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Dean's monthly updates

February 2008

February began with near record cold weather in Fairbanks and the first week included other events that made me shiver. On the morning of February 4, I participated in the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Alaska SeaLife Center by teleconference. At the beginning of the meeting, Executive Director Tylan Schrock announced that he was stepping down this year after seven years at the helm. Associate Dean Mike Castellini and I have been working with Tylan over the last year to transform the relationship between ASLC and SFOS to provide more independence for their science operations. A new Memorandum of Agreement was under discussion. This might be delayed as the ASLC searches for a new director. In the interim, Dr. Ned Smith has agreed to serve as Interim Executive Director beginning April 1.

That same afternoon, we learned from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that construction funds for the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) had not been included in the President's fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget that was released on February 4. The ARRV is being funded from the NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account that must be independently funded by Congress each year. The good news was that the $42M appropriated in FY08 is still available. The bad news is that this is not enough to allow us to go out for shipyard bids this summer. If Congress appropriates the remaining construction funds in FY10, this will delay ship construction by about 18 months. Two other MREFC projects were also not funded and their FY07 and FY08 funds were rescinded! I suppose the news could have been worse. However, the end result is that the oceanographic community will have to continue to wait for the vessel needed to study the rapid changes occurring in the Arctic Ocean.

The Tsunami Bowl, the Alaska regional National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB), was held in Seward on February 9-10. The NOSB is a national competition that tests high school students on their knowledge of the world's oceans. Founded in 1998, the NOSB is dedicated to increasing public knowledge of the ocean and its resources. I participated as the science judge on the Fairbanks Fish Heads judging team along with Gretchen Hundertmark, Lori Nunemann, Katie Murra and Tara Borland. The 2008 Tsunami Bowl was the largest ever with 15 teams and 70 student participants. UA Regent Patricia Jacobson from Kodiak also served as one of the judges and presented UAF scholarships to the winning team ­ Juneau Douglas High School. Tsunami Bowl Coordinator Phyllis Shoemaker and the staff of the Seward Marine Center did a super job with the contest, the eleventh we have held in Seward. Since the national finals will be in Seward April 25-27, Maureen Crane and Christine Hodgdon from Ocean Leadership in Washington, DC joined us in Seward to plan the logistics for the April finals.

I traveled to Juneau on March 10-11 to make a presentation on our fisheries undergraduate programs to the Alaska Workforce Investment Board (AWIB). The purpose of the AWIB is to build connections that put Alaskans into good jobs. I participated on a seafood industry panel with Kris Norosz (Icicle Seafoods), John Garner (Trident Seafoods), and Jon Black (Ocean Beauty). My travels in February totaled three trips, two to Anchorage and one to Juneau. None of the trips were paid for from our Fund 1 budget as we continue to seek cost savings this fiscal year.

While I was not traveling much, SFOS Recruiting and Retention Coordinator Katie Murra spent a lot of time in the air and on the road recruiting students for our SFOS academic programs. In February alone, she visited North Pole High School, King Career Center (Anchorage), Soldotna High School, North Pole Christian School, Eagle River Christian Academy, Chugiak High School, Wasilla High School, Mat-Su Career and Technical High School (Wasilla), Palmer High School, Skyview High School (Soldotna), Kenai Central High School, Eagle River High School, South High School, West High School, Service High School, East High School and Dimond High School all in Anchorage. Katie is doing a great job informing high schools throughout the state about the expansion of our undergraduate fisheries degrees.

The Alaska Legislature began consideration of the University of Alaska budget in February. The $1,000,000 matching funds for our Rasmuson Foundation grant was included in the Board of Regent’s request, but was not supported by the Governor who reduced the BOR request by over $7 million. The House finance subcommittee removed another $3 million from the Governor’s request. The full House Finance Committee met on February 27 to consider amendments to the budget (HB-310). Representative Harry Crawford (D ­ Anchorage) proposed an amendment to the university budget that he called the “hopes and dreams amendment.” It included all of the university items in the BOR request that the Governor had not included in her request ­ including the $1,000,000 for fisheries that he mentioned was matching for the grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. Committee chair Mike Chenault (R ­ Kenai) did not support the amendment and specifically mentioned fisheries by saying he wanted students to receive “degrees they could use.” The amendment failed by 3 yeas and 7 nays and the university budget passed the full House intact. Now, our best hope is with the Senate Finance Committee. I am extremely pleased with the support that we have received from the Alaska fishing community for the fisheries matching funds. On February 22, the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) Board of Directors passed a strong resolution supporting the additional university funding for our fisheries program. UFA, which represents 37 commercial fishing organizations from fisheries throughout Alaska and its offshore waters, had the resolution hand delivered to the co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee on February 28. The Senate will decide upon the funding before the end of March.

Much of the energy of our faculty, staff, and students this month has been devoted to candidate campus interviews for the nine new faculty positions. Marine biology and fisheries candidates traveled to Juneau and Fairbanks in February with the oceanography candidates scheduled for March. The large attendance at the candidate seminars shows the importance of the hiring process to our school and the major reward for participation is a meal with the candidates. From the meal receipts, the favorite faculty restaurants in Juneau are the Hanger on the Wharf (5 visits) and Zen (seven visits). Fairbanks favorites are Lavelle’s for dinner (where the crème brûlée is the desert pick followed by death by chocolate), Lemon Grass for lunch, and Sam’s Sourdough Café for breakfast with the Cookie Jar a close second. The variety of places included the Pump House, Zack’s, Pike’s Landing, Wolf Run Restaurant and my favorite, Harley’s Diner in North Pole, where one candidate from the UK had the chili burger. We are definitely showing our faculty candidates the highlights of Alaska.