Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame honors twenty-two extrordinary Alaskans

Stories of innovation and research in the Last Frontier

On October 7, during a special induction ceremony at the Bear Tooth Theater in Anchorage, 13 extraordinary Alaskans were appointed to the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame. They join nine others who were inducted in a ceremony in Fairbanks last December. The 22 members that make up the initial cohort in the Hall of Fame are all featured in a 2014 book by Ned Rozell, “Northern Innovators,” commissioned by the Alaska State Committee on Research in order to celebrate the innovative culture of Alaska and to inspire future generations of problem solvers.

The book and Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame are both part of the comprehensive Alaska Science and Technology Plan “To Build a Fire” produced by Alaska State Committee on Research in 2012. The University of Alaska remains highly engaged in these efforts. Vice President of Academic Affairs and Research Dan White is co-chair of the committee, and the office is housed at the University of Alaska. Additional UA employees make up a large portion of the committee membership including UAA Provost Sam Gingerich, UAF Provost Susan Henrichs, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Larry Hinzman, Chief IT Officer Karl Kowalski, Alaska EPSCoR Principal Investigator Anupma Prakash, UAA Professor Fred Rainey, UAS Vice Provost for Research Karen Schmitt, UAS Interim Provost Priscilla Schulte, and UAA Vice Provost Helena Wisniewski.

The future of innovation, research and development in Alaska relies in part on coordination between federal and state agencies, the University of Alaska, primary and secondary educators, and private industry and business. The Science and Technology plan outlines key strategies for strengthening STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) education in Alaska, and details seven specific research arenas not only critical to Alaska’s future, but also areas where Alaska provides a distinct research advantage: community resilience and sustainability; resource extraction; energy solutions; terrestrial monitoring and management; aquatic monitoring and management; human health; and transport and communications.

Developing Alaska’s science and technology capabilities is critical to the state. Research is widely recognized as the most significant driver of economic growth and is a significant industry in its own right. Research revenue at the University of Alaska alone in FY14 reached a total of $150.7 million. Overall, 82 percent of research conducted in the University of Alaska system is funded by grants or other non-state funds. The state money that is invested in UA research goes into programs that specifically relate to Alaska, in particular in fisheries, energy, health and economics.

But it is not only hard scientific research and climate studies that make a difference to this state. As the stories of the members of the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame show, it is also the inventors, creators of new technology, risk takers and problem solvers that utilize Alaska’s harsh environment as proving ground for new technology who lead the way in developing science and technology. It is Alaskan ingenuity and a vast tradition of innovation that will benefit future development and inform policy long into the future.

Rozell’s book can be purchased on Amazon for less than $4. Many names will be familiar to university readers: former Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell, former vice president Dana Thomas and former UAF vice chancellor of research Mike Meyers contribute to the introduction, and featured innovators include UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power Director Gwen Holdmann and atmospheric researcher Cathy Cahill; plus well known characters of both past and present such as gold rush pioneer Clarence Berry and alternative energy crusader Bernie Karl. Also featured are pilot Skip Nelson; tundra farmer Tim Meyers; raft maker Sheri Tingey; power suppliers Tom Weingartner and Hank Statscewich; fisherman Pat Simpson; snow bike creator Mark Gronewald; inventors Ed Clinton and Lynn Johnson; pilot Keith Echelmeyer; chemical engineer Jim Seccombe; homesteader and builder Jack Hébert; uav operator Greg Walker; communications engineer Gene Strid; permafrost researcher Erv Long; engineer Elden Johnson; bridge builder Dennis Nottingham; and wi-fi pioneer Alex Hills. Their stories not only remind Alaskans how innovative we are and always have been; they serve to inspire the next generation of great Alaskan Innovators.

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