UAF Collaborates with Dartmouth to lead new Arctic Fulbright Initiative
By Chris Hoch
UAF Vice Chancellor and professor of Arctic Policy Mike Sfraga will serve as a scholar c0-leader of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative, alongside Ross Virginia, professor of Environmental Science at Darmouth College. The initiative will fund interdisciplinary work for 16 scholars from the countries that sit on the Arctic Council, a council which addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and peoples.
“The UAF mantle will be all over this for the next two years,” Sfraga said. UAF is perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunity the Fulbright Arctic Initiative offers, according to Sfraga. “We were the Arctic before Arctic was cool.”
UAF is the “most cited when it comes to Arctic publications, most published when it comes to Arctic publications” Sfraga said. UAF faculty will be encouraged to apply as scholars to the program, and that the final project will likely culminate on UAF campus.
“The Arctic is one of the most engaged, networked and communicated areas on the planet because the eight arctic nations on the arctic council are in open discussion often,” Sfraga said during an interview on Oct. 14 with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, “There are many challenges here. We have the arctic ocean, climate change, energy, infrastructure, health.”
The Arctic Council is made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
The Fulbright Program is a U.S. government international educational exchange program. Since 1946, more than 360,000 participants from more than 155 countries have studied, taught and conducted research through this program. The initiative will be overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Virginia and Sfraga will work with the State Department to set goals and select scholars for the new Fulbright Arctic Initiative.
The State Department asked for single lead applications. “Ross and I applied as co-lead scholars,” Sfraga said, “This was an incredible competitive selection process.” Sfraga says that the synergy between UAF and Dartmouth will be a boon to the program. “Ross and I are trying very hard to make this a legacy,” Sfraga said.
The program comes at a key time, Virginia said, as the United States assumes the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April 2015. “We’ll have scholars from eight Arctic nations, from a variety of disciplines, and the challenge for this Fulbright Program is to ask questions that are relevant to solving these problems,” Virginia said, “We need to develop research questions and themes for these teams of scholars that generate knowledge that will be useful to policymakers.”
The four fields of study (energy, water, infrastructure and health) are designed to be broad and prone to interdisciplinary study according to Sfraga. Health could mean traditional biological health, “but it could also look at health policy, access to health. Rural Alaska is a tough place to live.”
Regarding the potential for damage to the traditional Native lifestyle, Sfraga said, “It’s not only their economic viability, it’s the fiber of their culture. Climate change is real, it’s rapid, and it’s palpable at Alaska. The Native peoples have been in rhythm with this planet for a very very long time.” The changes in climate, according to Sfraga, change wildlife patterns, subsistence patterns and economic development on which Natives rely. “It really is endangering … a civilization in tune with its landscape.”
Applications are now being accepted and are by due Monday Feb. 2, 2015 for international applicants and Feb. 16, 2015 for U.S. Applicants. Program activities will commence in spring 2015 and conclude in the fall of 2016.