Marilyn Sigman honored for marine science outreach

Award presentation on stage
Marilyn Sigman, left, accepting the Alaska Ocean Leadership Award for marine science outreach.

Kudos to our marine education specialist Marilyn Sigman, who recently took home an Alaska Ocean Leadership Award at the Alaska Marine Gala in Anchorage.

The award program is run by the Alaska SeaLife Center and covers five categories. Sigman won for marine science outreach, awarded to “a person, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to ocean literacy via formal or informal education, media, or other communications about Alaska’s ecosystems.”

The award is sponsored by the Alaska Ocean Observing System and comes with a $500 cash prize.

Woman smiling, holding award

Sigman is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and has served as marine education specialist at Alaska Sea Grant since 2009. She is also a published author.

“Marilyn is well deserving of this leadership award. The award calls attention to her many contributions to marine science outreach and her work interpreting science research for the public. Her leadership and contributions to ocean science literacy are also in the formal sector through her curriculum work with schools from southeast to arctic Alaska,” said Peggy Cowan, retired North Slope Borough School District superintendent, longtime Alaska educator and former Alaska Sea Grant advisory committee member.

Poster: Marilyn Sigman, Marine Science Outreach Award

“The curriculum models she’s developed are unequaled in the state and are an example for applying Next Generation Science Standards nationally. This ground-breaking work has never been more needed. As an author, her recent book Entangled: People and Ecological Change in Kachemak Bay is a capstone project and a stellar example of her ability to synthesize science for a broader audience,” Cowan said.

Sigman is the coordinator of Alaska Sea Grant’s K–12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Alaska Seas and Watersheds education program. She expanded a collection of Alaska-relevant educational materials into a program of grants, place-based resources, and professional development for teachers and schools. Her efforts led to greater emphasis on local marine and coastal environments and watersheds in STEM curriculum.

The Alaska Seas and Watersheds Curriculum is flexible enough for Alaska’s largest school district, Anchorage, to incorporate the materials into their watershed field program, reaching 3,700 4th-graders each year.

It is an equally effective model in single-school districts, such as Dillingham, which spends a week each year celebrating its waters culminating in a field trip to Nushagak Bay.

The program targets school districts rather than individual teachers or classrooms, and incorporates local community partners. This approach leads to activities and content that are locally relevant and ensures that teacher turnover, endemic in rural districts in our state, does not impede teaching ocean and marine literacy into the future.

Through Sigman’s leadership, the Alaska Seas and Watersheds Curriculum has been adopted in almost 20 percent of Alaska’s 59 school districts. It continues to reach new school districts annually.

Before her career at Alaska Sea Grant, Sigman was executive director of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer for 11 years. During that time, she helped grow the organization by increasing the marine ecology programming for school groups and summer visitors from 2,500 participants in 1998 to over 12,000 in 2009.

“Hooray for Marilyn, educator/scientist of epic proportions! So proud to have worked with Marilyn and to have learned from her,” said Trisha Herminghaus, science education consultant and National Science Education Leadership Association board member.