Marine educator retires after years of training teachers and students about Alaska’s seas and watersheds

teacher with school children in a neighborhood stream
Marilyn Sigman teaches Anchorage fourth-grade students about the salmon life cycle.

Marilyn Sigman, Alaska Sea Grant’s longtime marine education specialist, recently completed her last day on the job and is now enjoying retirement in Homer. The faculty, staff and many collaborators miss her already. Sigman joined Alaska Sea Grant in 2009 and led marine education and literacy efforts across the state.

While with Alaska Sea Grant, Sigman trained about 250 teachers in 25 Alaskan communities and provided grant funding to  schools to increase the quantity and quality of Alaska marine and aquatic education to more than 7,000 students annually, including all of Anchorage’s 3,700 4th-graders.

Sigman led professional-development workshops for teachers that bolstered their skills in developing lesson plans that align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“Marilyn became the state’s leading expert on Next Generation Science Standards. She updated and facilitated the Alaska Seas and Watersheds Curriculum to bring cutting-edge marine educational pedagogy to Alaskan K-12 schools,” said Peggy Cowan, retired North Slope Borough School District superintendent.

woman in green jacket standing in front of a bowhead whale skull
Marilyn Sigman poses in front of a bowhead whale jaw in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

“She also assisted the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s work in adopting new science standards for the state of Alaska, based on NGSS. Marilyn touched rural and urban classrooms and leaves a legacy of excellence in place-based curriculum in classrooms, districts and statewide,” Cowan said.

Sigman recently partnered with the North Pacific Research Board and the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. to bring scientists, Alaska Native and non-Native educators together. The workshop’s goal was to develop culturally responsive guidance for researchers working in rural Alaska communities.

Sigman said preliminary recommendations include encouraging researchers to become more inclusive of cultural values and traditional ways of knowing. They also include designing outreach activities that are place-based, involve indigenous youth in the collection of data and in problem-solving in their communities. The recommendations also encourage collaboration with indigenous educators and other community members who can help incorporate local traditional knowledge that is given equal weight to that of western science.

Prior to joining Alaska Sea Grant, Sigman worked as a naturalist, wildlife biologist, estuary project director, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies director, and science education consultant for the North Slope Borough.

Three woman standing in front of a large salmon sculpture made of marine debris
Marilyn Signman (left), retired ASG communications coordinator Carol Kaynor (center) and Marine Advisory program coordinator Beverly Bradley (right) in Kodiak in front of a fish art installation.

She is also a published author. Her book, Entangled: People and Ecological Change in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay was released in March 2018 by the University of Alaska Press. Nancy Lord, former Alaska Writer Laureate, said Sigman unites her “science brain,” “naturalists’s heart” and “insatiable curiosity” in a book she describes as “a beautifully written account of human and ecological connections.

Sigman said she’s enjoyed working at Alaska Sea Grant and credits the culture and mission of the organization for helping her accomplish so much. She’s currently serving as the interim director of Homer’s Pratt Museum but looks forward transitioning into full retirement soon.

“I hope to have more time for writing and I have a lot of landscaping to do,” Sigman said.

Alaska Sea Grant is committed to continue K-12 education and outreach. 

“Marilyn’s accomplishments reflect the importance of K-12 education to Sea Grant programs nationally and in Alaska. We wish Marilyn the best and although Marilyn leaves behind very big shoes to fill, we are looking forward to recruiting a new education specialist,” said Ginny Eckert, Alaska Sea Grant acting director.