Q and A Conversation with Rick Caulfield: Hufflepuff

As a part of the Q and A series with university officials, each person will be asked to take a Harry Potter "sorting hat" personality test for fun and good measure.

Dr. Richard Caulfield serves as provost at the University of Alaska Southeast, including campuses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. As chief academic officer at UAS he reports to Chancellor John Pugh and works closely with faculty, staff and students in support of academic innovation and excellence. He serves on the UA Statewide Academic Council (SAC) and is responsible for ensuring that UAS academic programs are fully compliant with regional, national and professional accreditation standards. He is actively engaged with implementing the university’s strategic and assessment goals and strategies.

SWV: Tell me about you, your family life?

Caulfield: My wife, Annie, and I were married 35 years ago in Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska—the greatest day of my life. It was 1979. I had come to Alaska in 1975 from California, and she from Hawai’i in 1977. Our adventures together began with a move north to Fairbanks where I worked on my master’s degree in education and teaching certificate at UAF while she finished at UAF and worked as a teacher in Fairbanks. We’ve been blessed with three wonderful children—two daughters and a son—all of whom have now finished college and are out on their own.

Raising our family in Alaska has been a rich and fulfilling experience. Over the years I’ve learned to fly, mush dogs, build a house, navigate Southeast Alaska channels in our boat, and explore some exceptional parts of the state—amazing opportunities, all. Alaska is one big small town, and I mean that as a positive. We have so many wonderful friends all over the state. Alaska is a place where individuals can still make a difference.

In subsequent years we lived in rural Alaska, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greenland and New Zealand. Our lives have been enriched by experiencing the histories, cultures and languages of people around the world. But Alaska is home.

How did the University of Alaska enter into your professional life?

I began teaching in 1985 as an Instructor at UAF’s Bristol Bay Campus in Dillingham. I was hired as a faculty member with the newly-created Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development. The program educates Alaska Native and other rural people to be leaders in a rapidly changing world—integrating traditional values and practices with new realities and emerging opportunities. Dr.s Ray Barnhardt, Patrick Dubbs and Gerry Mohatt were my mentors.

I also worked with Alaska Native students seeking to become teachers in their home communities. I traveled throughout Bristol Bay and the Lake Iliamna region—to Togiak, Koliganek, Nondalton and Port Heiden. I came to know some of the challenges that face teachers in these and similar communities. This really gave me a sense of the importance of quality teacher education for all Alaskan children, no matter where they live. That belief continues to be a passion of mine. 

My professional life was also shaped by working with Native Elders in Alaska’s Upper Yukon region in documenting traditional hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. This project, conducted while I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Subsistence, included documentation of Gwich’in Athabaskan placenames for rivers, lakes, mountains, along with cultural sites on the land. This experience helped me see that what many view as “wilderness” is commonly a landscape that has been inhabited for thousands of years. This was brought home to me in particular when my wife and I lived in Arctic Village, a Netsaii Gwich’in community of 180 people in the Brooks Range. Elders like James and Maggie Gilbert, Trimble Gilbert, Moses and Jenny Sam, and Isaac Tritt, Sr. generously shared their knowledge and wisdom. They were some of my first "professors" here in Alaska.

What other UA related positions have you had?

When I was a young faculty member, the university provided me with an opportunity to take professional development leave to complete my doctorate focusing on Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat). A colleague encouraged me to consider studying outside of the U.S. to broaden my understanding of rapid socio-economic and cultural change beyond Alaska. I chose to study at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. My dissertation research took me to Greenland which, like northern Alaska, is part of the Inuit homeland but is politically part of Denmark.

My Greenland research focused on changes over time in aboriginal subsistence whaling—a topic with some relevance to Alaska as well. This research, and the book that emerged from my dissertation, opened up tremendous opportunities for me—within the university but also for collaboration with colleagues around the circumpolar North.

The research required serious study of both the Danish and Greenlandic Inuit languages—a challenge that proved to be hugely rewarding. This international work informed much of what I taught with the Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development. Alaskan students need to understand how profoundly connected our lives are linked to a rapidly-changing global economy. 

My international interests extended to New Zealand/Aotearoa as well. I enjoyed a sabbatical there where I focused on how the Maori people were advancing their education by doubling the number of indigenous students with PhDs. I also served as the UAF representative to the University of the Arctic—a very new effort to link Arctic universities together. I traveled extensively in Nordic countries, in Russia, and in Canada working with graduate students from all eight Arctic nations. Many of those students are now faculty in their home countries, having benefitted greatly from these graduate student networks.

My career took a major turn in 2003 when Vice Chancellor Bernice Joseph asked if I would serve for a year as interim dean of UAF’s Community and Technical College (formerly Tanana Valley Campus). I enjoyed the students, faculty and staff so much that I applied to continue in that capacity. There is great industry and community support for the university’s community college mission. That fact and the joy of seeing non-traditional students succeed against significant odds, made my decision easy.

Caulfield addresses a crowd gathered to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Tanana Valley Campus, now called the UAF Community and Technical College.

Did you grow up in Alaska or move up here on your own?

I grew up in California and did my undergraduate degrees in natural resources and political science at the University of California Berkeley. I always had the dream of going to Alaska. When I moved here in 1975, Alaska was in the midst of enormous change—building the pipeline and implementing the Alaska Native Land Claims and statehood. It was an exciting time. I sailed up from Seattle on the ferry Columbia to visit friends in Southeast and immediately loved it. I’ve never looked back.

Rick and Annie Caulfield explore Glacier Bay on their motorsailer.

Why did you decide on Juneau as a home?

When the UAS Provost position opened up I thought it was an opportunity for me to put all of my professional training and experiences to work—rural teaching, international research, community college leadership and more. Plus I had long been a distant admirer of UAS, having come to know Chancellors John Pugh and Marshall Lind. I knew that UAS had talented faculty and staff and I liked the student-centered and nimble approach of a small university.

On a personal level, both Annie and I love the ocean. One of the things that really attracted me back to Southeast was the opportunity to be on the ocean. We now own a 30-foot Fisher pilothouse motorsailer that keeps us dry and allows us to explore, fish and relax. We also have family in Juneau, which we value greatly.

Where do you want to be next in life?

Right here in Southeast Alaska. I want to be the very best academic leader I can be. It is a challenging job – lot of plates spinning all the time. It requires working effectively with the chancellor, deans, directors, faculty and staff. I enjoy finding new ways to build partnerships and to get meaningful work done. I think that is where the President’s Strategic Direction Initiative (SDI) comes in—offering encouragement for innovation and statewide collaboration that has not always been part of our institutional culture.

Right now is an exciting time at UA because there is more collaboration between the three MAUs than ever before. If we’re smart about it, we can retain the distinctiveness of our universities even as we improve services to students and our communities through collaboration.

Talk to me about UAS.

UAS is an integrated regional university with three campuses. Each campus—Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka—has an essential role in fulfilling our regional mission. The “Southeast” in our name reflects this regional approach. For example, faculty in the Ketchikan campus teach courses online that are absolutely essential to our Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree. We’re able to serve students and our communities much more effectively through this regional approach.

UAS offers quality programs in a wide range of fields, including marine biology, teacher education, environmental sciences, fisheries technology, health information management and mine training. Because we’re small, the opportunities for students to work closely with talented faculty are exceptional.

UAS is also at the cutting edge in offering online e-Learning programs—not simply courses, but entire programs. Today over 40 percent of all UAS students engage to a significant degree with UAS through e-Learning. Our students are all over Southeast Alaska and they are found throughout the state and beyond. Our faculty frequently travel to communities in urban and remote areas of the state to provide supervision to those students.

UAS has incentivized students to consider doing coursework in a fulltime environment.

Yes we are. One of the things about being relatively small is we are nimble and able to try new ideas. We implemented the Stay on Track financial award that encourages students to bump up from 12 credits a semester to 15 credits a semester. We’ve had good success with this incentive—86 percent of the students have been successful. This is not for every student; some simply cannot take advantage of it due to family and work commitments. But the award is there for those who might otherwise have taken longer to complete their degrees.

UAS also has a new Honors Program, and we are encouraging students to participate in our Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (URECA) program. Working with a faculty mentor, students can receive up to $2,500 for completing a project that they then present to the campus community.

How unique is UA in terms of research opportunities for students?

The opportunities are tremendous. Historically, many young Alaskans have wanted to go Outside for their education. This is understandable, but taking into account rising costs and new opportunities right here in-state, more and more students are realizing the value of a UA education.

Alaska is an excellent place to study our rapidly changing world. Scientists and students come here from all over the globe to study climate change, fisheries, indigenous languages, resource policy issues, public health and petroleum engineering, among others. So not only is UA a place to find high value in education, it is a place with world-class opportunities for students. My son Michael is an example: he attended UAF, worked at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, lived in Norway for a semester, worked in Juneau as a UA legislative intern and now is studying law at the University of Washington. His education at UA offered him opportunities that would be unusual to have in other parts of the country.

I continue to think of Alaska as a place of opportunity. Even with a challenging budget environment and economic uncertainty, there will be opportunities for those who are willing to work hard, who have the right qualifications, and who care about their community.

A Cinematic Snapshot

Results from the sorting hat personality quiz indicated that Caulfield is a Hufflepuff. He reflects the qualities of Hufflepuff House from the Harry Potter tales. A Hufflepuff’s characteristics mostly center on hardwork and loyalty. Hufflepuffs pride themselves on devotion, fairness, being just and kindess. Some other notable Hufflepuffs include President Gamble, Regent Jacobson, Cedric Diggory and Professor Pomona Sprout.

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