A new semester kicks off at the University of Alaska Southeast, bringing six new faces to the Arts and Sciences Department on the Juneau campus.
Heidi Pearson, assistant professor of marine biology, anatomy and physiology
Heidi Pearson joins UAS from Gloster, Mass. Pearson did research at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y. prior to her move to UAS. She and her husband decided to come to Juneau to cut back on commute time and for the close proximity to her study species, which include dusky dolphins, humpback whales, sea otters and bottle nose dolphins.
“I came to Juneau because there is no better place to study marine mammals. You have the ocean and these animals right outside the classroom. The accessibility to my study species and being able to share that availability with students is unbeatable.”
Pearson is teaching marine mammology and anatomy and physiology; a combination that demonstrates her background in both fields.
“I like teaching these classes because I have been working with marine mammals in a medical setting at Duke University and at Texas A&M University where I went to grad school and it combines that knowledge.”
Glenn Wright, assistant professor of political science
Glenn Wright received his Master of Arts in teaching degree from UAS to become a teacher. Originally from the East Coast, Wright fell in love with Alaska after he completed his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Being at UAS opens up an entirely new realm of thinking for Wright because there is room to develop new ideas from different backgrounds.
“I’m the only government guy around here, but that’s OK. When you live life interacting with academics that study what you do, you don’t get exposure to what others in the world are doing. That is what’s fascinating about working in this setting: the world isn’t full of middles, but full of edges.”
Wright has done research in common resource management and forestry policy in South and Central America. He is also a fluent Spanish speaker and likes to give fisheries management examples in his classes using cupcake-flavored goldfish.
Amanda Sesko, assistant professor of psychology
Another professor with ties to the East Coast is Amanda Sesko.
Originally from Connecticut, she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies from the University of Wisconsin and is finishing her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Kansas.
“My mom keeps saying I’m trying to move farther away from her,” Sesko said of her academic march across the United States. “I’m just slowly making my way across the country.”
Sesko came to UAS because she wanted to teach at a smaller university and have the opportunity to encourage undergraduate research.
“I’ve always been at a big school. I think it’s been great for my education, but I wanted to teach at a small school and interact with students,” she explained. “I knew class sizes would be smaller and that’s what I like, that interaction in small classes. Then I get students in multiple classes I teach which is great because I can get to know them individually.”
“I’m very excited to start an undergraduate research program,” Sesko said of the program she is preparing. “At most universities these programs are usually already established, so it’s great to be involved with the development.”
Sesko is looking to have research opportunities for students ready later this semester or in the spring.
Most of Sesko’s research has been in stereotyping and how it is subtly translated and communicated throughout individual groups. She has also done research on racial, gender and immigrant profiling among police departments in the United States and Canada to help police officers of different genders and races improve their relationships within communities.
Anne Wedler, assistant professor of art
Anne Wedler is settling into the Southeast weather already. Originally from St. Louis, she was teaching in Alabama before she came to Juneau.
“It’s been a nice change,” Wedler said of her move to Juneau. “I feel like I’ve moved forward in time. Where I’m from, it’s usually not this cold until October or November, but that means it’s a good time to go back to school.”
Wedler was drawn to UAS because of the art program’s potential.
“I liked that the program was growing. I like how everything is a lot more hands on than other programs,” Wedler said. “Instead of going digital, students are still drawing and working with clay and making prints.”
Wedler also said she has been surprised at the diversity in art her students have shown.
“I’m surprised by how eager students are to learn and how interdisciplinary they are here,” Wedler stated. “There is a lot of crossover and students are sort of free to move from one area to another.”
With new art supplies on the way, Wedler is excited to help students get involved with art projects and see where the semester takes them. This semester she is teaching drawing, painting and history of modern art.
Jason Amundson, assistant professor of geophysics
Jason Amundson has studied ocean-glacier interactions on the calving of the Taku and Mendenhall glaciers. Originally from Minnesota, he has attended UAF and worked at the University of Chicago.
“Initially I applied for the position because we wanted to come back to Alaska,” he said. “There wasn’t really any room at UAF for people in glacier studies. I came [to UAS] and I enjoyed the other faculty and the environment the university had to offer.”
For Amundson, UAS offers the perfect balance of the academics he loves with the other activities he enjoys.
“Chicago was kind of intense. They loved their work there, so that was their lives. I like to relax and go for a walk now and then,” said Amundson. “I mean, you don’t go into the sciences because you want to make money. You go into them because you enjoy it.”
The relationship between faculty and administration is also another drawing factor for Amundson.
“I’ve never been at such a small university so I like that. It’s been interesting moving into the role of faculty and seeing how things are ran. It’s like a democracy where there is a balance of power between the faculty and administration.”
Amundson is also looking forward to getting an undergraduate research project underway.
“I haven’t worked with these glaciers around here very much so I would be interested in starting collecting satellite and other data from the area. That would be a good project for an undergraduate to help me with.”
An avid downhill and cross-country skier, Amundson enjoys kayaking, hiking and spending time outdoors.
Lance Twitchell, assistant professor of Native languages
Lance Twitchell is not new to UAS or Southeast Alaska. According to a recent article in the Juneau Empire: “Twitchell was born in Skagway and grew up mostly in Anchorage before getting undergraduate degree in Minnesota. He’s previously worked as the tribal president in Skagway and taught at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau. He was recently at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Twitchell said he grew up hearing Tlingit from his grandfather, a Native speaker, and after his passing Twitchell kept up his interest in the language. ‘It was a connection to my grandpa, it became my way to stay connected to him,’ Twitchell said. ‘Juneau has the highest concentration of speakers, probably in the world, of Tlingit. This is the place to be if you want to be teaching and studying this language.’”
Twitchell has organized an Alaska Native Cultures film series at UAS. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Egan Lecture Hall with the film “Aleut Story.”
“For far too long, the voice that told about Alaska Native people and their respective cultures has been an external one,” Twitchell said. “This film series seeks to find the internal voice and showcase parts of Alaska Native cultures from the perspective of Alaska Native people. This is an important event for our campus and our community, and I hope that we can gather a lot of people to view and enjoy these important films.”