Student interns from Kake contribute to local climate change studies

Elizabeth Figus, PhD, contributed to this story.

During the summer of 2021, two students from Kake participated in Alaska Sea Grant’s Community Engaged Internship (CEI). The internship is designed for undergraduate students from underrepresented and Indigenous communities, with the goal to engage students in place-based projects that respect and integrate local ways of knowing.

Simon Friday and Willow Jackson both worked on the ocean monitoring team for the Kake Climate Partnership under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Figus, an Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy postdoctoral fellow, and EPA Environmental Program staff in Kake. The Kake Climate Partnership was formed in 2020 by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), together with the Organized Village of Kake, Kake Tribal Corporation, and the City of Kake. The partners work together to conduct climate research and adaptation planning that provides tangible benefits to the community.

Simon Friday stands near ocean with a container of water
Simon Friday prepares to pour a sample of seawater at a Kake Climate Partnership ocean monitoring site in 2020. Photo by Miakah Nix

Simon Friday, a UAF undergraduate student in the College of Liberal Arts, started his eight-week CEI internship in May, as the ocean monitoring team in Kake was preparing for a busy summer sampling season. Simon worked with the Kake ocean monitoring team in 2020, so he quickly advanced to a leadership role in the field and in the lab. In addition to leading ocean sampling events, Simon mentored and supervised high school research assistants, trained other summer interns, and managed sample processing, storage and shipping at the lab in Kake. He also assisted with a research film about the ocean monitoring program.

On a trip to Juneau, Simon was able to meet with his CEI mentor, Dr. Figus, and tour the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences campus. Simon worked with Dr. Figus to design and complete an independent project, with the goal of situating Indigenous literature and culture at the forefront of his professional development. He spent time reviewing Indigenous studies literature and podcasts, volunteering at the Culture Camp in Kake, and documenting his 2021 subsistence harvests.

Simon is planning to work with Dr. Figus again during the spring of 2022 to expand his CEI independent project into a senior thesis at UAF.

Willow Jackson sits in a boat
Willow Jackson sits on the deck of the Kake Climate Partnership ocean monitoring boat. Photo by Courtney James

Willow Jackson began her internship with the Kake Climate Partnership in late June. She quickly developed skills and became an asset to the team. Over the course of her internship, Willow took on additional responsibility in her monitoring activities, mentored and supervised high school research assistants, and managed sample processing, storage, and shipping at the lab in Kake. Like Simon, she volunteered at the Culture Camp and contributed to the ocean monitoring program research film.

Having just completed her first year of college, Willow benefited from the networking and professional development webinars and mentorship opportunities offered through the CEI program. In addition to receiving on-site mentorship, CEI interns had the chance to meet online with Sea Grant Knauss Fellows working in Washington, D.C.

In mid-September, Willow returned for her sophomore year at Bellevue Community College. She is planning to continue working with Dr. Figus through the winter as she applies to marine science programs at four-year colleges.

Kake is a rural community in southeast Alaska with fewer than 600 residents, and in a community this size, every job counts. Because of the CEI program, Simon and Willow were able to spend the summer working in their home town, while receiving training and gaining skills to advance their career  development.

Alaska Sea Grant will offer the CEI program again in 2022.