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Dean's monthly updates

May 2009

During the last academic year, our faculty devoted considerable time and energy toward faculty recruiting with great success.  Of the seven searches that began in the fall, five were completed successfully and two are in the final stages.  We are proud of the new faculty we have hired to advance our academic and research programs this year.

Dr. Sarah Mincks will start on July 1 as an Assistant Professor of Marine Biology.  Dr. Mincks received her Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in biological oceanography and was the recipient of one of the University of Alaska International Polar Year (IPY) post-doctoral fellowships working with Drs. Bodil Bluhm and Katrin Iken.  Dr. Mincks will be based in Fairbanks.

Dr. Andrew Seitz will also begin on July 1 as an Assistant Professor of Fisheries.  Dr. Seitz received his Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in fisheries oceanography and has worked previously as a fishery biologist by the U.S. Geological Survey.  He has been employed by SFOS during the last year as an instructor in our undergraduate fisheries program.  Dr. Seitz will be based in Fairbanks.

Dr. Sam VanLaningham has accepted our offer to become an Assistant Professor of Oceanography.  Dr. VanLaningham received his Ph.D. from Oregon State University, College of Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, in 2007.  He is originally from Ellensburg, Washington, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.  Dr. VanLaningham will join our Fairbanks faculty on August 15.

Ms. Izetta Chambers will join SFOS on August 23 as an Assistant Professor in our Marine Advisory Program.  Ms. Chambers has a B.A. degree in business management from the University of Arizona and Juris Doctorate from the University of Arizona.  She is from Naknek, Alaska, where her family operates Naknek Family Fisheries, LLC.  Ms. Chambers will be based in Dillingham.

Dr. Megan McPhee joins our Juneau faculty on January 1, 2010, as an Assistant Professor of Fisheries.  Dr. McPhee received her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and has a B.S. in fisheries from the University of Washington.  She is currently a research assistant professor at the Flathead Lake Biological Station of the University of Montana.

Associate Dean Mike Castellini and I attended the annual Ph.D. reception in Fairbanks on May 7.  This evening event recognizes UAF Ph.D. graduates and there was a record 37 this year.  At commencement in Fairbanks on May 10, SFOS was well represented with one B.S. degree (Valli Peterson from Dillingham), 13 M.S. degrees and 4 Ph.D. degree recipients.  We were pleased that Professor Emeritus Don Button returned to Fairbanks from his home in Wisconsin to place the Ph.D. hood on the shoulders of his student Elizabeth Gustafson.

On May 9, I attended the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) banquet in Fairbanks.  The banquet celebrates the anticipated graduation of Alaska Native students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Our SFOS fisheries program formed a partnership with ANSEP in 2008 and one of our students, Olin Twitchell, was honored at the banquet.

We hosted the first ever SFOS staff retreat in Fairbanks May 14-15.  SFOS Administrative Manager Greg Simpson organized the meeting along with Fiscal Manager Angela Gies and with help from many others in the dean's office.  The festivities started on May 13 with a potluck dinner in the Vera Alexander Learning Center.  The potluck was organized by SFOS Proposal Coordinator Gretchen Hundertmark with food provided by dean's office staff.  The retreat included workshops on understanding and dealing with change led by Keli Hite-McGee and on team building and motivation by Charlie Dexter. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and Provost Susan Henrichs joined us for lunch to have a dialog with the participants.  The feedback that I have received from SFOS staff at many locations was that this was one of the best professional development activities in which they had participated at UAF.  Congratulations to Greg, Angela, and all those who organized this successful retreat.

The Seward Marine Center hosted the University of Virginia's 33rd Center for Oceans Law and Policy Conference May 20-22.*  The theme was Changes in the Arctic Environment and the Law of the Sea.  I represented SFOS at the meeting and other UAF attendees were Bernie Coakley from geology and Mike Sfraga from geology.  Bernie and Larry Mayer from the University of New Hampshire were responsible for convincing the conference organizers to bring this international meeting to Seward.  Previous meetings have been held in Singapore, Heidelberg, and Dublin.  Our Seward Marine Center staff, especially Phyllis Shoemaker, Linda Lasota and Jennifer Elhard, did a fantastic job with conference logistics.  Many attendees, even the U.S. and Canada participants feuding over the right of passage through the Northwest Passage, told me how much they enjoyed the venue.

I traveled to Washington, DC on May 26 to visit the National Science Foundation (May 27), attend the Consortium for Ocean Leadership members meeting (May 28) and meet with program managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offices in Silver Spring (May 29).  The mood in DC is decidedly positive among science program managers as the Obama administration is indeed restoring "science to its rightful place."  The current focus is in three areas:  energy, climate, and health.  I learned that there is a plan to double the NSF budget by 2016 with a 7% increase proposed for FY10 and that the Office of Naval Research will fund the construction of two Ocean Class research vessels for the academic fleet, with construction of the first vessel to begin in FY11.  The budget for NOAA, other than for NOAA Fisheries (21% increase) does not look as good since NOAA is having to devote much of its new funding to fixing its weather satellite (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, NPOESS) problems.

My meetings with program managers at NSF included Bill Wiseman, Arctic Natural Sciences Program Manager in the Office of Polar Programs, and Matt Hawkins, Ship Program Manager in the Division of Ocean Sciences.  I also had a brief, unscheduled meeting with Rodey Batiza who is the program manager responsible for the U.S. Science Support Program Associated with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (USSSP-IODP).  I was at NSF the same day they awarded UAF the funds for the construction of the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV).  The entire 7th floor at NSF was abuzz with excitement as all of the $199.5 million in project funds are now available.  At NOAA, I met with National Sea Grant Office Director Leon Cammen, with Assistant Director James Murray, and Terry Smith who is the program officer responsible for Alaska Sea Grant.  I also met with NOAA Assistant Administrator Jack Dunnigan (National Ocean Service) to discuss plans for the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory that is co-managed by NOAA and SFOS.  Before heading for the 5:40 p.m. plane, I managed to squeeze in an afternoon meeting with Suzanne Skelley, Chief of Staff, NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), to discuss expanding the UAF role in the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS).  When I arrived at the airport, I found that the inbound plane from Seattle that was the 5:40 p.m. return flight had been diverted to Pittsburgh due to bad weather.  The 8:00 p.m. departure of the 5:40 p.m. flight caused me to miss my connection in Seattle to Fairbanks.  A reroute through Anchorage on the red-eye combi allowed me to arrive in Fairbanks at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  Most days in DC are long, but this was the record.

Now that the SFOS Strategic Plan has been completed, the unit directors are working on an implementation plan to bring our Strategic Plan to life.  By early July, each unit will produce a brief document with goals, objectives, strategies and specific plans for the next fiscal year.  I encourage you to work with your unit directors in this continued planning effort. 

As we move forward, I believe we need to examine the overall structure of SFOS to determine whether removing some barriers will increase our overall productivity in teaching, research and service. SFOS was organized in 1987 by combining multiple independent organizations, such as the Institute of Marine Science, Juneau fisheries faculty, Marine Advisory Program, etc.  Since that time, these units have operated almost independently under the SFOS umbrella.  When I arrived five years ago, I described SFOS as a mosaic picture with different shapes and colors of glass representing the different units.  My comment then was that when put together with SFOS as the glue, you have a pretty picture. As we have moved forward under this administrative model, I do not believe we have grown as much as we could have.  In fact, our research funding has decreased from over $16 million in 2004 to less than $14 million in the current fiscal year.  An organizational structure with fewer obstacles between units will allow us to work more collaboratively and increase the overall productivity of our faculty and staff.  When the new semester begins, I plan to assemble a working group to look at our structure, compare it with other units at UAF and at other universities, and suggest a revised structure if appropriate.  If you are interested in participating in this effort, please let me know.

Denis