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Amid Renovations, Nome’s UAF Campus Remains a Crossroads of Regional Interests

UAF Northwest Campus director, Bob Metcalf, stands in the hallway of the newly renovated education center. Photo Credit: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2018)

The University of Alaska–Fairbanks’ Northwest Campus in Nome has been a venue for multiple regional events this season.

Thanks in part to almost $15 million spent on renovations, and various collaborations with other entities, the local university is now playing host to oil spill preparedness meetings, weather and climate change discussions, as well as the latest Arctic focused workshop.

Starting this afternoon at UAF Northwest Campus, the Arctic Domain Awareness Center is partnering with the university and local entities like Sitnasuak, Kawerak, and the City of Nome to discuss Alaskan Native insights regarding challenges the Arctic will face in the future. Northwest Campus director Bob Metcalf calls this event, and many others UAF has hosted, a successful example of collaboration between entities:

“Literally everything we do is a collaboration. We have a staff now, it’s down to 11 people and two full-time faculty, and then a couple part-time faculty. So with that small, little group, we would be totally limited about what we could actually offer and follow through on, if it wasn’t for collaborations, and sponsorships, and support from within the university and then, of course, in our region.”

This latest collaborative workshop is scheduled to last until 5pm on Tuesday, and then the next evening, the Northwest Campus will be hosting the 2018 Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference (WAISC). The three-day event will focus on topics like sea ice, energy efficiency, marine mammals, and much more.

Many of these topics have been discussed at the campus before, during installments of the campus’s “Strait Science” series. During one presentation late last year, Rick Thoman with the National Weather Service spoke about winter weather and climate predictions. Now, he’s coming back this week to discuss sea ice.

Due in part to multiple partnerships developed with people like Thoman, Metcalf says the Northwest Campus has been able to do more with less.

“Really, we don’t offer a class, we don’t offer a degree, or we don’t offer a program unless there is organization or a community that wants us to have it and is investing in it: in time, or energy, or scholarships, or space, or whatever.”

And the campus has seen a lot of investment over the past few years, especially since it received federal grants to renovate its facilities, which Metcalf says was squeezed for all its worth. Even though the renovations are almost fully finished and the buildings are upgraded now, they are still missing one important thing.

“Those four buildings have no water, and so, this new, renovated building, it has no water, either. So that’s the first question people ask is, ‘Where’s the water fountain? Where’s the bathroom?’”

But Metcalf says you won’t have to wait too long to use the restrooms on campus, because the last renovation involves moving the Seppala building, which was originally used by Nome Public Schools, with its water and sewer capabilities, right next door to the education center.

A science lab of sorts, used for various classes at UAF Northwest Campus. Photo Credit: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2017).

Thanks to all of the new upgrades, Metcalf says international research teams like the Korean Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) now want to use the local UAF campus’s research lab to do their work. According to Metcalf, the campus is saving at least $20,000 a year on its energy costs. And although the total size of the campus buildings has not changed, Metcalf believes the university is now a more efficient space for its students.

“But as I have said, and actually, it was the words of a previous director, but she would say that ‘we need facilities here that are worthy of our students and our communities,’ and that was absolutely right. What we were calling a science lab was actually an old home economics room. It had water, so that was the science, I guess.”

UAF Northwest Campus is gearing up for the start of a science conference, which begins with a plenary session at 6:30pm Wednesday. Metcalf says with the renovated space and the number of registered participants thus far, about a hundred people could be gathered in campus classrooms for WAISC (Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference).

Image at top: UAF Northwest Campus director Bob Metcalf stands in the hallway of the newly renovated education center. Photo Credit: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2018).

UAF's Northwest Campus

(Before renovations) UAF’s Northwest Campus in Nome. Photo: KNOM.