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Mt. Edgecumbe students attend research methods classes at UAS to prepare their projects.

Last weekend, a combined group of students from Mt. Edgecumbe and Sitka High Schools traveled to Anchorage to present the results of their ecological research studies at the Alaska Science and Engineering Fair. Students from across Alaska, grades K-12, presented nearly 400 projects to a mixed panel that included teachers, university professors, researchers, industry scientists and even the US Navy.

All seven students from Sitka performed well and Sitka High student Misha Bekeris was awarded top honors. His project, “Changes in Nutrient Fluxes during Salmon Activity in Indian River”, was chosen as the ‘Best Project in the Environmental Sciences’. Bekeris was a finalist for the Grand Prize and was also selected to represent Alaska as an official observer at the upcoming Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles in May 2014.

Kitty LaBounty, Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, teaches Research Methods to Mt. Edgecumbe students who participate in the science fair. Kitty stresses how the fair is an excellent learning experience for students, “The competition adds an element of excitement, but the real benefit of the fair is learning to communicate scientific research. In preparing the posters and their ‘elevator’ speeches the students learn a lot about their projects and about how to share information with both professional and lay audiences. Folks asked them great questions about their research encouraged them to think more deeply about the material”.

While Mt. Edgecumbe students attend Research Methods classes at UAS with LaBounty to prepare their projects, Sitka High students participate in a different, but equally vigorous program. The Science Mentor Program pairs interested students with scientific professionals and is coordinated by Scott Harris, the Conservation Science Director at Sitka Conservation Society. Harris reflects on the success of both programs,

“The Mt. Edgecumbe and Sitka High programs are both innovative efforts to give students opportunities to work with professional scientists and land managers. Students get a glimpse into these types of careers and study issues that are really important to the stewardship of our environment”. Harris was named the Most Outstanding Science Educator at the fair in Anchorage. LaBounty was awarded this same honor several years earlier.

Bekeris’ winning study of Indian River nutrient fluxes was made possible through the collaboration and support of Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Woods Hole is an internationally recognized oceanographic institution located in Massachusetts. Peucker-Ehrenbrink became involved with Sitka’s Science Mentor Program after serving as a Science in-Residence Fellow with the Sitka Sound Science Center in 2012. Dr. Peucker-Ehrenbrink coordinates a global rivers water quality study and was eager to work with Bekeris on his innovative study.
Jon Martin, local Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, worked with Savvas Matiatos on his study, “Non-invasive Genetic Sex Identification Markers on Sitka Black-tailed Deer”. According to Jon, "The work Savvas is doing may be used by biologists interested in studying the dynamics of deer populations on Kruzof, Baranof, and Chichagof islands; his contribution has a very practical application."

The other scientific studies presented by Sitka students include “Microsatellite Analysis of Golden Chanterelles” (Korbin Storms), “Forest Management and Soil Insects” (Jeffrey Moore), “Importance of Natural Cloning in Yellow Cedar Stands” (Shanelle Afcan), “Non-invasive Genetic Sex Identification Markers on Sitka Black-tailed Deer“ (Savvas Matiatos ) and “How Clear Cutting Forests Affect Fungal Microbiota” (Anthony Lekanof and Terrell Jones).

These projects will be shared with the public, alongside dozens of other student science presentations, at the Third Annual Sitka Student Science Sharing Night, April 28, at the University of Alaska Southeast. This event is not a competition and rather, gives students the opportunity to continue practicing the presentation of their scientific studies. We encourage all interested community members to attend, support our local students, and learn more about creative science experiments and the ecology of our surrounding landscapes!

Funding for these programs and for student participation in the Science Fair is provided by University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka Conservation Society, Sitka Charitable Trust, National Forest Foundation, and the Secure Rural Schools Act.

Sitka students posing for a group photo

Group: Kitty LaBounty, Korbin Storms, Misha Bekeris, Jeffrey Moore, Anthony Lekanof, Shanelle Afcan, Terrell Jones, Savvas Matiatos, Scott Harris

Misha Bekeris displaying his project, which was awarded 'best project'.

Single: Misha Bekeris's study of 'Changes in Nutrient Fluxes during Salmon Activity' was awarded the 'best project in the environmental sciences' at the State science fair


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