Friday Focus: The role of a research university in Alaska

Larry Hinzman
UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— Larry Hinzman, vice chancellor, research

In these anxious times, it is difficult to pull our attention away from budget issues to think about the reasons why we chose to work at UAF.  We often hear of the stimulation of working on problems that people outside never need to consider. We see the pride in researchers presenting scientific and engineering results that make Alaska homes more livable; gardens, fields and forests more productive; infrastructure more resilient; and individuals and communities more healthy. We see students who are excited to visit research sites that few people ever experience while taking on challenges that impact the lives of thousands of Alaskans and millions of Americans. I have experienced the joy of working collaboratively with brilliant students, staff and faculty and have seen the value of our research making Alaska industry less risky, making Alaska workers safer and more productive, and making our economy more diverse and stable.  

We have been blessed to work in a region with such tremendous challenges! Researchers at my previous institution are watching the corn grow while we get to study the effect of aurora on satellite orbits. Alaska research has elevated the eyes of the world to the heavens and to the future.

Along with more than 800 people, I relished my tour of the Poker Flat Research Range last Saturday because it captured the essence of what we are. This research power house was created to understand the mysteries of the North. To enable society to communicate across the globe. To look to the stars, and to the ocean depths and to the mountain tops, all with knowledge and understanding. We will continue to help Alaskans adapt to a changing climate and globalization. We will strive to make our villages and cities be more sustainable. We will make the observations, conduct the analyses and build the models to forecast salmon returns, understand ecosystem dynamics and provide Alaska and federal agencies the information they need to properly manage our resources.

While I will celebrate the tremendous achievements of 100 years of UAF research, I know it will not end here. We are still a powerhouse of research capability. We still employ amazing researchers and we still attract the best students. And we still have plenty of challenges awaiting us. There is much work to do, and the federal funding agencies know that we have the people to resolve those questions, for Alaska, for the nation and for the world.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every Friday. This week’s column is being published a day early; there will not be a Cornerstone newsletter this Friday, March 15, for the spring break holiday.

Last updated: Mar 15, 2019