Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 65.51
Liaison Michele Hebert
Submission Date Aug. 26, 2011
Executive Letter Download

STARS v1.0

University of Alaska Fairbanks
ER-14: Incentives for Developing Sustainability Courses

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 3.00 / 3.00 Terry Chapin
Professor Emeritus
Arctic Biology
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Does the institution have a program that meets the criteria outlined above?:

A brief description of the program(s):

RAP or Resilience and Adaptation Program
Questions of sustainability for Alaska and the Circumpolar North are the focus of RAP, exploring this topic through an investigation of global-local interactions, up- and down-scale effects, important feedback, adaptive capacity, and critical thresholds of social-ecological change.
Rapid directional change at high latitudes is largely driven by external climatic, economic, social, and cultural processes over which Alaskan policies and actions have little influence, creating a disconnect in global-local feedbacks and interactions. These external, global drivers of change have major impacts in both the biophysical and human dimensions.
The problems of cross-scale linkages and interactions to global change can be addressed by theories of social-ecological resilience and are particularly relevant at high latitudes.
Following this thinking, resilience is defined as the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb disturbance and to reorganize, while undergoing change so as to retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks. Vulnerability is defined as the function of the exposure to effects of change on a social-ecological system plus the capacity of that system to deal with that exposure.

Students and faculty of RAP come together through interdisciplinary inquiry to address issues of sustainability.
Students share office space in our IGERT trailer during their initial years of the program. Courses are team taught by natural and social scientists who together develop transdisciplinary frameworks for understanding the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Students self organize reading groups.
Every other Wednesday students and faculty meet for All RAP Seminars where students present about their research and guest speakers present on special topics.
Our faculty and staff work with each RAP student on an individual basis to provide feedback and guidance.

Each year our community gathers for a one-day special retreat featuring an invited guest speaker. We explore a special topic relevant to resilience and adaptation and chart the course for future program developments.
Together our community explores the challenges of doing integrated research in ways that provide meaningful insights to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international scales.

A brief description of the incentives that faculty members who participate in the program(s) receive:

There are four main incentives for faculty involvement:

1. The courses they teach are usually part of their workload, as a result of discussions between RAP, the faculty members, and the dean of their college.
2. RAP students, which in the past have been funded for two years by NSF, will be in the future jointly funded by the UAF graduate school and the colleges and get their degrees through participating departments. The colleges therefore get excellent students that receive partial funding for their stipends.
3. For those faculty interested in sustainability and in social-ecological systems, it is a venue for teaching interdisciplinary courses to students who are really fired up about the topic. In other words, it is intellectually exciting.
4. Faculty members who are involved in RAP and have an interdisciplinary perspective on sustainability are more likely to be approached by incoming RAP students to be advisers. In other words, it gives faculty members greater access to really good students with partial funding. We encourage student applicants to contact several potential advisers, but the faculty members who have become involved in RAP are particularly likely to have the interdisciplinary perspective that these students seek.

The MESAS program also offers faculty incentives in the form of professional development.
A professional development retreat occurs each year at the end of the 3-wk intensive class all incoming program students take; the location for the course/retreat changes each year.

For instance, at this year's retreat, there were a couple of things of noteworthy things planned:
1) a session on Science Communication - discussion of a book all attendees will have read
2) a cruise into Resurrection Bay - The cruise travels through Resurrection Bay to the Gulf of Alaska and approaches an important and long-standing oceanographic monitoring mooring and transect. Principal investigators on the monitoring program were on board to discuss the oceanographic conditions and changes that have been observed over time. Faculty and students compared and contrasted the habitats of Resurrection Bay with other marine habitats that they have observed in Alaska.

The website URL where information about the program is available:

The RAP program was the only one highlighted here.

Another strong program is the MESAS Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic

The incentive for that program is:
MESAS classes are included in faculty annual workload assignments. In addition, faculty received a month of summer support for course development.

This interdisciplinary graduate training program in Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic (MESAS) prepares professionals to solve problems arising at the interface between dynamic environmental and social systems. These graduates will be well-prepared to contribute to both the understanding and management of marine ecosystems to ensure ecosystem-based strategies for the sustainable use of living marine resources in the context of competing local, national, and international interests. Across the nation, and particularly in Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems, these competing interests demand complex solutions; requiring knowledge not provided in traditional graduate programs. Alaska is an ideal location to realize this new vision for an ecosystem-based approach to the sustainable use of living marine resources. Here, as elsewhere in the circumpolar north, anthropogenic and naturally-forced changes in climate, oceanography, marine biological communities and ecosystems, fisheries and maritime human communities are already dramatic and will have broad consequences. For instance, Arctic air temperatures have increased at nearly twice the global average rate in the past 100 years. While these changes are particularly pronounced in the Arctic and Subarctic, similar forces are changing marine ecosystems throughout the world. Professional scientists educated in Alaska will have excellent preparation for a career in marine ecosystems anywhere in the world.

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