Some years back, Greta Johnsen, served as KUAC’s morning host. She now works for WBEZ in Chicago and she is co-host of a fun and engaging podcast called Nerdette. Recently the podcast focused on Greta’s rare genetic disease, a disease she inherited from her dad, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen. The affliction is known as Best disease, after the physician who most clearly described it. Broadly stated, Best disease is a form of macular degeneration. As serious it is, Best disease turns out to be ideal for a new genetic therapy using a technique called CRISPR. The Johnsens are subjects in a University of California, San Franciso study run by the Institute for Human Genetics.
Before talking with Jim Johnsen, I spoke with University of Alaska Fairbanks evolutionary biologist Diana Wolfabout CRISPR: how it works and what its name means.
Also on the show: Randy Zarnke is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist who specialized in diseases. His book “Alaska Tracks” is a popular profile of 30 Alaskan trappers, fishers and hunters; it’s drawn from oral histories he’d collected over the years. And this year Randy was tapped by Governor Bill Walker as Conservationist of the Year.
Many KUAC listeners will recognize John Perreault’s name. He serves as the radio station’s weekday morning host. He also keeps the station’s programs flowing as the FM Operations and Traffic manager. But John also enjoys a passion for the sciences, with an undergraduate degree in Earth and Space Science and UAF graduate work in geology. So, when he told me about a researcher and engineer he knew doing cool things with submersibles I asked him to do the interview and produce the piece. I’m happy to offer John’s conversation with Hank Statscewich of UAF’s College Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Also, UAF snow scientist Matthew Sturm is the author of several books, including Finding the Arctic. He’s also a regular contributor to Northern Soundings where he introduces us to some of the explorers of the high latitudes. As a graduate student Matthew worked on Mt. Wrangell. That’s where our conversation begins, though we quickly move to Denali.
In late March, many communities around the country saw thousands of people taking to the streets to protest gun violence. The main March for Our Lives event took take place in Washington D.C. but the movement’s website tallied more than 800 other coinciding marches worldwide. One of them occured here in Fairbanks. It’s no secret the issues of gun violence and gun rights spark intense debate and rhetoric in our country. My first guest on today’s podcast is part of the response the University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Sessions offered to coincide with the march. It was loosely called a teach-in because it allowed three professors from various disciplines on campus to address the issues. I agreed to moderate the discussion and questions from the audience. Alexander Hirsch is a professor of political philosophy at UAF and he helped to organize the event and was one of the panelists.
Also on the show: mining is inextricably woven into Fairbanks’ history. While it was gold that thrust the town and region onto the world stage, coal continues to power the community. The Alaska Miners Associationrecently held its conference in town and I had a chance to talk with Curt Freeman, President of Avalon Development Organization, a company he formed in 1985. He also received his master’s degree in economic geology from UAF.
Concerns about delivering quality education to rural Alaska extend back beyond statehood. I encountered this first hand more than a decade ago when I was organizing listening sessions in Yup’ik villages. Elders bemoaned the diminishment of Native culture and despaired at ever having Yup’ik teachers for their grandchildren. My first guest this episode is working on correcting that situation. Amy Vinlove is with the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Education. She’s part of a team funded by a grant from the Minnesota-based Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. In a collaboration with the Bering Strait School District and the Native non-profit corporation Kawerak the team is working on a project called SiLKAT, which stands for Sustaining Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Arts and Teaching. I began our discussion by asking Vinlove about the project.
Also on the show: Recently on Northern Soundings I spoke with the curator and artist Asia Freeman about the exhibit currently showing at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, “Decolonizing Alaska.” While I was up at the museum I ran into a long-time friend Roger Topp who is Director of Exhibits at the museum. Roger is an avid fencer. In fact, he’s been awarded state champion six time and national champion once. Maybe it comes from watching all those Errol Flynn movies as a boy, but I’ve always been interested in fencing. I invited Roger in to talk about his work at the museum and any links he’s found between writing and the sport.
Recently, the University of Alaska Fairbanks hosted the Sydney Chapman Lecture Seminars. The gathering targeted rising sea levels. One of the presenters was Robert Bindschadler, a retired NASA earth-scientist who enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the space agency. He also has links to UAF. Early in his research career he worked with UAF geophysicists Will Harrison and Matthew Sturm. More globally, Bindschadler has served as the president of the International Glaciological Society. But his talks for the Chapman seminars focused less on field work and more on policy-makers.
Also on the show: Last episode I aired an interview with local African-American community leader James Nathaniel Hunter Jr. He talked about his early life in the civil rights movement and his role as an Episcopal priest in North Pole. This week we hear from his wife Sharron who had her own history of teaching and community activism. In fact, her civic engagement included serving eight years on the North Pole City Council.
February is Black History month and a serendipitous encounter with a local community leader in January gave me the opportunity to honor that important occasion. I’ve known James Nathanial Hunter Jr. for years. However, I knew him as “Hunter” when I served with him on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Library Commission. In his life, Hunter and his wife Sharron have braved the chilly, if not hostile, emotional dynamics of race relations. The couple is trans-racial. Hunter is African-American, Sharron is white. But they are both united in careers and vocations that sought to bridge divides and heal social wounds. In 1985 he, Sharron, Dick Farris and Jean Ambrose formed the Breadline in Fairbanks.
Also on the show: More than a year ago I interviewed local poet Nicole Stellon O’Donnell about her first book: Steam Laundry. The volume draws on the life and diaries of an early Fairbanks resident Sarah Ellen Gibson. The work displays adept writing, as Nicole gives voice to several characters. In March, the Alaska Reads Project launched its latest initiative to link Alaska communities together with a common text by tapping Nicole and Steam Laundry. I invited Nicole back on the show to explain the program and to describe her current projects.
Finally, I’m pleased to share a new find with my podcast listeners. I’m always looking out for music to use between the show segments – music that I can afford. Since, the show receives very limited funding, I need to be as frugal as possible and adhere to copyright laws. A quick internet search turned up a the perfect site: Jukedeck. This podcast is the first, but certainly not the last, to take advantage of the company’s fine products.
Last month, I began a periodic series on Northern Soundings that celebrates remarkable people who move past hardship to fully embrace life. This episode I talk with Kathy Bue. I met Kathy through Nordic skiing. For years she ran the adult lessons program for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks and she and Maria Bray have their own business: Alaska Health and Fitness. Kathy is a natural teacher. She pays close attention to her students and you can see her mind ticking away trying to help them get better at their sport or just become more fit. I invited her to share her story when I learned she has been battling multiple sclerosis for years, and she recently fought an intense battle with breast cancer – the outcome of which still isn’t clear. As you’ll hear in our conversation, both these diseases, far from slowing her down, only intensified her commitment to aid others and fully engage life.
And the University of Alaska Museum of the North opened a new exhibit called Decolonizing Alaska. The show brings together some of Alaska’s most distinguished artists, indigenous and otherwise, to address the implications of one culture appropriating the land and imposing a narrative on another. I had the opportunity to talk with the exhibition’s curator Asia Freeman who is Artistic Director at Homer’s Bunnell Street Art Center. She was joined by one of the artists in the show Joel Isaac.
And Chris Lott on Katexic Clippings examines the language our culture uses when discussing cancer.
When this segment aired on KUAC, the Olympic Winter Games were days from begining in South Korea. Fairbanks and Alaska were well represented in cross country skiing. Half of the 20 members Nordic ski team was either Alaskan or Alaska-based. Arguably, the best-known Alaskan is Kikkan Randall. The 35 year old is seeing her fifth Olympic contest, the most ever for a U.S. Cross Country athlete. Alaskans were also represented on the coaching staff, including cross country coach Jason Cork from North Pole.
Given the rich talent Alaska is contributing to the games this Winter, I turned to former Nanook and US Head Ski Coach John Estle to help preview the games and discuss some of the athletes. As you’ll hear, John has enjoyed a rich and multifaceted connection with the Olympics.
Also, I was recently in another country with a tour group. We were trying to get to a destination not far away, but none of us had a physical map. What we did have were smart phones. In seconds several people had called up, the address, the best route to get there and some of the apps provided coordinates.
Given the state of our technology, we may be inclined to hardly give maps a second thought. But in another segment in recurring series saluting northern explorers, University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist Matthew Sturm thinks that’s devaluing a hard-won ability.
Alaska adopted the motto “North to the Future” in 1967 to observe the centennial of the state’s purchase from Russia. It underscored the general optimism at the time that Alaska represented a place of opportunity. But the region’s sprawling geography has always posed a challenge to educators. That’s less of a concern these days. The internet has opened up new possibilities to traditional as well as distance education. Dr. Carol Gering heads up the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ E-learning and Distance Education unit. She talks about the changing dynamics and opportunities technology presents educators and students.
Julie and I took a trip to Costa Rica in late January and early February. That has delayed my posting of recent episodes. Look for them to appear on a daily basis until I’m caught up with my radio show. Today’s offernig, though, seems like an “evergreen,” as we say in broadcast journalism.
Hawaii’s missile scare underscores the growing anxiety in the United States about the war-like rhetoric being exchanged between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The recent Olympic Winter Games, don’t seem to have dampened Washington’s bellicose rhetoric, either. Added to the mix is the plan to cut state department personnel and the inability of the Trump administration to fill key ministerial posts. Finally the withdrawal by the U.S. from earlier negotiated treaties, including on climate change, have elevated concerns around the globe. My two main guests this episode address key aspects of U.S. foreign policy. I got the idea for the program when I spied UAF political science professor’s Brandon Boylan’s flyer about his international relations class. Boylan is also Associate Director of Arctic and Northern Studies. As we began our discussion, I learned it was international conflict that drew him into political science.
Later in the show I talk with Northern Soundings regular Cary de Wit. Cary is a geography professorat the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As we heard from Brandon Boylan, there are various ways of evaluating international relations. One of the countries that has dramatical increased its geopolitical clout is China. I invited Cary to discuss the country’s rise in wealth and power.
And Chris Lott of katexic clippings explores an emerging term in international debate.