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FLAS/IPI Fellow in Inuktitut now program director, Alaskan Coastal Studies

June 5, 2019

I work as the program director with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, Alaska. While the center’s primary focus is on coastal ecology and stewardship education through field trips, internships, after-school programs and camps for youth, I am also involved in leading a number of educator professional development workshops and courses around the state and in the development of curriculum. Our work with educators, youth and community members around the coast of Alaska takes many forms, but we are especially engaged in supporting educators and community leaders in working with youth to learn about, research and monitor environmental change in coastal communities and take on stewardship and advocacy projects to help their communities prevent, mitigate, prepare for, adapt and respond to present and future coastal hazards and environmental change.

In my work with Alaskan Coastal Studies, I utilize the area studies knowledge and understanding about Canada as I work with communities, educators and students learning about, monitoring, responding and adapting to climate change in communities around Arctic and sub-Arctic Alaska. Regarding my FLAS Fellowship in Inuktitut, many of the students, teachers and community members that I’ve worked with through school outreach and teacher professional development in northwestern and Arctic Alaska speak a sister dialect of the language—Inupiaq, and more indirectly related, Yupik/Cupik and Sugt’stun. While my Inuktitut is not advanced, and the languages are different enough that I cannot speak with them in Inuktitut, being familiar with sounds and pronunciations of Inuktitut helps me to pronounce people’s names and learn words from them. My understanding of the grammatical structure of the language has also been helpful. Furthermore, key plant, animal and location names are recognizable to me, and I can remember them more easily because of their similarity to Inuktitut words. This has helped me to better understand the context I’m working in, learn from the students and community members about their understandings of place and science, and build rapport.

I also am incredibly fortunate that, in spring 2019, I had the opportunity to participate as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Teacher at Sea on a research cruise in the Northern Gulf of Alaska and will be participating and observing research in fall 2019 as part of the MOSAiC project where the RV Polarstern will be intentionally frozen into the sea ice north of Norway and Russia. The vessel I’ll be on will be assisting in that process for five weeks in September and October, but the overall expedition involves the Polarstern spending a full year drifting with the sea ice in order to study sea ice, hydrology and atmospheric dynamics throughout the year. Here is the link to my blog from the Gulf of Alaska program:, and you can learn more about MOSAiC and my experience in the field here:

Katie Gavenus graduated with an MA in Education from the University of Washington in 2018. Katie’s master’s project is titled “Educator Perceptions of Student Funds of Knowledge: Engagement, Meaning-Making, and Identity.” Katie was awarded a FLAS Fellowship for the study of Inuktitut in 2016–17 and again in 2017–18. She also served as an Arctic Fellow (2016–17) with the International Policy Institute, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.