT or listen to their live stream online at ksuaradio.com/stream.




UAF Hosts Ceremony to Inaugurate new Combined Heat and Power Plant

Tents erected for Wednesday’s event at the former site of the UAF Greenhouse, which was dismantled to make way for the new Combined Heat & Power Plant.

About 200 people celebrated the near-completion of the nation’s first coal-fired power plant in a decade at UAF with a ceremonial flip of a switch last Wednesday, August 29. The event included speeches from a state Senator and the President of Usibelli Coal Mine, which has long supplied coal to the university power plant. 

“I thought a lot about what this means to the university,” said UA President Jim Johnson, who also spoke at the celebration, “It means the merging of state of the art technology and responsible natural resource development.”

The event also included a ceremonial switch-flipping event, though the plant is not expected to be fully operational until the end of November. Currently, the different systems are being tested independently.

Though the event on Wednesday was celebratory, UAF Public Information Officer Marmian Grimes acknowledged some mixed feelings about building a coal power plant at a time when about 27 such plants have closed since 2017, according to the Sierra Club.

“We certainly recognize that this is unusual to be building a new coal plant in late 2015,” she said in a phone interview, “but for Fairbanks, and for the university, that option made the most sense from the economic, logistical and even an environmental standpoint. The new plant does greatly reduce emissions.”

Guests at Wednesday’s event listen and learn about the new plant.

The 9-story power plant uses a circulating fluidized-bed technology, a more efficient industry standard, instead of the Atkinson Power Plant’s stoker boiler, a technology that dates back to the 1890s. Project engineer Piotr Sawka estimated that the new boiler would use about 20% less coal per unit of electricity produced.

Particulate emissions, which are a major health concern in winter in Fairbanks, will be reduced by an estimated 45%, according to the project website, as will other contaminants such as sulfur dioxide.

“This plant is designed to have the lowest emissions of any plant in the US,” said Scott Bell, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services. It also is permitted to run on up to 15% biomass, though so far the university has not found a reliable source, according to Grimes. It also has the potential to be retrofitted to burn more than that, or, with a little more invested, be converted to natural gas, should it become more cheaply available.

Construction teams broke ground on the project in early 2014, but the origins date back to December 11, 1998, when a pipe from one of the coal-fired boilers burst, shattering windows in the plant and shuttering electricity and heat to buildings across campus. Power wasn’t restored for 12 hours, but the incident stoked Mike Ruckhaus, a Senior Project Manager along with Utilities Director Chilkoot Ward to begin investigating alternatives to the old Atkinson plant that was nearing the end of its planned 50-year operational life.

Ruckhaus showed off his commemorative t-shirt from the time at Wednesday’s ceremony, which read “Where were you when the lights went out?”

Speakers on Wednesday elaborated its ability to secure the $245 million in funding in a time of tight budgets, though they acknowledged the project was not without hiccups. A major one occurred when Ruckhaus and his team were working on a comprehensive project estimate and realized that they were about $50 million over their $245 million budget. By slashing the administrative room from the plan and leaving the room designed to house the biomass turbine empty, the administrators were able to cut the costs back to within the original estimate.

“You can’t do those things because I sit here and tell somebody to do that,” said Ruckhaus “there has to be a level of cooperation.”

While the mood Wednesday was of celebratory students and faculty interviewed by the Sun Star had mixed emotions about the plant.  

“It’s a pretty impressive structure–it’s huge and state of the art!” said Sherjeel Cheema, an Electrical Engineering Sr. who interned at Chugach Electric in Anchorage last summer and was at Wednesday’s event, “Of course you always want the greenest technology and the cleanest fuel, but in Fairbanks coal is the only fuel that is economical.”

The new plant is linked to the old Atkinson Power Plant through an elevated tunnel, allowing workers easy access to between the plants.

Computer Science professor Jonathan Metzger brushed off any criticism of the plant. “It [coal] is more efficient than it’s ever been,” he said, “It’s not like you can put wind up here–I don’t think anyone wants to build a nuclear power plant up here!”

Wenshi Fraser, a civil engineering Junior, was more critical and expressed an interest in seeing more investment in renewable energy. “I like that it’s fitted for other options,” she said, referring to the potential to retrofit the plant to burn more biofuel or natural gas, “But it is what it is.”

Fraser said that although she found the building to be an eyesore each day when she walks from her residency at the Sustainable Village, she has come to appreciate it for a paradoxical reason. 

“I like that it’s right in front of you so that people can decide what they want their future to look like,” she said, ‘It is a good reminder since it is right in front of you every time you come onto campus.”

 




Professor brings storytelling to life

With all the stories being shared about Alaska on national networks, most Alaskans see beyond the shallow exterior of these Hollywood acts; however, their stories often go untold to the larger community and people hungry for true adventure stories from the 49th state.

Rob Prince, associate professor and filmmaker at UAF, is trying to change that with his show, Dark Winter Nights, dedicated to providing a stage for Alaskan storytellers to tell real Alaskan stories.

Making Alaska home

Originally from Michigan, Prince was offered a job with UAF in 2005. He took the job in part because it sounded like an “adventure” and with their one-year-old daughter in tow, he and his wife decided it was now or never.

“We thought, if we’re going to do something crazy, now would be the time because it’s not likely we’re going to want to do this later. And so we thought we’d come up for five years, like a lot of people do and have our little adventure and then move on,” Prince said.

Initially, it was only three years before heading south for a brief time.

“We had to go back down to the lower 48 and deal with a situation there, and then I just missed it so bad that we came back.”

Prince acknowledges the pull Alaska seems to have on out-of-staters like themselves.

“My favorite analogy is it’s like that beautiful person that you date who treats you terribly, but you also have never met anyone like them, so you just can’t break up with them,” Prince said.

He continued, “That’s kind of like the mean ex-girlfriend but who is also super pretty and you felt great when you were with them but at the same time they could be so cruel to you. That’s sort of what it is, it’s so not like anywhere else. And there’s all kinds of adventure up here, but it comes at a heck of a price.”

Amanda Byrd, one storyteller for the show, shares this love for Alaska as well. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she said she appreciates the down-to-earth nature of Alaskans.

“One of the things I love about Alaska is you can be pushing a cart in Fred Meyers, you can be riding your bicycle, you can be running, you can be paddling down the river with somebody next to you who is dressing like you, like, whatever,” Byrd said.

“And you don’t know that they are a multi-millionaire and they own the fanciest house on top of the hill because they don’t flaunt it. They’re like, ‘no, I wear my Carhartts. I like Carhartts.’ That’s what I like. People are real.”

Given the combination of the incredible setting that Alaska provides along with the down-to-earth, adventure-seeking types the state attracts, there are many stories to be told.

Along with these factors, Prince said Fairbanks is an ideal place to share a storytelling event.

“I feel like the stuff that I’ve done up here with the storytelling program would have just been more noise in the Lower 48. I mean, who knows? There’s a lot more clutter you’ve got to breakthrough down there. And up here, when I came up with the idea to do it, it wasn’t an innovative new idea,” Prince said.

“They’ve been doing this everywhere. They have one in Anchorage; they have one in Juneau and some other smaller ones. And it’s already the Moth, it’s already this American life, Snap Judgment,” said Prince.

“I just happened to be the first one who put it together,” he continued, “but anybody could’ve put it together, and it probably would have been successful because it’s already proven to be so successful. But here I’m more or less the only one,” Prince said.

Beginning stages

Originally, Dark Winter Nights started at Pioneer Park in April 2014. After an overflow crowd at the Civic Center that November, they moved to Hering Auditorium, which seats 1284 people, the following spring.

Prince said, “It had been my dream to get there. I was like, ‘Someday we’ll get to Hering if the gods shine down on us, you know, if everything comes together,’ and so it was pretty exciting to get there so fast.”

For the show, seven storytellers are pre-selected with one chosen randomly from the audience. For as many stories as Alaskans have, they aren’t readily sharing them, according to Prince.

Prince said, “We really have to reach out. We do not have enough people submitting stories. I think that in part might be kind of an Alaskan thing that we’re not big into tooting our own horns up here. You don’t come up here because you want to show everybody else how great you are you know, we’re all kind of like very even playing field.”

For Sean McGee, a storyteller at Saturday’s event, Prince managed to convince him to share a story. As a former police officer, McGee has countless stories, but one story really caught Prince’s attention.

“He’s been working on me [to tell a story] for almost three years,” McGee said.

“For quite some time I wasn’t sure if we could talk about the incident that, you know, there are all kinds of rules about what we can say and everything, so he kept on me, pestering me,” McGee said.

McGee checked in with the troopers and got the okay to tell the story, which he shared Saturday evening.

For Byrd, her start began at the previous show, where she was selected as the random storyteller. When asked by Prince if she might have more stories to share, she named a couple before landing on the winner– a story about a research turned rescue mission out on the Gulf of Alaska. She also shared her story Saturday evening.

Coming back to storytelling

Often seen as an ancient art, storytelling has seen a resurgence in recent years.

“We kind of forgot storytelling, or we just reinterpreted it,” Prince said.

With storytelling shows gaining popularity around the country, Prince speculates on the roots of its current momentum.

“I used to subscribe to flying magazines and there’d be like all the articles about here’s the FAA and here’s how you learn to do this and do that. And then in the last page before the end it would be some story of ‘How I Survived…’ this thing,” Prince said.

“I would always want to read that part. And you look at radio programs and such that were on the air. They might have one small part that was a little human interest story you know, and TV will have had that in TV news, so like end with a nice little human interest story,” Prince continued.

“I think that at some point in the nineties particularly with This American Life, they figured out that that little part, people really liked that a lot and if you made a show that was just that that would be particularly interesting combined with innovative way that they told the story.”

Along with storytelling resurfacing in communities, it is also playing an important role in business and journalism.

“It’s become the tagline for this department, Communication and Journalism, ‘Tell great stories,'” Prince said, “So yeah, it’s definitely become very popular.”

There is value that comes from these stories both for individuals and the community as a whole. Jessie Robertson, a researcher at UAF and storyteller for Dark Winter Nights, is currently in partnership with StoryCorps (a nationwide organization aiming to share and preserve stories) to record stories within the scientific community, as a way of making science more accessible and relatable to a wider audience.

“I think [storytelling] makes people more relatable. […] We’re really in this stage of politics and everything where everyone seems pretty disconnected, that and social media, like we’re actually not as connected as we think we are. So I think people like to just kind of go and actually hear somebody be vulnerable, funny and tell something ridiculous as a way of connecting people,” said Robertson.

Inspiration

Prince credits a few specific inspirations for the show including podcasts like “Snap Judgment” and “This American Life.”

“This American Life [has been an inspiration] just in terms of how they’ve revolutionized radio storytelling in a way that made them so interesting. So we’re constantly trying to find stories that match that model.”

“I’m very much inspired by Gallagher,” Prince continued, “who is like an eighties comic who would smash watermelons on stage, but he also had just bizarre props and stuff. That’s my dream to make this a real fascinating show.”

Getting Dark Winter Nights into the Hering Auditorium was originally Prince’s ultimate goal and while last weekend’s show drew over 600 people, Prince is aiming for his next target.

“Now, [getting into Hering is] not enough. Now it’s ‘some day we will sell out’ and that’s taking its time. I’m hoping next November we might actually pull it off.”

Last weekend’s show drew an estimated 600 guests

The next live event will be held Saturday, November 17, 2018 at the Hering Auditorium. Along with the live shows, Dark Winter Nights is broadcast the last Saturday of the month (September through May) on KUAC-FM 89.9 at 7 p.m. and is available on iTunes podcasts or at darkwinternights.com.




What depression looks like for UAF students

Alaska is notorious for seasonal affective disorder, which a 1992 study said affected 9.2 percent of a random sample of 283 Fairbanks residents. Hoping to update some of that mental health research, Kathryn Harrod interviewed UAF students about their experience with depression.

“There is not a lot of research going into Alaskan college student life so it kind of opens up a new demographic,” Harrod, an undergraduate researcher, said.

The study was based off of the Social-Ecological Model, which was developed by the CDC to understand what factors into violence. The model includes four levels of influence: societal, community, relationship and individual.

“We found that there is another [level] that needs to be included for Alaska in particular which is an environmental level—because we have the darkness in the winter time,” Harrod said. “So that could potentially benefit research in Alaska or other places with seasonal affective disorder.”

The goal of Harrod’s study is to find out what factors helped or hindered students coping with depression at UAF. Two undergraduate students are in the process of analyzing the audio from the ten interviews—looking for similarities and differences.

Harrod said students brought up things that are commonly known to ease depression, such as exercise.

On UAF Research Day, April 10, Harrod presented on the use of photo elicitation as a method of interviewing.

Photo elicitation

The 10 participants were instructed to bring two photos with them to the interview: one that represents what it’s like to be a student living with depression and one that brings the participant hope in the face of depression.

“People who brought in the photos, they really seemed like they put effort into it and put some good thought into it and it really reflected how they felt,” Harrod said. “So I think that photo elicitation in general could even be useful for interviews involving other mental illness or difficult topics.”

Photo elicitation is a method designed to help prompt the interviewees to discuss topics. Adding the visual element seems to evoke more feelings, memories and information, according to a 2002 review by Douglas Harper, a professor of sociology at Duquense University.

“It was just a really nice starting place,” Harrod said. “Kind of just breaking the ice instead of just jumping right into questions. It helped us relate on a level before we got into the more complicated stuff.”

Feeling through photography

At the Research Day showcase, Harrod’s poster had a few examples of photos that participants took and what those students had to say about them.

One participant’s photo was just of the interior of their backpack—loose change, pens and crumpled pieces of paper lining the bottom.

“Yeah, that photo just makes me cringe, cause it’s just so dirty at the bottom,” they told Harrod. “It makes my skin crawl. It doesn’t feel good … it’s kinda what ends up happening when the depression takes over.”

Many of the examples reflected this photojournalism style of chronicling the participants experiences as they occur. One example was very different. It was more like a self-portrait—made with thought into what was in frame and how the photo was edited to be desaturated.

“And so I guess my picture. … I chose to have it in not-realistic colors, kind of like grey and bleak, because that’s how you feel ‘cause there isn’t colors in the world,” they told Harrod. “I chose to have it with my computer because that’s how you spend your life as a student is with your computer. And I chose to have it, like you can’t see my face because you don’t want to be seen when you’re in that way. And I chose it with a crumpled up tissue because that’s reality. Usually there’s tears.”

Harrod noted that one thing that was clear from the photos was that depression can affect people in many ways.

“Depression isn’t just one thing,” Harrod said. “Even in these photos, participants went and brought up specific parts of their life that they found most important and it was different for everyone. There was some correlation, but really it’s not just one thing. You can’t just look on WebMD and see this is what depression is.”




Sexual Assault Awareness Month kicks off on campus

SAO assistant Nikki Crenshaw Manning at the SAAM kickoff booth as NDAC assistance Chia Muas participates.

Sticky notes that lined the walls of Arctic Java read “I would not have PTSD,” “I wouldn’t be afraid of being touched” and “Everyone looks out for each other.”

April 4 was the kickoff for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and Arctic Java was donned in facts, a survey, artwork from various students, and shirts from the clothesline project. Those not affected by sexual assault and those who have been affected were prompted to add sticky notes about what a world without sexual assault would look like to them. Student Activities Pro Staff Lisa Latronica and Student Activities Assistant Nikki Crenshaw manned a booth promoting awareness of SAAM.

On the far back wall there was an interactive display that allowed people to learn about the statistics of sexual assault and the feelings of others. People could colour parts of the display.

Event goers were encouraged to stop by the booth and spin a wheel to test their knowledge, learn something new, and spread the word and win a prize.

Landing on “tell me a fact,” a participant was asked to tell Crenshaw and Latronica a fact they knew about sexual assault. She walked over to the interactive display.

“Every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the US,” the participant said when they came back to the booth.

Another participant gained the chance to win a prize if she shared a SAAM event on social media. She found an event, shared it to Facebook and walked away with a SAAM water bottle.

As people left, they were asked to fill out a survey about their knowledge of sexual assault, regarding if they felt like they would help anyone who was assaulted and how many events they have attended. This survey appears at every SAAM event.

For more information on Sexual Assault Awareness Month visit the NDAC Facebook page.