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Sowing Seeds of Stewardship
Anne Rittgers strives to help youth gain an appreciation for balances needed between development and environmental protection.
Anne Rittgers isn’t about to tell Alaskans what they should do with millions of acres of wilderness. Instead, she’s working to spark a passion for science and stewardship in Alaska Native teenagers who will one day be that state’s decision makers.
“The Arctic is facing a lot of change. Growing up on the North Slope, these students have a unique and highly valuable perspective on how to manage their lands. It’s their home and their way of life. A changing climate has direct impacts on their subsistence lifestyle and future management choices.”
Rittgers is the program coordinator for GeoFORCE Alaska, a geoscience education outreach program through the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), that strives to engage a diverse group of young people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and increase high school graduation rates and the number of students who go to college.
Rittgers, who majored in economics at UMD's Labovitz School of Business and Economics and minored in environmental studies and will soon be pursuing a master’s degree in Arctic and Northern Studies at UAF, understands the tensions between nature and expansion. “I grew up on a tree farm in Nevis, Minn. My father owns a tree service, but we also planted hundreds of trees. People need to continually find a balance between environmental protection and development. If you build a road, economic opportunities will increase, but it will also have an impact on subsistence life.”
Rittgers hopes young people who participate in GeoFORCE will understand this dichotomy and appreciate how their choices will impact future generations.
Top image: Anne Rittgers (left) with students taking part in GeoFORCE Alaska.