Walter Harper: Bridge Between Two Cultures


In Ancient Greece, heroes often did not last long. Achilles comes to mind, but there are others. For the Greeks, there was something almost enviable about the hero whose life ended at the zenith, at the peak of physical and technical prowess. I couldn’t help reflecting on that when I was talking with historian Mary Ehrlander. She has a new book out on the first person to summit Denali, Walter Harper. Not long after his history making achievement, Walter and his young wife perished in a maritime disaster. Mary is also director of the Arctic and Northern Studies Program in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She believes Alaska lost a potential leader for his people and all those living in the territory.

Also on the show, I got to indulge, in a big way, two passions: science and science fiction. Mary Beth Leigh is a microbiologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks she was one of the mavens to come up with a film festival that catered to my nerdish delights: The Science of Science Fiction. The festival is being hosted at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. I got to talk with Mary Beth and the insect curator at the museum Derek Sikes about the science tackled or missed by the two films on offer.

One of the terrific additions to the series was the commentary offered by visiting scholar Michael Lee, of the University of Oklahoma. Lee, as you’ll hear, provides wonderful details on the movies, but he’s a composer who also shares insights on music’s power in film and other dramatic arts.

And podcast listeners will have to excuse something of a repetition. Until this episode, KUAC listeners haven’t been able to experience the joy of Chris Lott’s katexic clippings. So, I recycled my introduction to his offering this episode: triffid.

Girls on Ice, Winterberry and Katexic

Girls on Ice

Girls on Ice Alaska – Photo Joanna Young

This episode we look at some of the barriers to science for women, for kids and for the average citizen. Later in the show, we’ll talk with University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist Katie Spellman about recruiting berry-pickers for the Winterberry project. And word-maven Chris Lott will join us for a new feature that celebrates some of the intriguing terms that enrich our common tongue. This episode he brings us a word describing the actions of glaciers. I’m sorry to report, this feature failed to air on KUAC because of pledge week mayhem. So, for my podcast listeners it represents added content. More information on Chris and his always entertaining blog can be found at

First, almost two decades ago, a grad student studying glaciers in Washington State thought about empowering teenage girls to explore science by participating in a field expedition. From the notion arose the Girls on Ice Program. The program is supported by the College of Natural Science and Mathematics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks [UAF]. The program’s founder Dr. Erin Pettit is a glaciologist at UAF. And, during the 18 years since its birth, the program has grown and drawn on the skills and talents of other researchers. Two of them also work and study at UAF and I invited them into the studio to describe the program and the challenges of attracting and keeping women in the sciences.

Claudine Hauri is Research Assistant Professor in Chemical Oceanography at the International Arctic Research Center.

And Joanna Young is research assistant and doctoral student in glaciology at UAF’s Geophysical Institute.

I began our discussion by asking what they looked for in a site when leading the girls on an expedition.

Note: because this episode aired during pledge week, it’s shorter than an hour

Modern Northern Explorers


As many of you know, I launched the Northern Soundings podcast more than a year ago, about six months later KUAC picked it up as a show to air every other week. Well, I’m excited to report that thanks to funding from the University of Alaska Fairbanks I’m able to expand the show to a weekly hour-long exploration of Alaskan people and ideas. For this first show in the new format, I decided to salute those researchers who put life and limb on the line for science. As you’ll hear, they often do it because they love the outdoors and exploring the north.

Later in the show we’ll hear from my friend and snow scientist Matthew Sturm on the Norwegian explorer Nansen, but when Matthew was picking his crew for a 2,500-mile snowmachine expedition across arctic Alaska and Canada one of his first choices was Daniel Solie. Daniel is not only a scientist who has designed a physics course for Alaska villagers that draws on their experience, but he is also an accomplished mountaineer. Dan is the fellow on the left in the photo taken during the excursion. As you’ll hear my discussion with him, Daniel also had covered some of the same territory when he was a younger man.

Brian Rogers: Multifaceted Leader

Brian Rogers has been UAF's chancellor since 2009.

This past summer, as part of the centennial celebration of the University of Alaska and UAF, Summer Sessions invited five former leaders of the school to return and reflect on their time with the institution. Brian Rogers story offers a unique perspective. Not only was he a student at the university, as a legislator he oversaw the subcommittee that dealt with the school’s budget. Later, he would serve statewide as Director of Budget Development and Vice-President for Finance. When he started his own company, Governor Tony Knowles appointed him to the UA Board of Regents and following that service he was tapped to become the chancellor of UAF. So, as you can hear, by any measure his experiences with the school is almost unparalleled. It turned out Brian’s experience with higher education had deep roots.

Marshall Lind: History Making Educator


For over three months this summer I visited with some of the leaders who made their mark on the University of Alaska and UAF. The discussions were prompted by the school’s centennial celebrations.  Marshall Lind served as chancellor at UAF from 1999 to 2005, but before that he served 12 years helming University of Alaska Southeast. While those responsibilities were notable, it was his service as Alaska’s Education commissioner that proved to be historic.

In 1971, Lind was appointed commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education, a post he retained until1983. During that tenure, he helped create the Regional Educational Attendance Areas and implemented the so-called Molly Hootch Consent decree, that transformed how the state would provide education in rural Alaska.

Lind received the 2002 Denali Award from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the highest honor AFN gives to non-Natives, for his commitment to serving the educational needs of rural and Native Alaskans.

The audio for this podcast was drawn from the video taken at the live event and there were some microphone level issues during the recording. I began my conversation with Lind looking at 1961, the year he and his wife Lois began teaching with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Wendy Redman: UA’s Wonder Woman



I first met Wendy Redman in the spring of 1983. I was new to Fairbanks and all I knew was that she worked for the University of Alaska Fairbanks in some capacity. One evening, at a party, I found myself paired with a guy named Pat O’Rourke in a game of pinochle. Wendy was paired with Pat’s wife Charla. When I asked Pat if he taught at the school, he said he worked in administration with Wendy. It’s a good thing. I don’t think I could have played that game knowing I was sitting down with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ chancellor and chief lobbyist.

I tell that story to give you a sense of the self-effacing character of Wendy and Pat. As you will hear the two worked together to form the state’s community college system and when Pat became chancellor he tapped Wendy to represent the school in Juneau. But Wendy’s link to the University began far earlier.  She arrived in Alaska more than 45 years ago. Her almost forty-year career with the school began in 1972 in the Biology Department, becoming the school’s first Administrative Assistant. She eventually rose to become executive vice president for university relations. In 1998 she was interim UA President for several months between the departure of Dr. Jerome B. Komisar and General Mark Hamilton’s first day on the job.

Wendy, helped form the Alaska Women’s Commission and created the Women’s Center at UAF. She’s received several honors. In 2000, she was awarded the Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence, and in 2010 was recognized as a woman of distinction by the local Girl Scouts.
Wendy was born and raised in Eastern Washington, near Lake Chelan. She attended Eastern Washington University and the University of Washington, eventually receiving her masters of public policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1984.

When she retired, Wendy returned to Chelan and I began our discussion by asking about her childhood and why she returned to her hometown.

Dana Thomas: An Academic for All Seasons


When University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Brian Rogers departed in 2015, the position went through a series of interim leaders. In part, state-wide administrators were examining whether a chancellor was needed and if a single accreditation plan for the system over individual campuses was efficient. During that process one of the leaders who came forward to helm UAF was Dana Thomas. Born and raised in Fairbanks, Thomas attended UAF as a student. Following his graduate studies he returned as a professor of statistics. He also filled many key leadership roles, initially retiring as statewide Vice-president of academic affairs and research. This breadth of experience and longevity with the school made him an ideal choice for Summer Sessions salute to the University of Alaska’s centennial celebration this summer. My thanks to Michelle Bartlett of Summer Sessions for inviting me to host the series of live talks with guests and allowing Northern Soundings to air the discussions.

Expanded Northern Soundings


My apologies to subscribers for the long delay in posting new episodes. I’ve been working with KUAC FM/TV and the University of Alaska Fairbanks into expanding the podcast to an hour weekly show to air on KUAC-FM. That has largely taken place. Of course, with all new ventures it hasn’t been without hitches and headaches: one of them being the server the station uses can’t accept the size of the now one-hour program file.

Thankfully, my site can and I’ll begin posting a series of expanded Northern Soundings drawn from live interviews I conducted this summer with distinguished former leaders at UAF as part of the school’s centennial celebration. Then I’ll begin posting the new series, which will contain multiple interviews and features. I’m very excited about the opportunities this new format provides.

Thanks for your patience and your continued interest.

Paul Heinzen: Humanitarian Mercenary


This summer I’ve had the opportunity to interview a boat-load of people. These opportunities have come through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Sessions program and Michelle Bartlett. Unfortunately, the sometimes two interviews a week I’ve conducted for that program, which salutes the university’s centennial, stymied work on Northern Soundings. That said, I hope soon to post special episodes of Northern Soundings featuring many of my Summer Sessions interlocutors.

However, I’m pleased to post this discussion I had with Paul Heinzen. I originally met Paul when I was working for the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. Paul was volunteering, doing odd-jobs around the grounds of the chancery. As I came to know him, I learned he was a guy who marched to a different drummer. His main employment was working for NGOs, or Non-Government Organizations, in other countries. As a young man he found he loved to travel and began working for NGOs to continue his peripatetic lifestyle. That lifestyle brought challenges and rewards. When I finally sat down with Paul, he had just returned from Tajikistan.


Producer and vocalist Sarah Mitchell: Good as Gold

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It was only after I began to write the introduction that I realized this episode stands as a bookend, of sorts, to the last. If Eric Scott represents the spirit of someone smitten by Alaska, the late Jim Bell represents a composer who fed the more romantic side of the Alaska myth through song and humor.

I’ve always felt Fairbanks is blessed with a higher than average population of gifted actors, writers and musicians.  Many of these artists perform in summer shows and concerts mounted for the enjoyment and edification of visitors. More than 30 years ago I was in one of these shows at the Palace Theater and Saloon featuring the songs of Jim Bell. It was called, The Golden Heart Review, and its run at The Palace each summer must rival the decades-long run of Cats on Broadway.  I mean to say, it’s still being performed. And if you went to The Palace this summer chances are good you’d see my guest in the cast. Sarah Mitchell grew up, not only with the show (her parents Gianna Drogheo and Steve Mitchell are Palace veterans) but also with the music of Jim Bell. As you’ll hear Jim was her godfather. Sadly Jim passed away a decade ago, but Sarah is releasing a tribute album of Jim’s music. I invited her into the studio to discuss the CD, and her memories of his personality and songs.