‘I have the privilege of co-learning with ES students as we increase our scientific knowledge’
• M.S. Environmental Science, Alaska Pacific University
• B.A. Economics, B.A. Environmental Studies, California State University Sacramento
When Jason Geck wanted a break from undergraduate studies in Sacramento, Calif., he’d head north to Alaska for summers of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. Soon enough he found himself tacking on time for backcountry trips before and after the salmon season.
“Those adventures convinced me I had to live in Alaska,” says Jason, whose research concentrates on effects of climate change on glaciers and glacier hydrology.
He joined Alaska Pacific University’s Environmental Science Department in 2003, contributing expertise in geographic information systems used to help analyze complex projects drying wetlands on the Kenai Peninsula, roughly 150 miles south of Anchorage.
Jason’s classes in GIS are among skills-based courses that help set APU’s ES Department graduates apart.
You like to say your passion for glaciology was a “final answer” in a roundabout academic career. What’s that about?
As an undergraduate, I studied economics and environmental studies. My graduate work was in landscape ecology, with a final path within environmental science.
Studying glaciers allows me to get out and enjoy Alaska’s mountains while examining climate change effects. I’m able to combine my GIS training and interest in remote sensing technologies with earth science. These interests carry over well within APU’s Environmental Science Department.
Sticking to one field would have been a more efficient route, of course, but probably not so well-rounded.
Your students have found that GIS knowledge is in their favor when it comes to pursuing a career.
Yes. Knowing GIS helps our ES students see relationships and trends in the natural world that might be much harder to detect otherwise.
I learned to work with the leading GIS software while working in private industry and my own consulting firm. I provided GIS services to nonprofit conservation organizations in Alaska and around the country.
APU students who take courses in our department and learn GIS are able to analyze and display data in maps or other graphics that can’t be readily produced otherwise. I hope our students will use their training to gain employment and to mentor upcoming APU students.
How do your interests in technology fit into the scientific process stressed in the ES Department?
Here at APU courses like glacier travel and research take students out in the field for observations and then are followed up with classes like principles of glaciology, where we teach how to analyze our collected data. These experiences expose students to the complete scientific process – collection, analysis, and interpretation and communication of findings.
I value this teaching style in the Environmental Science Department because I’m a firm believer in by learning doing. I have the privilege of co-learning with ES students as we seek scientific knowledge.
Your students are known for lining the hallways with posters that show us the natural world in unexpected ways.
It’s a powerful experience, seeing our students passionately discussing their posters with peers and faculty.
I started the biannual poster sessions so that students could demonstrate their findings from class work within the ES Department. And I wanted students to get a feel for scientific poster sessions. Along with presentations, poster sessions are a standard way of communicating findings at conferences or other professional gatherings.
I hope our department continues to develop this way – not only in numbers of students but also in the growing quality of student work.