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Distance-learning program aims to educate fisheries managers

Jennifer GibbinsThe Cordova Times
flickr / echoforsberg

This spring, a distance learning program offered through the University of Alaska Southeast, will offer aspiring fisheries professionals an opportunity to gain insight into some of the principals, concepts and techniques of fisheries management.

The entry-level college course is being taught by Cordova Fish and Game area management biologist, Tommy Sheridan, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Sheridan, who grew up in Bellingham and took part in the program at the beginning of his own college career, says that even after earning his college degree at Oregon State, he benefitted from what he learned in the program.

"I would have been better prepared when I started working in Alaska if I had been through a program like this," said Sheridan. "It's a great opportunity for anyone interested in fisheries."

Titled "Fisheries of the Prince William Sound Region", the course will begin with an introduction to pre-European fisheries history, and roll on out from there: the Russian era, Alaska Statehood and Alaskan fisheries, Prince William Sound communities and commercial fisheries and modern day management. The course is not limited to commercial fisheries says Sheridan, it will also cover sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries.

"We will be looking at Prince William Sound fisheries -- the history of fisheries, the economy and social structure. We are working hard to make sure it is not a commercial salmon or ADF&G-centric course."

Bigger purpose

With funding from an array of sources including industry and the state, the hope is to help cultivate in-state interest in fisheries careers. While fisheries is one of Alaska’s dominant industries, many of the positions within it are filled by non-residents.

"We are hoping to provide a broad intro that hooks students into the field," said Sheridan. "We want students to be engaged, interested and get a good, solid introduction."

According to Sheridan, the program has been well-received by processors and hatcheries.

"Processors and hatcheries are the larger employers of entry- level people," said Sheridan.

Distance learning

Sitting with Sheridan in his office at a computer screen, he demonstrates the method of instruction and level of interaction that students can expect through the distance learning experience, which he said is remarkably interactive and personal.

"We use Elluminate Live with weekly online meetings," said Sherdian. While students and professors don't see each other, they are connected through the Internet, engaging in live audio discussion and online desktop dialogue. Sheridan can also share slides and other images with students, track who is attending and exchange messages with students while teaching. Not paying attention? The teacher can send an online prod. Great answer? Get instant "high-five" feedback.

There aren't any text books for the course. Instruction is delivered through weekly real-time lectures with weekly board assignments, two projects and three take-home quizzes. Guest presentations will be incorporated into lecture materials to provide students with real world examples of fisheries management, research and harvest activities taking place in the region.

Get enrolled

Anyone interested in finding out more or enrolling should contact Tommy Sheridan at tommysheridan@ymail.com or via phone at 907-424-3212 or 907-429-8999. The class begins in January. USDA tuition assistance is available to rural and Native Alaskans enrolled in the Fisheries Technology Program.