Kenji Yoshikawa, professor of water resources in INE’s Water and Environmental Research Center, has been named the recipient of the 2012 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Service Award. This award, along with the Usibelli Distinguished Teaching and Distinguished Research awards, is among the foremost honors available by which to recognize exemplary achievements by UAF faculty members.
Yoshikawa first joined WERC as a faculty member in 1999. Throughout his career, he has been an ambassador for geoscience, engaging K-12 students, their teachers, and their communities in geophysical, geothermal, hydrologic and permafrost research throughout the circumpolar north.
All photos credit WERC.
Kenji Yoshikawa, professor of water resources in INE’s Water and Environmental Research Center, was awarded the 2012 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Service Award. Yoshikawa has conducted varied permafrost research since joining WERC in 1999 and has worked closely with K-12 schools in Alaska, Canada, Russia Norway and Mongolia to teach about the state of permafrost across the Circumpolar Arctic.
Yoshikawa has built a network of 165 K-12 schools intended to characterize and monitor the state of permafrost across the Circumpolar Arctic. Participating schools are located in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Mongolia. The network is fueled by the school children who collect and report their data on a web site where other participating schools can access it and learn from each other. This effort not only illustrates the joy of scientific discovery to our children; it transforms them into engaged scientists.
Following an energetic schedule pre-arranged with local teachers, Dr. Yoshikawa arrives at schoolhouses by air, road or trail, engages the children in a spirited classroom discussion, then takes the class to a nearby field site, where he installs and demonstrates his scientific instrumentation. He leaves the students with a mandate to continue collecting and reporting the data, and instills in them the knowledge that they are part of something important. He keeps students engaged through repeat visits and interaction with other students on his project website. The web site includes a blog that he updates daily during his field season, including photos and details from his travel.
“Dr. Yoshikawa’s outreach methods are unconventional and original,” notes WERC Director Bill Schnabel, “He pits science, a universal force for good, against the depredations of ignorance. He poses as a superhero—Tunnel Man—in order to connect with children in a compelling, yet lighthearted fashion.”
Yoshikawa uses videos and comics along with more traditional materials to share information and his love of his work. His written work includes not only standard peer-reviewed scientific publications, but also graphic adventure stories aimed specifically at capturing the imaginations of young scientists.
According to director of the UAF International Arctic Research Center, Dr. Yoshikawa’s research contributions are also noteworthy. He has integrated the data collection efforts of thousands of students from across Alaska, Canada and Siberia to produce an incredibly valuable collection of permafrost observations. Even now, high quality measurements of permafrost temperatures and properties are quite sparse. This unique approach to obtaining more and better quality measurements has contributed substantially to our understanding of the effects of a warming climate and provided data that will be useful for engineers and community planners who must design infrastructure that is less vulnerable to permafrost degradation.
Yoshikawa’s work is supported by a mix of sources, including NSF, NASA, the Yukon Geophysical Survey, and the United Nations International School.