Andrew Piston has been interested in fish since he was the size of a large king salmon. When he first came to our unique piece of the planet, Piston worked as a deckhand on various charter boats. Piston says, “I loved fishing, and I was shocked to learn that I could make money by going fishing with tourists every day.” However, by choosing to come to Ketchikan at eighteen he also chose to postpone his college career. With only ¾ of his freshman year completed, he came to Ketchikan and had an “extended stay.” Currently, Piston is working for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game while simultaneously completing his final semester at the University of Alaska Southeast in Ketchikan.
Piston’s initial attraction to Ketchikan’s offerings grew into a lifelong passion not only for fish, but also for our regional birds and plants. Once Piston found out he could work for Fish and Game, he jumped at the opportunity. He started as a Fish Tech I, and has since moved up to a Fish Tech IV. Piston has had the opportunity to travel to many remote camps, such as McDonald Lake, Unuk River, and Fish Creek in Hyder. Piston says, “I love this job. I am fortunate to have been involved with a wide variety of research projects throughout southeast Alaska, including the opportunity to help design the juvenile sockeye salmon study at Hugh Smith Lake.”
Piston’s affinity for diverse biological groups isn’t confined to scaly aquatic or flying vertebrates. In the summer of 1995, Piston met another fish tech at the Virginia Lake camp. Piston remembers, “Ardy came in on a helicopter, jumped out, and ran straight into a large muskeg hole. Watching her struggle to free herself, I could sense that one day I would marry her.” As they studied the trout population at the remote camp, the two bipedal mammals realized they shared the same interests, and eventually became more than colleagues.
Piston’s love for Southeast and his fascinating work at ADF&G propelled his return to college. He has been taking classes at UAS-Ketchikan for the past few years, and is working toward a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree with dual emphases in biology and mathematics. He plans to complete four more classes this fall, graduate, and then advance his career with ADF&G.
Piston has been interested in his biology classes, but felt some trepidation about taking the required writing and humanities courses. Piston says, “I thought I would be wasting my time, but instead I discovered that the writing courses were extremely valuable. Without solid writing skills, a biologist would be unable to perform his job effectively. The skills I developed through intensive writing practice at the university have been extremely useful, both at work and for my own personal interests. I spend much of the winter helping to write reports about the fisheries research projects I am involved with, and in my spare time I have collaborated with a crackpot genius named Steve Heinl. Together, we have written several ornithology papers, which have been published in the journal, Western Birds. I have enjoyed all of my classes at UAS, especially Mike Dunning’s history classes, which were always good for a lively debate. I remember recoiling at the thought of having to pay to take a music appreciation class, but was happily surprised to find that even that class was very interesting.”
Piston’s love for nature and the fishy world first led him to his perfect career and most recently has compelled him to pursue his individually tailored Bachelor’s degree. UAS-Ketchikan will facilitate his educational needs, but it is his dedication which will ultimately assure his next success.
InFocus piece written by: Dawn Rauwolf