"Week of the Arctic" Focused on the Way Forward

The “Week of the Arctic” in Fairbanks, Alaska, May 8-14, 2017, highlighted the United States as an Arctic nation and culminated in the historic handover of the Arctic Council Chairmanship from the U.S. to Finland. Opening the week, Dartmouth and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) hosted a daylong workshop, sponsored by the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA), to emphasize the importance of the Arctic in research and education exchanges. The launch of the second Fulbright Arctic Initiative program, once again co-led by Dartmouth and UAF, was also announced publicly for the first time.

Dartmouth’s Melody Brown Burkins, Ph.D., Associate Director for Programs and Research at the Dickey Center for International Understanding, welcomed workshop participants and spoke about how the Arctic offered opportunities for increased scientific collaboration and student mobility as well as engagement in global issues of policy and diplomacy.

“The meeting was about capacity building for future Arctic leaders and students who recognize the Arctic as an incredibly important place to study, and to incorporate the Arctic into their work in education, research, outreach and community engagement,” explains Burkins, who is an adjunct professor in Environmental Studies with expertise in science policy and diplomacy. “We were honored to have so many participants from indigenous Arctic groups joining our AIEA session, creating a space for thoughtful dialog about the importance of traditional knowledge, cultural identity, and community voice in the design and practice of Arctic research, education, and decision-making.”

Burkins’ talk, “Arctic Science Policy and Diplomacy” highlighted the opportunity to educate a next generation of skilled “science diplomats” for our sustainable Arctic future. She also noted the importance of the University of the Arctic (UArctic), a cooperative network of universities, colleges, research institutions and others, as a vehicle for increased student and faculty engagement on Arctic issues. Burkins also mentioned the work of Dartmouth and the University of Alaska Fairbanks in founding the UArctic Institute for Arctic Policy in 2008 to convene discussions on international issues of critical importance to the Arctic, including shipping, security, sustainable fisheries, and human health.

Ross Virginia, Ph.D., Myers Family Professor of Environmental Science, and Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth, and Michael Sfraga, Ph.D., Affiliate Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Director of the Polar Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, presented the many accomplishments of the 2015-2017 Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“We built a team that could come together and address multidisciplinary problems,” said Virginia, Co-Lead Scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative with Sfraga. “We wanted a program with impact that informed the public about the Arctic and the challenges and policy decisions that might emanate from this research.”

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative was a major outcome of the US Arctic Council Chairmanship. It engaged 17 Arctic scholars from eight nations and 12 disciplines in policy-relevant research.

Virginia confirmed that the Fulbright Arctic Initiative has been approved for another two-years, with Virginia and Sfraga serving as Co-Lead Scholars. “This is an important time for the Arctic and engaging in research that’s relevant to policy, and to educate the US public about the Arctic,” said Virginia. FAI II will formally launch later in the summer of 2017 when they will begin accepting applications.

Week of the Arctic events culminated on Thursday in the handover of the ceremonial Arctic Council gavel from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Timo Soini, marking the beginning of Finland’s two-year chairmanship of the Council.