NSF: Alaska EPSCoR
Strategic Plan 2007-2010
Enhancing research capacity in the
state of Alaska
Introduction and background
Alaska EPSCoR is in its third phase of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research
Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program (RII). This three-year phase, which runs from July 1,
2007 – June 30, 2010, is led by Project Director Peter Schweitzer. F. Stuart Chapin of the
University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and Lilian Alessa of the University of Alaska Anchorage
(UAA) are co-principal investigators. The project, Resilience and Vulnerability in a Rapidly
Changing North: The Integration of Physical, Biological and Social Processes, focuses on
integrative science, bringing together researchers from the physical, biological and social
sciences to examine social-ecological systems in the state of Alaska. It does so through building
capacity for research in this area, primarily focusing on human resources: hiring new
postdoctoral fellows and faculty, awarding student and early-career fellowships, funding
business research development, and expanding education and outreach efforts.
Alaska, which became eligible to apply for NSF EPSCoR support in 2000, received its first
RII award in 2001 and its second award in 2004. The first phase, from 2001 to 2004, included
four research focus areas: i) Infrastructure and Systems for Cold Regions, ii) High Latitudes
Environments Contaminants Consortium, iii) Integrative Approaches to Environmental
Physiology, and iv) Alaska Genome Diversity Initiative, as well as a one-year supplement in
Regional Resilience and Adaptation and a support core in Bioinformatics. The 69 faculty
members in this phase (not including the Regional Resilience and Adaptation supplement)
received over 86 federal, state and private awards for a total of more than $26 million and
published over 116 refereed articles.
The second phase, from 2004 to 2007, continued and developed three of these research focus
areas with slightly altered titles: i) Cold Regions Engineering, ii) Integrative Approaches to
Environmental Physiology, and iii) Population Genetics of Adaptation to Arctic Environments.
The Regional Resilience and Adaptation supplement became a developmental research focus
area in phase II, and the support core in Bioinformatics continued. The 56 faculty members in
this phase, including Regional Resilience and Adaptation faculty, received over 110 federal, state
and private awards for a total of more than $29 million and published over 175 refereed articles.
During this phase, Alaska EPSCoR faculty also took part in securing National Institutes of
Health awards totaling $17.5 million for IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence
and $11 million for a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence.
This strategic plan outlines the vision for Alaska EPSCoR as it embarks on its third phase. It
maps out new directions for the current project and speaks to the future of Alaska EPSCoR and
the research and development needs of Alaska as a whole. To do so, it looks to the current NSF
strategic plan and the state of Alaska research and development plan, as well as to Alaska
EPSCoR faculty and advisors.
Developing the plan
Alaska EPSCoR gathered a group of University of Alaska (UA) faculty and administrators
from across the state, as well as external advisors, to develop this strategic plan. The group met
July 12-13, 2007 on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Facilitated by an outside
consultant, group members delved into the issues driving the direction of Alaska EPSCoR. This
plan was developed from our phase III proposal and from notes from the meeting. Before
submittal to NSF, this plan was approved by the strategic planning members, as well as the
Alaska EPSCoR management team.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 1
NSF EPSCoR’s mission is ―to
strengthen research and education Alaska EPSCoR Mission Statement
in science and engineering The mission of Alaska EPSCoR is to enhance
throughout the United States and to research capacity throughout the state of Alaska in
avoid undue concentration of such order to make sustainable contributions to the
research and education.‖ We will state’s knowledge and economy. Alaska EPSCoR
help to accomplish this mission by will foster the development of Alaska’s science
improving the competitiveness of and engineering based on the state’s unique
universities and colleges across opportunities and will strive to make its results
Alaska. This effort will result in relevant to Alaska’s residents.
additional federal, state and private
research funding, which will be
used to make lasting contributions to science and engineering at the state, national and
international level. In order to achieve these goals, we will develop strategic projects,
recognizing the specific strength of Alaska’s research and development landscape. Alaska
EPSCoR will partner with institutions and individuals both within and outside the state in order
to achieve sustainable improvements in Alaska’s research capacity.
Our core values spring from this mission statement, while at the same time informing it. The
following list captures the essence of our focus:
Integration: The guiding principle of our research, education and outreach activities. We
develop a culture of trust that encourages faculty and students to seek out and create
opportunities to work across disciplines and institutions.
Vision: Our philosophy of searching out new ways of looking at scientific questions.
Transformation: The outcome toward which our researchers strive. Through integrative
approaches, we expect to produce transformative results.
Inclusivity: Our philosophy of human resource development. We bring together people from
various backgrounds, bridging institutions, disciplines, and scholarly ranks.
Diversity: The result of our broad inclusivity. We are stronger with many different perspectives
at our table, and strive to include all groups, especially those historically underrepresented in
Transparency: Our mode of operating. We make policy decisions by consensus in a fair and
open process in our management team.
Accountability: The result of our working transparently.
Collaboration: Our team approach of addressing issues and problems.
Relevance: What we strive for our research to hold for the state of Alaska.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 2
Vision and goals
Alaska EPSCoR has selected Resilience and Vulnerability in a Rapidly Changing North: The
Integration of Biological, Physical, and Social Processes as the theme for its current phase,
lasting from 2007-2010. In this initiative we focus on building capacity for research into social-
ecological systems in Alaska in the face of global climate change and fast-moving social changes
such as globalization. It is obvious that understanding the social-ecological systems and the
factors that lead to sustainability is a crucial part of managing and developing Alaska’s natural
resources. As a result of current and future phases of Alaska EPSCoR, we envision establishing
after the year 2010 a center of excellence in northern sustainability studies that will continue to
examine these issues for years to come.
Apart from the narrowly academic context, Alaska EPSCoR has a major role to play in
Alaska’s society and economy. A better understanding of the resilience and vulnerability of
social-ecological systems is necessary if the state intends to combine economic development
with the preservation of those human and natural values that make the state so attractive. Alaska
has the potential to become a world leader in combining an abundance of natural resources and
wilderness with a strong knowledge economy based on science and engineering. Alaska
EPSCoR wants to assist the residents of Alaska in developing the scientific tools for success in
the 21st century.
Alaska EPSCoR is adopting the following new strategies to enhance research capacity in the
state of Alaska:
Foster the collaboration needed to move the disciplinary science components towards
integrative approaches. Funding is directed at EPSCoR-affiliated faculty and students from
across the state to encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary projects.
Bring more of the state into Alaska EPSCoR decision-making. Alaska EPSCoR has a
management team that includes representation from the University of Alaska Fairbanks
(UAF), University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), University of Alaska Southeast (UAS), and
the rural University of Alaska campuses.
Bring more diversity to Alaska EPSCoR leadership. We include more members of groups
historically underrepresented in science.
Attract Alaska Natives to our program. From our management structure to our award
programs, we strive to bring more Alaska Natives to Alaska EPSCoR.
Emphasize building research capacity in rural areas. Alaska EPSCoR is working with UA
rural campuses in a new program to provide training in and assistance with writing grant
Partner with other organizations to create a stronger program. We seek out ways to create
synergies with other programs and to leverage funds so that more people are served by our
Share our results with the state of Alaska. Our new outreach program to policy makers,
industry, communities and the public will disseminate results that will enable improved
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 3
Resilience and vulnerability: the science program
We are embarking on an integrative program that builds on current achievements in physical,
biological and social science disciplines at the University of Alaska to create a new
interdisciplinary center of excellence addressing the critical issue of social-ecological
sustainability in Alaska. Our work, while focusing on Alaska, will enhance scientific
understanding in this field and, in doing so, will provide answers which are applicable globally.
As we discuss in the following sections, our science goals are i) to understand how social-
ecological systems cope with climate change and other forms of change; ii) to understand the
cumulate effects of change; and iii) to address real-world problems.
This innovative integration of natural and social sciences is strongly encouraged by NSF, as
consensus is growing nationally and internationally on the need for such research. The Second
International Conference on Arctic Research Planning declared the Arctic to be a system that can
no longer be divided into traditional disciplines. Similarly, the Arctic Climate Impact
Assessment concludes that an especially important task for future impact assessments will be to
conduct comprehensive vulnerability studies of arctic communities, looking at both
environmental and societal change.
UA, with its main campuses at Fairbanks (UAF), Anchorage (UAA) and Juneau (UAS), as
well as its 13 satellite campuses in smaller communities around the state, is ideally situated for
this type of integrative science. It has a history of northern research addressing the dynamics of
change within individual disciplines and a growing interest in integrating these perspectives to
study Alaska as a social-ecological system. UA already has gained expertise in integrative
efforts, including the UAA Resilience and Adaptive Management Group and the UAF
Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program in Regional Resilience and
Adaptation. UA initiatives in the current International Polar Year emphasize social-ecological
integration in research and education, as does
the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological
Research (LTER) project. UA is committed to
making its research relevant to policymakers,
industry and the public and in developing
understanding and products that are locally
applicable to Alaska but are also globally
meaningful. As the state’s research and
development plan argues, UA already has taken
some important steps to build capacity in these
challenging areas and, with continued effort
and support, has a truly unique opportunity for
An LTER researcher in Coldfoot, Alaska.
The disciplinary components
Our foundation for integration begins with physical, biological and social science research.
These components focus on the dynamics of change occurring in Alaska in their respective areas.
Through our integration core, these disciplinary insights will be combined to contribute to a
fuller understanding of social-ecological systems in Alaska. Here we discuss these approaches.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 4
Climate change in Alaska and in the
circumpolar North is having a major
impact on permafrost, with important
implications for both engineering and
ecology. Traditionally, methods of
engineering design in permafrost regions
were concentrated on the interaction
between structures and permafrost. The
main design approach for the permafrost
region has been to maintain the frozen
state of the soil and its pre-construction
thermal regime. The design is based on the
assumption that permafrost in the area
Mean annual ground temperatures in Yakutsk, Siberia, surrounding structures remains unchanged.
from 1833-2003 [from V. Romanovsky] In the discontinuous permafrost zone
which covers much of the state, such an
approach always has been misleading; climate change is now making this approach unsafe even
in the continuous permafrost zone of northern Alaska.
The combined impact of climate change and development on permafrost has created new
challenges for engineers designing structures for use in areas with degrading permafrost. There
are no proven design approaches for building on degrading permafrost, and many structures in
Alaska have suffered excessive settlement due to continuing permafrost degradation. In our
program we explicitly address the engineering design approaches that must be incorporated in
building on permafrost and apply this information to improve understanding of climate-
permafrost interrelationships under the more complex conditions of natural ecosystems.
The same physical principles used to improve engineering designs on permafrost apply to
natural ecosystems and their protective effects on permafrost. The formation, existence, and
stability of permafrost in the discontinuous zone therefore depend not only on cold climatic
conditions, but also on ecosystem components, especially vegetation. The ways in which climate
and vegetation interact to influence permafrost, however, are not well understood. For example,
permafrost temperature in undisturbed tundra has increased more rapidly than air temperature in
the past twenty years, which cannot be explained by a simple climate-permafrost linkage.
We introduce a new conceptual framework to study interactions among permafrost, climate
change, vegetation, wildfire, and society. Direct climate impacts on permafrost are relatively
well-studied and can be predicted by models developed by climate and permafrost scientists.
Indirect effects, however - such as the influence of changing fire regimes on vegetation-mediated
permafrost development - are poorly understood and require cooperation between physical and
biological scientists. We hypothesize that climate directly determines permafrost formation and
stability in the continuous permafrost zone but that climate-vegetation-permafrost interactions
are essential to permafrost response to climate change in the discontinuous zone. Studies of
climate-ecosystem-permafrost interaction in these two permafrost zones will help elucidate the
reaction of permafrost to climate change.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 5
Climate is changing in
Alaska at one of the fastest rates
of anywhere on Earth, causing
dramatic changes in the
distribution of plants, animals
and microbes. Climate is
projected to warm even more
rapidly during the 21st century,
likely altering ecosystem
services and human-
environment interactions. A
limited understanding of
controls over biodiversity at
high latitudes, as well as a
woefully incomplete knowledge A growth of invasive Melilotus (sweet clover) on the Stikine River,
of current distributional limits Southeast Alaska.
for many species, prevents
scientists from making reliable predictions concerning future changes in biodiversity and
ecosystem services in response to these expected changes. We propose a biology research focus
to study both the patterns and processes that influence changing species distributions and
We have two goals in this area. The first is to identify the influence of geography, geology,
and climate on past species migrations with the intent of predicting future changes in species
distributions and abundances. We will focus on how past climate changes have influenced
changing distributions of economically and ecologically important subsistence, cash-generating
and genetic-model species in relation to environmental variables. We will develop Geographic
Information System-based models to predict influences of environmental change on migration
and range shifts of important Alaskan organisms. Understanding the changing abundance of
economically important species is integral to the planning and maintenance of subsistence-based
economies in Alaskan communities.
The second goal is to study mechanisms influencing the vulnerability of the co-evolved
species relationships which serve as cornerstones of ecosystem integrity. This research will focus
on lingering uncertainties concerning the occurrence and abundance of plants across the
landscape: interactions with beneficial and harmful microbes that often determine the tipping
point between system resilience and vulnerability. These two research areas enable us to study
both gradual responses to climatic change and abrupt thresholds, which together determine
patterns of resilience and vulnerability.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 6
Alaska presents a unique
opportunity to study rapid social
change in the context of complex
interactions with rapid climatic and
ecological change. It is well-
documented that Alaska’s rural
communities and indigenous
residents are undergoing rapid social
and cultural change. Alaska is
experiencing substantial population
increase, changes in land-use patterns
associated with increased industrial
development, and increased rural-to-
urban migration—characteristics that
it shares with many developing
Ecological changes can have severe impacts on rural nations.
communities, such as this continuing coastal erosion in the
village of Shishmaref. In combination with climate and
ecological change, socio-economic
drivers of change raise important questions concerning the capacity of rural communities in
Alaska to sustain themselves and provide for village well-being. These dramatic changes are
unfolding in a state that has considerable wealth to address social problems, but often has
insufficient information and understanding to guide social policy decisions. In part for these
reasons, the research and development plan of the state of Alaska notes that societal, regulatory,
or legal problems, not technological ones, are the issues for which research and development are
To address these questions, we focus our social science component on the resilience and
well-being of Alaskan rural communities, including their important connections to urban centers.
We organize our investigations around three topics important in rapid change: i) community use
of ecosystem services, including differing human values and food and nutritional security; ii)
social networks and rural-urban human mobility; and iii) institutional effectiveness in fostering
community and regional resilience.
Our inquiry focuses on three overarching research hypotheses:
i) Because of their significant contributions to the social and nutritional well-being of
residents, projected changes in the food systems of rural communities could negatively
affect social and nutritional well-being;
ii) Social networks, along with their linkages to urban centers, contribute to cultural
resilience of rural Alaskan communities. Changes in climate, shifts in rural-to-urban
migration patterns, and shifts in the participation of key individuals in sharing networks
will alter the social systems of communities; and
ii) The design, fit, and performance of institutional arrangements for the management of
commonly shared keystone resources are inadequate to facilitate the social learning and
adaptation needed to sustain the well-being of rural communities in times of rapid
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 7
Integration is EPSCoR’s central method and its ultimate goal. Only by drawing together
people, information, and methodology from diverse disciplines will we be able to grasp the full
story of the dramatic changes taking place in the Arctic.
Integration begins with EPSCoR faculty and students in the individual research components
working together to link their research. They will use a variety of modeling approaches to
examine past patterns of change; where appropriate, models based on historical patterns of
change will be used to develop scenarios of future change. For example, models describing
permafrost response to past climate change can be used to produce scenarios of future responses
to projected climate warming, which then serve as input to model the effects of altered habitat on
waterfowl and moose distribution and subsistence harvest.
To further integration, Alaska EPSCoR phase III researchers cluster in interdisciplinary,
problem-based groups. Their research centers on climate change and rapid social change, which
are the two major change agents affecting social-ecological sustainability in Alaska. They are
encouraged to focus on three cross-cutting themes: i) community use of ecosystem services; ii)
disturbance dynamics and iii) social and ecological diversity.
The community use of
ecosystem services is
defined as the community
use of resources provided by
the local ecological system.
An example is frozen rivers
providing a transportation
corridor in rural Alaskan
villages. Sustainability of
these natural resources is the
critical issue. Their use is
Members of the EPSCoR Management Team, in charge of shaping impacted both by global
integrative science efforts, meet in Fairbanks. climate change and rapid
social change such as
The disturbance dynamics theme focuses on the way changes are taking place in the social-
ecological systems of Alaska. The emphasis is on the dynamics of change, and the premise is
that this change is accelerating. For example, this group examines how changes such as
increasing fire frequency affect social and physical processes in interior Alaska, how
development affects permafrost dynamics, and how such changes are perceived by society.
The social and ecological diversity theme explores the cumulative effect of climate change
and rapid social change on cultural, linguistic, and biological diversity. Movement and migration
are critical topics, for both social and ecological systems.
Researchers, however, are not restricted to these themes, but rather are invited to submit
proposals to integrate arctic science in new and inventive ways. Instead of pigeonholing
researchers into specific research idioms, we will allocate development funding that will allow
them to follow their own ideas.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 8
The first goal of EPSCoR phase III is to
increase the number of researchers and the amount
of research being done in Alaska in order to
provide new insights into social-ecological
processes in the North. EPSCoR achieves this goal
through a variety of funding methods designed to
encourage interdisciplinary projects among
researchers within its physical science, social
science and biology components.
Student fellowships are made available to both
graduate students and undergraduates engaged in
relevant research. Early-career fellowships are
granted to up-and-coming scientists. New faculty
hires are made in relevant fields, while course
buyouts and summer salary packages give existing
EPSCOR-funded UAF grad student Jennifer
Rohrs-Richey records alder growth in the field.
faculty more time to focus on research. Seed grants
bring small interdisciplinary groups together to
create integrative proposals. Travel grants help
Alaskan scientists network with their peers. New administrative hires begin the process of
expanding EPSCoR’s outreach to stakeholders and community members.
We use a bottom-up approach to motivate researchers to engage in integrative and
interdisciplinary research projects. Rather than our management team dictating research
parameters, our award programs are centered on students and researchers proposing their own
approaches to integration.
We made substantial progress during phase II by developing a new conceptual framework
that guides our integration, and by developing new faculty expertise in agent-based and
landscape modeling, analyses of institutions, mixed subsistence economies, and public policy.
For phase III we have designed a Geographic Information System database platform that builds
on several existing strengths at UA to foster modeling and integration. We rely on the climate-
modeling expertise at the International Arctic Research Center, which has already downscaled
output from global climate models to produce a 200-year-long (1900-2100) chart of climate
history and projections for Alaska.
Other databases are also critical. The UA Museum of the North maintains a database on
distributions of the flora and fauna of Alaska that is essential for biogeographic analyses. The
Bonanza Creek and Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research sites maintain databases and suites
of models for physical and ecological modeling that will facilitate the linkage of biological and
permafrost studies to describe the dynamics of ecosystem services. The Institute of Social and
Economic Research at UAA has developed critical socioeconomic databases and models for
historical analyses and future projections of rural-urban migration, food security, and
development impacts on permafrost and biological systems. UA also provides considerable
computational capacity and GIS experience at the Arctic Regional Supercomputing Center
(ARSC) and the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), respectively.
EPSCoR’s leadership structure is designed to facilitate the implementation and integration
processes. The program is overseen by a management team composed of the principal
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 9
investigators and leaders of the various components of the program, as well as a UAS
representative and a rural campus representative. Members meet regularly to oversee
administration of the program, focusing on initiating and facilitating activities which will assist
in bridging the languages and cultures of disciplines.
The State of Alaska Committee on Research, a board consisting of legislators, business and
academic leaders, provides oversight, as does an External Advisory Committee of outside
scientists. Leadership is also provided through the Center for Research Services, which develops
and oversees all research conducted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Ultimately, we hope to build a new research culture which will easily transfer information
and knowledge, resulting in an active exchange regarding perceptions of problems,
methodologies for analysis, and data collection, among other facets. The results of this process
will be the ultimate contribution to Alaska of EPSCoR phase III: integrative research that will be
of practical use to communities as they plot out an uncertain future in the face of dramatic
Education and outreach implementation
Our research focus on sustainability is
particularly relevant to Alaska’s public interests
and needs, and our education and outreach
initiatives reflect this concern. We build from
existing strengths in our programs and
partnerships to enrich education at every level,
creating a pathway from early childhood to early
career. We focus on engaging women, Alaska
Natives and members of other underrepresented
groups in order to increase diversity among the
next generation of researchers, professionals and
leaders. We reach out to stakeholders in many
spheres, providing our research to policy makers,
As part of the Alaska EPSCoR-supported
Permafrost Health Outreach Program, Selawik industry, communities and the public.
secondary school students drill a borehole to Our overarching education and outreach goals
monitor permafrost changes. are to help develop a diverse generation of
researchers, professionals and leaders; to create an
engaged, well-informed citizenry in Alaska; and to ensure that our research is relevant to local
needs. To reach these goals, we will follow the practices outlined in Arctic Science Education:
Recommendations from the Working Group on Arctic Science Education to the National Science
Foundation: i) all science education programs must be relevant, inquiry-based, and aligned with
national and state science content standards; ii) arctic science education programs must be
sensitive to the geographic location of their audience as well as the audience’s prior knowledge;
iii) programs should include both traditional Native knowledge and Western science
perspectives; and iv) researchers need to communicate with arctic communities about upcoming
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 10
With these guidelines in mind, in this phase we
continue the many successful education programs and
partnerships developed in phases I and II that serve
students, especially Alaskan Native students, from
primary to graduate school. These include such
diverse offerings as the Alaska Rural Research
partnership, which pairs rural high school students
with UA researchers; the Alaska Summer Research
Academy, a two-week-long summer research school
at UAF for high school students; and the Alaska
Global Learning and Observations Benefit the
Environment program, which links up pre-college
students and teachers with scientists in Earth Science
investigations. And we continue to target all of our
offerings, such as undergraduate and graduate
fellowships, at women, Alaska Natives and members
of other underrepresented groups.
We are also undertaking new initiatives, such as a
new education program, the Culturally Responsive Kenji Yoshakawa talks to students in the
Biological Science Education Project, which will village of Noatak as part of the Alaska
EPSCoR-supported Permafrost Health
create professional development courses and curricula Outreach Program.
for rural Alaskan secondary school science teachers.
We are also strengthening our outreach efforts through new hires, including an outreach
specialist and a graduate student assistant dedicated to assisting rural campus directors in writing
Our outreach stretches beyond the classroom. We continue our business outreach efforts
through Small Business Innovation Research programs at the UA Small Business Development
Center, which in phase II resulted in almost $3.6 million in contracts to national agencies. Just as
importantly, our overall research provides a better understanding of social-ecological
sustainability in Alaska, which, as the state argues, is needed to grow Alaska’s economy. A
particular focus in this effort is on collaboration with stakeholders to provide the research that will
enable effective policy decisions. To do so, we are developing a comprehensive outreach program
to policy makers, industry, communities and the public. Results are ultimately given to the State
Committee on Research, which can directly address the issue of incorporating them into policy.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 11
Alaska EPSCoR officials recognize that numerous structural barriers within the University of
Alaska system need to be overcome in order to improve efforts to build system-wide research
capacity. While these are all long-term challenges, addressing them now could yield immediate
gains in research capacity – which would be directly in line with the goals of the EPSCoR phase
III science program - and enable us to take better advantage of the opportunities provided by
These structural issues include problems related to personnel policies and academic programs
as well as to research infrastructure. Some, but not all, originate from the disparate research
capacities of the state’s three main campuses, in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.
Personnel policy challenges include high teaching workloads for research-involved faculty,
particularly in the social sciences and at the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of
Alaska Southeast. EPSCoR is flexible about finding ways to facilitate research: course buyouts
for faculty at UAA and UAS will ease teaching burdens there, but are not an option in some
smaller departments; in those cases, summer salaries are offered to stimulate research. Neither of
these options, however, resolves the underlying problem.
Because of Fairbanks’ relative
preponderance of graduate programs,
EPSCoR faculty not located in
Fairbanks have limited opportunities to
participate in such programs, despite the
recognition that working with graduate
students is critical to building research
capacity. While structural changes will
be needed to address these disparities, it
is important they be undertaken in a
way that increases or at least does not
diminish capacities at UAF.
One major research infrastructure
challenge is a lack of adequate library
resources, in particular electronic
Expanding library periodical resources is a key challenge
journal subscriptions on the Anchorage facing Alaska researchers.
and Juneau campuses. There are also
concerns of limited grants management
personnel away from the Fairbanks campus.
Alaska EPSCoR is working on addressing these strategic concerns. A focused committee will
develop recommendations on each of these three issues to submit to the State Committee on
Research to review. The recommendations will include suggested pilot programs that can be
implemented within the time frame of phase III.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 12
Evaluation and control
EPSCoR Alaska phase III will be subject to a regimen of continuous and thorough external
evaluation headed by investigators Julia Melkers of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Eric
Welch of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their phased three-year evaluation plan entails a
variety of qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, which will be used to continually
assess EPSCoR’s progress toward its overall goal of strengthening Alaska’s research community.
Data collection and analysis methods will include:
i. Ongoing review of documents from phase III, as well as initial review of phase II
ii. Individual, methodical interviews with major EPSCoR stakeholders and beneficiaries,
including project leaders, university leaders, advisory board members, select external
stakeholders, researchers, Alaska Natives, and educators;
iii. Online survey questionnaires to gather background, activity and social-network data
from reseachers, stakeholders, educators and students; and
iv. Bibliometric analyses of curricula vitae of EPSCoR researchers.
Due to the multifaceted nature of phase III, the evaluation criteria will range far beyond
direct measures of discrete research results. Drs. Melkers and Welch will also consider the
integration of the research components as well as the conduct of education and outreach efforts,
and thus the program’s impacts on key stakeholders, students, and other entities. One strategy
will be to develop mini-case studies in four different communities, based primarily on interviews
with Alaska Natives, educators, researchers and agency officials, which will serve to gauge the
effectiveness of EPSCoR’s efforts at ground level.
Such a complex undertaking entails a number of different criteria for success. Drs. Melkers
and Welch will examine the progress and results of EPSCoR on multiple fronts, including but
not limited to:
i. Productivity of researchers in terms of publishing papers, securing funding, etc.;
ii. Integration of research work across disciplines;
iii. Creation of new proposal networks and foci and attraction of new talent;
iv. Fostering of career paths and networking opportunities for younger researchers;
v. Integration of Native Alaskans into program and benefits of research for Natives; and
vi. Levels of student involvement and student benefits.
Two main questions will be answered by these evaluations as a whole: First, are EPSCoR’s
research plans coherent, and second, does EPSCoR have the capacity to carry those plans out.
Based on interim findings, evaluators will recommend to project leaders ways to improve
integration, education, and outreach efforts, while their final report will influence future EPSCoR
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 13
Outcomes and the road ahead
The potential contributions from Alaska EPSCoR’s phase III program and future phases are
significant and multifold. We are addressing the most important scientific problem in Alaska
today and in the foreseeable future. Within the problem of social-ecological sustainability, we
are examining the most critical issues—climate change and rapid social change. By delving into
this topic with an integrative approach, we are seeking transformative outcomes. This is a new
approach to science and we expect new, more far-reaching answers which will inform resource
management, politics and economic development in Alaska for years to come.
To address these scientific problems, we are increasing the state of Alaska’s capacity to
engage in this type of research. We are enhancing institutional capacity at University of Alaska
campuses across the state by hiring new faculty and postdoctoral fellows and awarding new
fellowships for early-career faculty, as well as for graduate and undergraduate students. As a
vital part of increasing this capacity, we are enhancing diversity both in our programs and in our
leadership by involving women, Alaska Native and other groups underrepresented in science.
Through our education and outreach programs, we are training the next generation of
researchers, professionals and leaders. For the first time ever, we are emphasizing building
research capacity in rural areas, we are partnering with
other organizations for a stronger program, and we are
reaching out in new ways to stakeholders across the
By marshalling all these efforts, we envision
establishing after the year 2010 a center of excellence
in northern sustainability studies. As we argued earlier,
a better understanding of the resilience and
vulnerability of social-ecological systems is necessary
if the state of Alaska intends to combine economic
development with the preservation of those human and
natural values that make the state so attractive. With
our efforts today and in this center, we intend to
provide that understanding. In this way, Alaska has the
potential of becoming a world leader in combining a
strong knowledge economy based on science and
engineering with an abundance of natural resources
Children in Holy Cross, Alaska.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 14
Appendix: Implementation schedule and impacts
Activity Yrs Outcome/Impact
Designate project director, principal 1 The overall structure of EPSCoR was set at a strategic
investigators and component leaders planning session held in July 2007, and a well-organized
team is now in place to handle administration. Peter
Hold strategic EPSCoR planning session 1
Schweitzer is director, Matt Berman (social science),
Organize integration core and 1 Roger Ruess and Matt Olson (biology) and Yuri Shur
management team (physical science) are component leaders. Terry Chapin
Hold State Committee on Research 1-3 and Lilian Alessa are co-principal investigators and will
meetings fill out the Management Team, which will meet bimonthly
to coordinate interdisciplinary research efforts. The State
Hold external advisory committee 1-3 Committee on Research, UAF Center for Research
meetings Services, and external advisors provide oversight.
Fund physical scientist for UAA 1 Faculty numbers will be increased at all three main
University of Alaska campuses, increasing research
Hire social scientist for UAS 1
capacity. Some hires are already in place: Zhaohui Yang
Hire social scientist for UAF 2-3 has been funded as a physical scientist at UAA, and Erica
Hire UAA economist or political scientist 2-3 Hill as a social scientist at UAS.
Hire UAA microbial ecologist 1-2
Course buyout for biological scientist 1-3 Faculty will have more time to devote to research. In
(UAA/UAS) addition to one biology buyout, four social scientist
buyouts will be offered each year at UAA and four more at
Permanent rotating course buyouts for 1-3
UAF. Buyouts will be offered competitively.
UAF social scientists
Permanent rotating course buyouts for 1-3
UAA social scientists
Award 66 graduate fellowships 1-3 Students and early-career faculty are supported in their
educational goals while providing crucial research
Award 15 early-career fellowships 1-3
manpower to further EPSCoR’s scientific aims. Over three
Award 21 undergraduate summer 1-3 years, EPSCoR will award: 18 physical science, 24
fellowships biology and 24 social science graduate student fellowships;
Award 18 undergraduate academic-year 1-3 15 $30,000 early-career fellowships; 21 $5,000
fellowships undergraduate summer fellowships; 18 $3,000
undergraduate academic-year fellowships; and six $2,500
Award undergraduate ANBIOS 1-3 undergraduate ANBIOS scholarships. The first bi-annual
scholarships meeting of graduate fellows was held in September 2007.
Hold bi-annual meeting of all graduate 1
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 15
Activity Yrs Outcome/Impact
Hire physical science research associate 1 These hires will improve research capacity in the
University of Alaska system in the physical science and
Hire physical science post-doctoral 1
biology fields. Their input will be a crucial part of making
the jump from disparate research into cohesive and useful
Hire biology post-doctoral associates 2-3 models of change. Mikhail Kanevsky is being hired as the
physical science research associate and Jennifer Schmidt is
Hire symbiosis research and 2
hired as the first of two programmer-modelers.
Hire DNA lab technician, DNA core 1
facility technician, and physical science
Hire two programmer-modelers 1
Award four mini-grants to Alaska 2 Targeted grant funding is an effective way for EPSCoR to
Natives direct money to specific areas of need. Four $20,000 mini-
grants will fund the creation of new ways to engage Alaska
Award seed grants 1 or 2
Natives in the sciences. Approximately five $20,000 grants
Fund small business start-up awards 1-3 will stimulate interdisciplinary groups to write integrative
science proposals. $70,000 a year will support the Small
Business Innovation Research program at UAA.
Fund science component travel 1-3 Students and faculty are enriched through travel to
conferences and other sites and by lecturer visits. A total of
Fund travel grants to Stockholm 1
60 general grants will be awarded, and seven $2,500 grants
will allow EPSCoR representatives to attend an important
conference on resilience in April 2008 in Sweden.
Hold proposal-writing workshops 1 These efforts are part of a new outreach program designed
to reach stakeholders including policy-makers, industry,
Facilitate Department of Defense 1
communities and the general public. An NSF proposal-
EPSCoR funding proposals
writing workshop held in August 2007 drew more than 70
Create rural grant-writing assistance 1 attendees, and Anne Sudkamp offered another workshop in
program September 2007. Pips Veazey has been hired as an
Hire four new part-time staff: one 1 outreach specialist while Tom Moran has been taken on as
outreach specialist and one grant a graduate assistant to provide grant-writing assistance to
position per campus rural campuses. EPSCoR coordinated and submitted three
Department of Defense grant proposals in October 2007.
Issue two newsletters/year 1-3 Public relations efforts like the website and newsletters
Redesign website and build photo 1 will improve EPSCoR’s recognition and standing in the
database university and general communities.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 16
Activity Yrs Outcome/Impact
Fund education/outreach director 1-3 These new hires will continue and expand efforts to
involve schools, communities and other stakeholders in
Fund outreach coordinators 1-3
EPSCoR’s efforts. Elena Sparrow is education/outreach
Hire outreach education postdoctoral 1 director while Jeff Lofthus and Christa Mulder are
fellow outreach coordinators. All positions are for three years.
Hire science educator/curriculum writer 1
Fund education outreach and rural 1-3 These programs all work toward the goal of educating the
student/teacher travel next generation of Alaskan scientists. Outreach to K-12
students is an important facet of Alaska EPSCoR, as is
Fund high school science project 1-3
involving Alaska’s rural and Native residents. Travel
scholarships and supplies
money will fund getting outreach leaders and educators to
Support Alaska Summer Research 1-3 remote sites, and getting rural students and teachers to
Academy science fairs and education training. Scholarships will
Support Alaska Rural Research 1-3 support high school science projects.
Some programs work to hook students into the sciences via
Support K-12 teacher professional 1-3 school visitors and in-school science programs. Others
development workshops encourage those that have already shown interest in the
Support Alaska Native Bioscience 1-3 field, by facilitating their entry into and attendance at
science fairs and other educational opportunities. All the
Support Schoolyard Long-Term 1-3 programs are ongoing from previous years except for the
Ecological Research new Culturally Responsive Biological Science Education
Initiate Culturally Responsive 1-3 Project, which will create professional development
Biological Science Education Project courses and curricula for rural Alaskan secondary school
Support Alaska Global Learning and 1-3
Observations Benefit the Environment
Purchase 3-D frost heave cell 1 These expenditures will improve the University of
Alaska’s research infrastructure in physical science and its
Upgrade MTS machine 1
integration with biology.
Purchase Campbell temperature stations 1-3
Purchase soil analysis computers 1-3
Install four permafrost monitoring sites 1
Contract with private biological 1
Implement external evaluation and 1 Julia Melkers and Eric Welch have been hired as outside
assessment program evaluators. Evaluation, examination, assessment and
reports will ensure quality control and efficiency of Alaska
EPSCoR and generate constructive criticism.
Alaska NSF EPSCoR Strategic Plan 2007-2010 17