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February 2010 Report from the SFOS Dean

The highlight of February for the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences was definitely the signing ceremony of the shipyard contract for the R/V Sikuliaq, formerly known as the Alaska Region Research Vessel.  I traveled to Marinette, Wisconsin with UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Pat Pitney and members of the Sikuliaq management team (Dan Oliver, Terry Whitledge, John Hebard, and others) for what can only be described as a celebration.  SFOS Public Information Officer Carin Stephens organized the signing ceremony in Marinette which, beside Chancellor Rogers and MMC CEO Richard McCreary, included two members of Congress (Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wisconsin and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan), a representative of the Executive Office of the President (Dr. Jerry Miller from the Office of Science and Technology Policy), and the Director of the Ocean Sciences Division at the National Science Foundation (Dr. Julie Morris).  Seward Mayor Willard Dunham and Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson were in attendance and were recognized by Chancellor Rogers.  We received significant coverage of the event, both on the local television station (WFRV) and in the Marinette newspaper Eagle Herald.  The UAF R/V Sikuliaq office has been established at the shipyard with Project Manager Gary Smith overseeing four people.  Our on-site personnel will expand as the project moves forward.  The quest for an Arctic research vessel was begun by the oceanographic community in 1973 with UAF Professor Emeritus Bob Elsner leading the way.  After 36 years, the construction contract has been awarded and the vessel will be completed and turned over to UAF for outfitting in January 2013.

On February 15, the SFOS Academic Programs Office hosted a welcome back pizza party for our returning students in Fairbanks.  A good mix of graduate and undergraduate students attended.  We have 55 students in our undergraduate fisheries program this semester.  Of our current undergraduate students, eight were named to UAF Dean's, Chancellor's, or President's Lists for the Fall 2009 semester (3.5 GPA or higher).  And, the program continues to grow.  We already have 26 undergraduate applications for Fall 2010 (16 from Alaska, 10 from out of state).  Seventeen of the applicants are first-time freshmen (12 of these are Alaska students).  Nine applicants are transfer students.  Twenty-six applications is well above where we were last year at this time.  Of the 12 applications from Alaska-resident first-time freshmen, five are UA Scholars. 

The Alaska Legislature was a focus of many activities in February.  The University of Alaska Board of Regents budget request this year includes $614,000 to support our Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program faculty in Unalaska, Petersburg, Cordova, Dillingham, Kodiak and Nome.  Our community-based faculty members in these locations have been funded on grants that end this year.  MAP Leader Paula Cullenberg has worked with our supporters in the fisheries industry throughout Alaska to garner support for this funding.  The outpouring of support has been both impressive and heart-warming.  You can read over 50 letters of support on the MAP website  We are hopeful that these funds will be added to the UA budget, however, in spite of this strong support Governor Parnell did not include these funds in either his initial budget or his amended budget.  We continue to provide information to the House and Senate Finance committees to assist with their deliberations. 

On February 9, we were asked to address the Alaska legislature's House Finance Subcommittee on Fisheries on February 15 — short notice.  The subcommittee chair, Rep. Bill Thomas, Jr. (R – Haines) requested a brief overview on what UAF is doing in the areas of fisheries research, marine mammals, and partnerships with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Dr. Gordon Kruse, UA President's Professor of Fisheries, agreed to make the presentation in Juneau on a Monday night with my introducing him by phone from Fairbanks.  Gordon worked diligently to prepare his testimony, which was completed very late at night before the testimony date.  He did a tremendous job and we believe that the committee has a much better understanding of SFOS research and academic programs.  You can read Gordon's testimony on our website at

Many SFOS faculty attended the 2010 Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon, February 22 - 25.  I arrived on February 23 to attend the science sessions and meet potential students at the SFOS display,  SFOS was well represented at the meeting with presentations by both faculty and students.  Assistant Professor Jeremy Mathis chaired a session on "Carbon Biogeochemistry of the Arctic and Subarctic." So many attendees were interested in this session that the crowd overflowed into the corridor and all the standing room was filled.  SFOS Recruiting and Retention Coordinator Katie Murra Straub and Carin Stephens staffed our display.  The dynamic duo greeted visitors and produced SFOS magnets and luggage tags to promote our programs.  Katie and Carin say that the booth at the Ocean Sciences Meeting was the busiest and most successful event either has ever attended, with a record number of interested students learning about the School's academic opportunities.  They distributed over 500 SFOS luggage tags - an indication that almost 25% of meeting attendees visited our display.

While in Portland, I traveled to Clackamas, Oregon, on February 23 to meet with the Chief Financial Officer of Pacific Seafood Group.  I had an opportunity to learn about PSG operations and to provide information on SFOS academic and research programs that they might be interested in supporting.  During my tour of their processing and distribution facility, I learned that they turn over their fresh seafood warehouse every 18 hours.  Pacific Seafood provides high quality seafood to grocery stores and directly to restaurants like McCormick & Schmick's.  My visit was a follow up to a 2008 visit by SFOS Development Officer Teresa Thompson and provided me an opportunity to describe the advantages of using the Alaska Educational Tax Credit as part of a philanthropic plan.

While February is a short month anyway, it was even shorter for me as I took a week's vacation in Mississippi to get away from the cold.  Since we are having a warmer winter than usual in Fairbanks, the temperature in Mississippi was not much warmer than in Alaska.  Next February, I will plan to go either further south or to Hawaii.