By Rick Smeriglio for SCN — The Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Alaska Humanities Forum plus the Arts and Culture Foundation in conjunction with the Governor’s Office have named Seward’s Marc Swanson the 2016 Alaska Studies Educator of the Year. The Governor’s Award recognizes individuals who “enrich the culture of the state” according to the on-line announcement. In particular, Swanson earned recognition for developing curricula for the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area. His ongoing work includes a video series, a field trip guide, a resource guide, school curricula and much more, mostly focused on the people, history, and culture of the area between Turnagain Arm and Resurrection Bay.
Swanson first learned of the award by telephone just before leaving for vacation in Montana earlier this December. He said that at first, he could only express confusion and disbelief. Then he recognized the caller as the daughter of Yule Kilcher. The late Yule Kilcher served as a delegate to Alaska’s constitutional convention and became the subject of one of Swanson’s documentary videos.
About the award, Swanson said, “First, it’s really nice to get the award … very humbling. But truly the real award is being able to tell these stories. What an honor and what a responsibility it is.”
Swanson also wished to acknowledge all the volunteer editors, videographers, narrators, musicians, institutions, and others who enabled his work. He said that they owned the award as much as he did.
“You know who you are,” said Swanson.
Swanson explained that about four years ago, KMTANHA asked him to develop a high-school curriculum in Alaska studies for the eastern Kenai Peninsula. He said that he “could bite his teeth into” the project because he had liberty to build an inquiry-based program of study. Students would examine primary documents such as census data and old photographs. They would go on field trips to places like abandoned mining camps and cemeteries to examine tangible things. The work has built on itself and has led to an award-winning video series This Is Now and That Was Then narrated by Moose Pass and Seward high-school students and aired on Alaska Public Television.
When asked if the mission of KMTANHA to tell the story of the land and its people motivated or inspired him, Swanson replied, “… in a way it scares the dickens out of me. I’ve been asked to tell real peoples’ stories … what a humbling and daunting task! I’ve got to compress these marvelous stories from incredible people in a way that is useful for educators and interesting to students … all while trying to maintain accuracy and honoring individuals, their stories, and their descendants. Yeah … a bit intimidating.”
According to the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska Studies Educator of the Year Award “… is awarded to an instructor of Alaska history and culture studies, Alaska history or Alaska studies who has demonstrated exceptional abilities in teaching this subject. Honorees will have fostered a spirit of inquiry and civic participation through the teaching of Alaska’s history and culture.” Swanson plans to attend the awards ceremony and reception on January 28, 2016 in Juneau.
Swanson’s work so far includes an inquiry-based curriculum for high school, a field trip guide, the This is Now And That Was Then video series, an elementary teacher’s guide for using the video series, and a resource guide for educators. The public can access all these materials at kmtacorridor.org.
Not one to loaf after achievement, Swanson says that on the same day that he learned of his award, University of Alaska Fairbanks hired him, and Seward local Marvin Tapsfield, to develop a science outreach program for the Seward Marine Center. The National Heritage Area has contracted with Swanson to train classroom teachers to use his curricula. He plans a busy new year.