Bringing relevant and meaningful learning for youth in rural villages in Alaska

Today I had the privilege to talk to Dr. Elena Sparrow, a valued member of the GLOBE community since 1996! Dr. Sparrow lives in Alaska and is committed to working on bringing relevant and meaningful learning for youth in rural villages. She introduces the scientific method without ever disregarding the knowledge the youth have acquired from their parents, their elders, and their community. As Dr. Sparrow pointed out during our conversation: “Accessing multiple knowledge systems allows for a richer experience”. She constantly tries to bring GLOBE and NASA assets like satellite data and experts in topics that are relevant to the people living in rural villages in Alaska. Teachers do not tend to stay long in these very isolated places where long winters can be very harsh; therefore, Dr. Sparrow invites community members to have an ongoing connection to provide a more consistent learning experience for the youth. 

Dr. Sparrow shared a memorable experience about four Alaska Native students she brought to the GLOBE Learning Expedition that took place in Ireland a few years ago. They asked her if they could share who they were when told they were chosen to present their GLOBE Study. Of course, she assured them they could share who they were! Storytelling is very much a part of their lives. They decided to share a song and a dance they had created about their GLOBE project, which resulted in a beautiful, cultural experience that everyone enjoyed. Dr. Sparrow works tirelessly hoping someday soon there will be no students questioning whether it is OK to share about who they are, but instead they are all proud to let everyone else learn about their identities, talents and cultures.

Thank you, Dr. Sparrow, for 25 years of working to make GLOBE a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community!

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Sparrow, here is her short biography: 

Dr. Elena Bautista Sparrow, born and raised in the Philippines, married to Dr. Stephen D. Sparrow, has two children and is Director of Education and Outreach at the International Arctic Research Center and a Research Professor of Soil Microbiology in the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).  She respects and honors the Tanana Dene people who have well- and long- stewarded the Alaska Native lands upon which UAF is located.  She leads a program Arctic and Earth SIGNs that explores the impacts and feedbacks of a warming Arctic, engaging youth, educators, youth leaders, and community members in braiding multiple ways of knowing and observing climate change from Elders, NASA satellites, and on-the-ground observations using GLOBE, as well as working on stewardship projects related to climate change in their community. She and her team work collaboratively with the director, Malinda Chase and members of the Association of Interior Native Educators, other scientists and educators. She founded the Alaska GLOBE Program and Partnership through UAF in 1996. She co-developed the GLOBE plant phenology green-up and green-down protocols and learning activities, and the frost tube protocol. She has over 20 years’ experience engaging educators, community members and youth in environmental and earth citizen science in Alaska and beyond. She is grateful to be working with her core team members Dr. Katie Spellman, Christi Buffington and Malinda Chase, and the rest of the larger team that continues to grow.

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