Students Using Local, Traditional, and Science Knowledge Bases to Investigate Arctic Snow Processes



Project Abstract

The Arctic is warming more rapidly than elsewhere on Earth, and the community of Utqiaġvik, AK, the home of the Inupiat people, has a unique perspective from which they are observing this profound change. This collaboration between the University of Michigan (U-M) and Ilisagvik College, located in Utqiaġvik, will support the development of a course-based research experience for undergraduates at Ilisagvik College and will also support basic research on Arctic snow. The project will yield three main products: (1) a significant advance in understanding how students navigate multiple ways of knowing when engaging in science research activities; (2) a culturally responsive curriculum incorporating course-based undergraduate research investigating Arctic snow processes; and (3) Arctic snow physical and chemical composition data. The students and the local community, including Elders, will be involved in the curriculum development, course activities, and data collection related to snow research. The project will yield a greater understanding of how course-based undergraduate research curricula can be best designed to support science learning of diverse students.

Ilisagvik College is the only tribal college in the Alaskan Arctic. This project provides a significant opportunity for students to participate in authentic research. The project will support research opportunities for three undergraduate students at Ilisagvik College, in addition to the participation of about forty-nine undergraduates in the classroom setting. Two Ilisagvik College students will be nominated to participate in the U-M Chemistry Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program and two students will present their research results at the annual Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) or American Chemical Society (ACS) national meetings. The projects will also involve one U-M PhD student who will focus their dissertation on educational research component of the project. The project will involve the Ilisagvik community at every stage and contribute to the incorporation of traditional knowledge in the research. As part of their engagement in the research project, participating students will interview community members and Elders to gain traditional knowledge about snow, including words for various types of snow. Students will sample snow, determine its chemical and physical properties, and correlate these properties to the different types of snow. Students will present their research results to the community and will document feedback to identify future research directions. Snow data will be archived through the NSF Arctic Data Center for future research and educational use by the public and scientific community, including future course offerings at Ilisagvik College. Traditional knowledge documented through the project will be reported to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. This award is supported by the Division of Undergraduate Education and the Office of Polar Programs.

Logistics Summary

This collaborative polar education project between Shultz (1821884, LEAD, U Mich) and Nicholas-Figueroa (1821893, Ilisagvik College) aims to understand how rural Alaskan Arctic students draw on local, traditional, and science knowledge to conduct polar science research in the classroom, and also to gain unique insights into the process driving Arctic snow chemical composition through engagement of Arctic residents. The researchers working on this project are incorporating research investigating apun (Iñupiaq word for snow on the ground) in science courses at Ilisagvik College in Utqiaġvik, AK. Students are applying their local and traditional knowledge, gained through community-based activities, along with scientific concepts to conduct critical research of the changing Arctic. In 2019, three researchers from the University of Michigan traveled to Utqiaġvik in March for ~1 week to collaborate with co-PI Nicholas-Figueroa, interview students, and hold a community meeting about the development of the curriculum connecting snow science research and local knowledge. In 2020, two students will visit in January for 6 days to plan with Collaborating PI Nicholas-Figueroa. In the fall, co-PI Nicholas-Figueroa is incorporating this project into her introductory chemistry course (CHEM 103), and ~10 students will collect snow as part of the project on a one-day trip in Utqiaġvik. They will use snow machines to collect various snow samples around Utqiaġvik and will be accompanied by a bear guard. At the end of the semester, the students will present their results to the community. In 2021, Nicholas-Figueroa will again meet with two students in January and lead a group of college students for similar fieldwork, planning for about 15 students in April and October.

Season Field Site
2019 Alaska - Utqiaġvik (Barrow)
2020 Alaska - Utqiaġvik (Barrow)
2021 Alaska - Utqiaġvik (Barrow)

Project Map


Principal Investigator


Ginger Shultz

University of Michigan

Shultz - link to SAM contact for fixing fields.

Co-Principal Investigator


Kerri Pratt

University of Michigan

Pratt - link to SAM contact for fixing fields.

Principal Investigator


Linda Nicholas-Figueroa

Iḷisaġvik College

Nicholas-Figueroa - link to SAM contact for fixing fields.


1 August 2018 to 31 July 2021


Utqiaġvik, AK

Main URL

PI Lab Website


Award Year: 2018