The Arctic Becomes SMEA Classroom
Four UW students travelled to Alaska in May 2012 to participate in one of several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) workshops with communities on oil spill response, natural resource damage assessment, and incorporating traditional knowledge into decision support tools. NOAA and the Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC) hosted the workshops, which were envisioned as a means to help create a two-way dialog: to inform the local communities about these oil-related topics and to hear their concerns and gather their input to make processes and tools most effective.
JD Ross Leahy, Joe Inslee, David Clark, and Elspeth Hilton were selected to participate in the Arctic workshop after taking the Autumn 2011 SMEA 514 course “Marine Pollution Management and Policy,” which focused on decision making under uncertainty, specifically the environmental and human dimensions of risk from arctic oil development. Dr. Mary Baker (NOAA), Dr. Robert Pavia (formerly of NOAA and current SMEA Affiliate Professor), and Dr. Thomas Leschine (SMEA Director) co-taught the course.
While at the workshop, the students spent their days participating in activities and documenting participant discussions, and their evenings helping to compile findings. At the conclusion of the workshop, the students contributed to a summary report. Clark called the experience “truly one of a kind,” and reported that “the thing that amazed me most was the complexity of the issue, and how impossible it was to see how difficult the situation was without being there and seeing the community's faces.” He noted that it was very hard to tell the community members things they did not want to hear, including that it is not if an oil spill will happen but when.
Dr. Baker also participated in the field workshop with the students. “The overall purpose of the workshop was to build relationships with Arctic communities to prepare for restoring the environment after oil spills,” she said. “The community members were extremely open in sharing their concerns and ideas about how to address them, especially relating to subsistence and cultural use of seals, birds, and other marine life.”
“After co-teaching SMEA 514 with Drs Leschine and Pavia, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to connect UW students to the real-world implications of the course material,” Dr. Baker said. “SMEA students impressed everyone with their background knowledge of the issues and ability to participate in discussions and synthesize what they were hearing. Teaching the class and leading the students in participating in this workshop was extremely rewarding for me and I hope to have more opportunities like this to connect SMEA students to NOAA activities.”
SMEA 514 will be taught again Autumn Quarter 2012.
(Photo credit: JD Ross Leahy)
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