Brown Environmental Leadership Lab: Alaska - Program Overview
Since Alaska’s land mass is equivalent to 1/5 of the continental United States, students will be traveling to a few locations in order to begin experiencing the state’s cultural and ecological diversity. Our classrooms, too, will range from the big city of Anchorage to the remote woods that line Peterson Bay. We seek to appreciate the complexity of the issues we study. For example, after visiting oil and gas executives at their processing plants in Nikiski, we will also speak with citizens who remember the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Every day, we will learn from a variety of voices including local elders, university faculty, sportfishermen, and each other.
Students will first learn about the history of Alaska from an Alaska Native perspective with contributions from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Alaska became a US state in 1959 but its history stretches back centuries and includes a minimum of 8 cultural groups as defined by language distinctions. At CITC, Alaska Native elders and teens will share important cultural traditions, and provide insights to historical milestones that are not often found in traditional history books. Students will have the chance to ask questions of those who have experienced Alaskan history and have a unique perspective to share.
As a large city, Anchorage also serves as corporate headquarters for several important industries in the state; oil/gas, mining, fishing, and forestry. Students will meet with corporate representatives and and hear their perspectives on how the resource industries impacted the unfolding of Alaska Native history. These industries are large players in current issues like the Pebble Mine proposition, off-shore artic drilling, and adaptation to climate change. Together, we will learn how Alaskans strive to balance cultural preservation, environmental concerns, and economic growth.
The Kenai Peninsula
After visiting Anchorage, students will travel south, down the Kenai Peninsula and sail across the Kachemak Bay to spend two nights at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies at the Peterson Bay Field Station. This science center is nestled in coastal woodlands and only accessible by boat. We hope to observe vibrant seastars hiding in tidepools and black bears in adjacent forests. We’ll certainly see incredible biodiversity in this remote location, with the guidance and supervision of local experts.
Back on the mainland, students will spend a few days in Soldotna at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus, a unit of the University of Alaska- Anchorage. The Kenai River is best known for king salmon fishing. The largest salmon ever caught, almost 5ft long and just shy of 100lbs, was hauled from the Kenai River. Students will speak with various stakeholders in the salmon fishery: Alaska residents who fish to stock their freezers for winter, recreational fishermen who enjoy the thrill of the catch, and commercial fishermen who sell their trade-mark “wild Alaskan salmon” all over the world. We may even see other users such as bald eagles and bears. With such a diverse demand, students will begin asking what sustainability might look like for this natural resource.
25 years after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill covered 1,500 miles of Prince William Sound coastline with a toxic black sheen, we will sail across the sound via a ferry on the Alaskan Marine Highway. While some of the oil was recovered from the spill (estimates range from 3-24% depending on the reporting source), the majority entered the surrounding ecosystem, some of which is still visible today.
Students will hear from first-responders to the spill, including the US Coast Guard, and talk with advocates currently working to protect against a future spill.
Your Action Plan
We believe that it is not enough to understand complex social issues. Instead, effective leaders ask themselves, "What will we do with what we know? How will we serve others? How might we work for long-term social change?"
At the Leadership Institute, we help our students define the issues that they are passionate about and construct an Action Plan to address them. We work with you to set realistic goals, identify mentors and resource people, and anticipate challenges.
We encourage you to think about some potential Action Plan topics before you come to BELL, but most students don't actually know what their Action Plan will be until they start working on it at BELL. Your instructors will help you design an Action Plan that fits your interests and skills.
In the past, BELL students have:
- Educated other students about alternative energy resources
- Planted a vegetable garden at a community building
- Received a grant to install solar panels on a High School
- Eliminated Styrofoam in county buildings
- Published an educational article in an online teen magazine
- Coordinated an e-waste collection
- Implemented Meatless Mondays in a school cafeteria
Review students’ final reports on their plans in our digital Action Plan library.
Your program fee includes:
- Tuition for the course
- All lodging as part of the course
- Breakfasts, lunches, dinners
- All transportation, field trips and site visits as described in the program description
- Transfer from/to airport on day of arrival and departure
Your Program fee does not include:
- Air travel to/from Anchorage, AK
- Classroom materials (textbooks, notebooks, pens, etc…)
- Pre/post-program accommodations