Friday, April 18, 2014

Liben regales with stories of dancing across Peru

When Sarah Liben arrived in Peru as a Peace Corps Volunteer she barely spoke Spanish and was assigned to a town that hadn't previously had a Peace Corps presence.

Talk about being outside your comfort zone!

Sarah Liben, left, gets a hug from classmate Haley McIntyre after Liben's presentation April 17.
Liben, a current SNRE graduate student, persisted and survived. Talking to the Natural Resources Management 692 students April 17, she called those three years a unique experience.

Growing up in Connecticut, Liben studied for three months in Tanzania while in high school. On the way home from Africa, she made up her mind to serve in the Peace Corps. After earning a degree in natural resources management from the University of Connecticut, Liben applied to the Peace Corps and got her assignment to Peru, an "OMG moment" in her life.

"I've been an environmental bum my entire life," she said. "I wanted to understand how developing nations address environmental issues."

Liben lived with a host family for three months while going through training and learning Spanish. Then she was assigned to Yauyos, in a rural community of 300 called Alis, at 10,000 feet altitude. Just getting there was an adventure. Traveling in a rickety bus on twisting mountain roads brought some scary life moments.

While living in Peru, Liben trained to run a marathon and took up with a sweet black dog named Goofy.

Her work focused on reforestation, solid waste management and environmental education. She and the village children planted trees around the landfill. Later when she returned and saw how tall the trees had gotten, she shed a few tears.

Cultural immersion is important for Peace Corps Volunteers, Liben said. "You've got to get with the community so I danced a lot."

In her next place, Olmos, she helped with an environmental radio program, "The Ecological Hour," and worked with schools to integrate environmental, risk management and health curriculum. One of the big issues was HIV and AIDS prevention. Liben obtained a grant allowing her and two teachers to attend a training workshop.

She hosted a recycling competition for children and presented puppet shows with environmental themes. Spending time with children enriched her Spanish skills and six months in, she was fairly fluent. Liben said it was hard for people to view her as a professional when she had second grade language skills. "Once people see that you are here to stay and your language advances you form relationships and earn respect," she said.

It also took time to adjust to the high altitude and not to get sick all the time from the food and water.

"You realize quickly this is reality," she said.

To be a good Peace Corps Volunteer it takes flexibility. "You've got to learn to be resilient," Liben said. "You are not in your comfort zone and you've got to be OK with that. You need to be adaptable, chill, have fun and be there for the right reasons."

The Peace Corps turned out to be a wonderful experience for Liben. "It was the best thing for me," she said. "I wouldn't have done anything differently. It refocuses you and your whole life is different after the fact. It does have lasting impacts whether they are visible or not.

"It was an adventure every day."

It's sap tapping time in interior Alaska!

With the pounding of a nail into birch bark, spring has sprung in interior Alaska.

And with that, SNRE Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers is traveling to schools around the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in the coming weeks, helping students learn the right way to tap for birch sap. His tiny car is packed with sap bags, tapping equipment and white buckets.

Zachary Meyers, right, taps a birch tree for sap at Randy Smith Middle School.
Through the OneTree Alaska program, students learn the science of one of the state's purest natural resources, birch sap. They measure the concentration of sugar, volume of sap and air temperature at their trees, recording data just as scientists do.

On Thursday, Meyers visited Chris Pastro's extended learning classroom at Randy Smith Middle School. The seventh and eighth graders excitedly strapped on snowshoes and tromped through the adjacent forest to tap their first schoolyard birch. Pastro's classes have participated in OneTree activities since the beginning of the program in 2009 but they had previously tapped trees on the UAF campus, not in their own schoolyard.

"I want them to be keen observers and discover what is going on inside the tree this time of year," Pastro said. "I want them to make connections through scientific data but also through writing and art and to notice what is going on in our own backyards."

Pastro loves that OneTree projects are hands-on, not just learned from reading a book. "They will actually be measuring and analyzing," she said. Her classes have been conducting three water treatments for birch sapling dormancy since January and have gotten valuable results. Before the end of the school year, they will plant the saplings at the UAF University Park Building.

Another aspect of OneTree that Pastro raves about is the opportunity for students to work alongside scientists. "They see the possibilities and begin to think they could do that type of work too."

Meyers enjoys helping students learn the practical aspects of the science they have studied all year. "And they get a sense of responsibility when they are harvesting a natural resource," he said.

Chris Pastro, right, points out the differences in absorption of colors as Zachary Meyers holds the containers.

Merger to be addressed in April 24 lecture

The co-leaders of a new University of Alaska Fairbanks unit will discuss the merger between the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service Thursday, April 24 from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. in O’Neill 201.

The talk will be presented to graduate students in the Natural Resources Management 692 seminar, but guests are welcome to observe.
Fred Schlutt

Steve Sparrow
Steve Sparrow, interim dean of the school and interim director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and Fred Schlutt, director of CES and vice provost for outreach, will explain how the merger will strengthen the research, teaching and outreach capabilities of the new unit, dubbed the School of Natural Resources and Extension by the University of Alaska Board of Regents in February.

For more information, contact Professor John Yarie.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day by tapping for sap

Tanana Middle School science students will host a community event on Earth Day, April 22, to demonstrate the science of one of Alaska’s purest natural resources, birch sap. “Sap to Syrup: The Birch Way” is the theme.

Working in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks OneTree Alaska program, the students will demonstrate tapping sap from a birch tree, explain sap processing, give taste tests, manufacture knitting needles and show off the new OneTree reverse osmosis unit.

Instructional Designer Zachary Meyers taps a birch tree for sap.
Two UAF engineering students will help explain the reverse osmosis unit and Birch Pavelsky, local wood crafter, will be manufacturing the knitting needles out of birch.

OneTree Alaska has been working with Carri Forbes' science students at Tanana Middle School for several years.

The event will occur at the UAF University Park Building, 1000 University Ave., Room 102, Tuesday, April 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information, contact Zachary Meyers. Parking is available on campus by permit; a parking kiosk is located at the building.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SNRE hosts controlled environment meeting

"Controlled environments are the future of growing food," proclaimed businessman Bernie Karl at a meeting of the Committee on Controlled Environment Technology and Use April 12-15 at Chena Hot Springs Resort.

Meeting participants, hailing from the U.S., Canada, Finland and Sweden, heartily agreed.

NCERA-101 participants paused for a group photo at Chena Hot Springs Resort.
NCERA-101 is composed of an eclectic balance of academic researchers and extension personnel, graduate students, companies supporting controlled environment agriculture research by offering facilities, equipment and technical services, plus researchers and administrators from federal agencies such as NIFA (National Institutes of Food and Agriculture) and NASA.

UAF Professor Meriam Karlsson headed up the planning committee for the meeting and was elected chair during the proceedings.

Following the annual business meeting, participants heard reports from researchers representing their agricultural experiment stations. Scientific posters and industry exhibits were on display throughout the three-day event.

Professor Meriam Karlsson, at right, accepts the chairmanship of the Committee on Controlled Environment Technology and Use. It was passed on by Henry Imberti of Percival Scientific Co., Perry, Iowa, at left.
While at Chena Hot Springs Resort, NCERA-101 participants were treated to tours of the power plant, greenhouse and ice museum. The final day found the group in Fairbanks at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, UAF greenhouses and the Reindeer Research Program at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The finale was an Alaska-grown meal at Pike's Waterfront Lodge where Chef Jeffrey Brooks prepared locally grown reindeer, vegetables and salad, along with rhubarb and blueberry pies baked by volunteer Susan Risse.

Past organizers have stated that the informal, friendly nature of NCERA is conducive to information exchange, learning and network building.
Graduate students submitting posters were, from left, Jacob Nelson (Utah State University), Garrett Owen (Purdue University), Celina Gomez (Purdue University) and William Meng (Michigan State University). Meng took first place.
See also "NCERA-101: Controlled environment technology and use"

Spring Employee of the Quarter named

Research Forester Tom Malone has been named the Employee of the Quarter for spring 2014.

He was recognized for his outstanding efforts over the past three decades of service to the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Tom Malone
For details of Malone's illustrious career, please visit an April 2 blog post.

The award, which recognizes staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, is coordinated through the dean's office and the business office.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lecture to recount Peace Corps service in Peru

The Natural Resources Management 692 lecture Thursday, April 17 will be on graduate student Sarah Liben's Peace Corps Service in Peru.

The title of Liben's talk will be "Stories from Peru: My Time as a Peace Corps Volunteer," a timeline of her journey before going abroad, what got her interested in joining in the first place, a description of what she did in Peru, a bit about the country itself, the communities, work, trials and tribulations, traveling and what it has been like since she has been back.

Liben with friends in Peru.

The lecture will be in Arctic Health Research Building 183 Thursday from 3:40 to 5:10 p.m. Guests are welcome. For more information, contact Professor John Yarie,