UAS celebrates success: URECA awards

UAS art student Boni Parker celebrated the first firing of the first vegetable oil powered kiln at the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau campus. Parker funded the project with an undergraduate research and creative activity scholarship. The next deadline to apply for the URECA awards is Dec. 1.

Undergraduate students will once again have a chance to compete for funding to support their own research and creative endeavors outside the classroom through the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (URECA) awards. The URECA awards were initiated in 2010-2011 with financial support from the School of Arts and Sciences, the UA foundation, and the Provost’s Office. Twelve students were awarded a total of $15,000.


Trevor Fritz and Boni Parker are two of the 12 students who received URECA awards. In 2006-2007, Fritz, a marine biology major, developed an ecology project on the effectiveness of different baits used to catch Dungeness crab. Fuel costs had brought his research to a halt, but with the URECA award he was able to expand his investigation.

Fritz compared the effectiveness of salmon carcasses, bait herring, and canned dog food as bait, based on the number and size of crabs caught. Although he still has some data to analyze before he presents his project in April, Fritz’s findings have been very encouraging.

“There was a striking difference in catches,” he said of the results. Fritz believes experiments like his could be used to indicate types of bait that crab fisheries can use to reduce handling mortality of different crab species.

At the same time, the URECA scholarship is helping UAS reduce its carbon footprint one piece of pottery at a time. Boni Parker, an art major, built a kiln powered by vegetable oil. Brick by brick and weld by weld, the kiln was constructed behind the UAS ceramics studio. The kiln was recently fired by Parker and a handful of students, producing the first load of soda-kiln pots. The new kiln allows soda to be sprayed into the kiln during firing. Soda interacts with the heat and glazes, creating a unique design.

The vegetable oil powered kiln’s impact on the environment is much less than that of the one wood-fired and two gas-fired kilns already at UAS.

“We used very little wood,” Parker said after the first firing. “I’d say less than a quarter of a cord.”

The new kiln is a fast-fire kiln and under optimal conditions is designed to fire in four hours.

“It took 12 hours to fire and I anticipate that we will be cutting time off over the next few firings, which will be about half the time it takes to fire our gas kilns” she explained.

The cost of building supplies to begin construction on Parker’s kiln was prohibitive. It was Professor Jeremy Kane who suggested she apply for the URECA award, while Professor Carolyn Bergstrom suggested the award to Fritz. Both Kane and Bergstrom provided guidance to the students throughout the project. Having a faculty mentor is an essential component of the URECA award. With the URECA awards, plus donations from businesses and people in the community, both students were able to achieve their goals.

“I was surprised how many people, both from the Juneau community and the UAS community, were willing to volunteer their time to help with this project,” Fritz said of the undergraduates and friends who offered to help with data collection.

The $762 award allowed Fritz to pay fuel costs and to purchase new crabbing gear that will be available for future student research.

Parker’s project allowed for other UAS students to become involved with some hands on experience in creativity. After bears discovered Parker’s cache of vegetable oil, students in Professor Lori Sowa’s engineering class went to work to design a bear-proof vegetable oil container in which to store the fuel for the new kiln.

“We’re deciding what design we want to stick with and hopefully we’ll be able to build it before the semester is over,” Parker said. “But if not, we can do it in the springtime, too. For now we’re just storing the oil offsite.”

Offsite means closer to home for Parker.

“It’s in my living room,” she said, “so hopefully we’ll have our storage plan all figured out (soon).”

Parker received the maximum funding, $2,500, for the project.

“It was such a huge project. I needed a lot of help. I received a lot of help from friends with the building of the kiln — studio mates and people helping me get supplies,” Parker said of the web of support that came together to make the project work. “I couldn’t have done it without everybody’s help.”

Parker gives special thanks to local businesses Lyndon Transport, E.J. Bartells, Cameron Plumbing, North Pacific Erectors, Valley Lumber, Alaska Brewery, T & S Welding Supply, and Petro Marine Services for their donations to her project. Parker said she is also thrilled the Mourant Café on the UAS campus is supplying all the used vegetable oil to power the kiln.

Applications and submission instructions for the URECA funded undergraduate projects have been sent to all students’ UAS email accounts. Information and applications are also posted on the bulletin board in the Arts and Sciences Department. The application deadline is Dec. 1.


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