Ultimate Classroom at Kachemak Bay

Feb 24, 2021 | Kachemak Bay, Alaska, Reserves, What We Work For

Former Kachemak Bay Reserve interns Grace Allan and Chris Guo identify streams that provide habitat for juvenile salmon. Chris is now the Reserve’s lead technician for nearshore studies.

With sweeping fjords instead of desks and babbling streams instead of whiteboards, Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve is not your typical classroom. Likewise, its high-quality education programs and partnerships offer opportunities that Alaska’s students can find nowhere else.

“Students join us in the field to participate in real science and data analysis,” says Coowe Walker, manager at the Reserve. “They get to be part of scientific work that is used by the community. They’re not just learning about sciencethey’re doing it. It’s a win-win: powerful for them and useful for us.”

The Reserve supports a diverse range of students with field-based opportunities that “provide a foundation for them to become community leaders and scientists who are prepared to meet the challenges of Alaska’s changing coasts,” according to Walker.

Helping Alaskan Native Students Go to College

The Kachemak Bay Reserve partners with the Alaska Native Science and Education Program (ANSEP) to support indigenous students starting in middle school. 

“For many of these students, college is not something they think of as possible,” says Walker. “It takes a huge amount of emotional, financial, and educational support to help them get there. You really have to make that commitment to them in middle school.” 

Students take accelerated courses through ANSEP and participate in internships. In 2020, the Reserve took on two virtual ANSEP interns to conduct watershed research—the most highly rated experience of the intern cohort.

Bringing Middle Schoolers Into the Field 

Each year, the Reserve takes seventh and eighth grade classes from Homer into the field to collect water samples. As many as 200 students get to run their own experiments using those samples and then present the results to the Kachemak Community Council. 

With the Council’s encouragement, the Reserve is expanding their middle school field program to include nearshore fish studies and to develop a network of “stewardship schools” to get students involved with the entire watershed—from the headwaters to the sea. 

“In an area where there’s not a lot of field-based programs for middle school students, we’re able to fill that gap,” says Walker.

High school students from the Tebughna School in the remote Alaska Native village of Tyonek (Qaggeyshlat) joined the Reserve to learn about techniques for studying juvenile salmon through Project GRAD.

Building Graduation Rates in Remote Communities

The Reserve also partners with Project Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD) to reach students in remote communitiesthose which are fly- or boat-in only. These include many Alaska Native and Old Believer Russian communities, both of which tend to have low graduation rates. 

GRAD allows educators to work with students from these communities who want to finish high school and go onto college. Through GRAD, Students from the remote Alaska Native village of Tyonek (Qaggeyshlat ) work with Reserve scientists and educators, a relationship that has continued to expand during the pandemic through virtual platform.

Connecting University Students with Research Opportunities 

In the past few years, the Reserve has supported more than 50 university students as fellows and interns. Some are sponsored through national programs like the Hollings Scholarship program or the newly established, Margaret A. Davidson Graduate Research Fellowship

“Leveraging these national programs helps us provide unique opportunities to students, and advance collaborative science here at the Reserve,” says Walker. Research completed by fellows is now used to guide management decisions by partners like Alaska Fish & Game.

“Because we emphasize stakeholder engagement, student science gets used,” says Walker. “We emphasize this engagement in our own work and with the students. I hear this from colleagues around the country: really intentional and adaptive stakeholder engagement is what makes Reserves so special.”

ReservesKachemak Bay, AlaskaUltimate Classroom at Kachemak Bay