Monday, September 16, 2013

Civic Engagement and Local Food

This is a guest post by Kyla Byers, AmeriCorps VISTA with the Food Policy Council and the Alaska State Division of Agriculture.  Kyla is a 2011 graduate of UAA. 

    I started at UAA in 2003 with only the vague idea that I was interested in “environmental issues.” I remained undeclared for 5 years, taking GERs and other courses that interested me. It wasn’t until my two study abroad trips, where I was exposed to new ways of thinking and living, that I developed an interest in sustainable agriculture. When I returned to UAA, I enrolled in the fledgling Environment and Society major. It appealed to me because it focused on both natural sciences and social sciences. It ultimately looked at how humans interact with their environment—including how we grow, distribute and consume food. The more I became involved in food issues, the more I became interested in local food as a means, not only for environmental stewardship, but also for improving food security and nutrition.

    A few civic engagement courses were requirements of my major and piqued my interest in pursuing the Certificate in Civic Engagement as well. Those courses helped me realize that I could be more effective in the work I wanted to do if I became a more engaged member of society. I soon discovered the reward and the sense of purpose gained from actively working in cooperation with others to directly and positively affect my community.

    After graduating, I was lucky enough to find an AmeriCorps VISTA opportunity that exactly matched my interests. Working with the Food Policy Council and the Division of Agriculture, I coordinate the Farmers Market Quest Program which sets markets up to accept SNAP benefits (aka food stamps). As a VISTA, it is my purpose to address issues faced by low-income communities. My work not only helps improve wellness among low-income Alaskans, but supports local farmers who are key to our state’s food security. Because of this position, I have become more ingrained in Alaska’s local food community and had extensive networking and learning opportunities working with people from state government, non-profits and food pantries to farmers, market managers and those on food assistance. I credit my CEL courses with garnering interest in this type of work and see my VISTA position as a huge stepping stone towards a meaningful career advocating for local, nutritious foods.

    As a full circle experience, this summer I had an Environment and Society major, also earning the Certificate in Civic Engagement, who came and completed her Civic Engagement Internship with us at the Farmers Markets!  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Civic Engagement Certificate Graduate in 2013!

Suzanne Schaffer, majoring in Environment & Society, earned a Certificate in Civic Engagment along with her major and graduated on May 5th with her UAA classmates. 

Suzanne is dedicated to a sustainable environment, and her program reflects that.  Her most recent project was working on a community engagement project in CEL A392, Advanced Civic Engagement: Community Inquiry & Action, assisting the Municipality of Anchorage in their survey of community councils.  With a background in courses ranged from Environmental Ethics to Conservational Biology and International Environmental Issues, Suzanne will be a contribution wherever she goes!  And she's a demonstration for sustainability too -- she commuted to school all winter by bike and bus until her bike was stolen in early spring.  All of our congratualtions and best wishes to Suzanne as she goes forward in her work or further education! 

A Community Engagement Task Force Begins Its Work!

May 1 was the first meeting of the newly appointed Community Engagement Task Force at UAA/CCEL.  Tracey Burke, associate professor in the School of Social Work will serve as Chair for what probably will be a two year initiative, with the first year devoted to the preparation of the application for the Carnegie Foundation designation for Community Engagement & Outreach.

The committee is tasked with the following charge from Provost Baker:

    1.       Oversee the renewal  of the Carnegie “Engaged University” classification application due in April 2014.

    2.       Oversee an audit of current community engagement activity in the University to identify areas of strength and potential.

    3.       Develop strategies and processes for (1) identifying community-engaged courses across the institution, and (2) data collection for outcomes of those       courses for students, faculty, and community partners.

4.       Develop mechanisms to research, develop, and recognize best practices in community engagement both internally and externally.

5.       Confer with faculty and external partners to develop further internship and practicum possibilities throughout the state. 

6.       Work with  agencies to identify sustainable funding sources.

7.       Identify and develop responses for any risk management concerns.

Urban in Alaska Conference at UAA


Urban in Alaska brought together more than 80 people in the Student Union Den at UAA on March 29, 2013.  An interactive conference combined short sessions presented by UAA faculty and community members in panels, followed by lively discussions amongst the entire group! 
The goal of the “The Urban in Alaska” conference and workshop was to bring scholars and community members together to engage in dialogue about current research on Anchorage as an urban space. The conference was sponsored by the UAA Department of Health Sciences and the UAA Center for Community Engagement and Learning. The conference was free and open to the public.
Panels included:

  • Architecture, Public Space & Urban Design with Klaus Meyer, local architect; Sheila Selkregg, Public Administration faculty, Bruce Farnsworth, writer, community organizer, and member of the art group Light Brigade Kor4., and Sharon Chamard, Justice Center faculty.  
  • Health, Education, & Food with Tracey Burke, Social Work faculty; Liz Hodges-Snyder, Health Sciences faculty; Gabriel Garcia, Health Sciences faculty; Diwalkar Vadapalli, Institute of Social & Economic Research faculty.
  • Labor, Migration & Refugees with Sara Komanisky, graduate student in British Columbia; Chad Farrell, Sociology faculty; Judy Owens-Manley, Civic Engagement faculty & Director of the Center for Community Engagement & Learning.  
Kathleen McCoy created a podcast for the March 29 session, and the conference is archived on the KSKA website.  An invited group stayed for lunch and further discussion. 

Feedback from the conference was an overwhelming request to gather again for Urban in Alaska, at least twice a year!  Our intention is to create a website this summer and a possible newsletter and publication!  Stay tuned!