Grace Shin ’21 examined the impacts of climate change on Native Alaskan communities this summer as part of her Junior Summer Fellowship.
Shin planned to travel to Alaska to do research and interviews in person; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to physically travel, so her experience was conducted entirely online, creating both challenges and benefits.
Although Shin had to do more research to find online sources and schedule interviews, she said she felt the virtual experience allowed her to speak with more people.
“I think if I had actually gone, I would have been restricted to one region of Alaska,” Shin said. “But since I’m doing this over Zoom, I can talk across regions of Alaska because they have different ways that they live off the land and different experiences.”
Shin said she spoke with a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor, an Alaska Sea Grant team member and the cultural coordinator for the Native Alaskan Sitka Tribe over Zoom calls. She is currently creating a video, using footage from her interviews and online resources.
“There were some really surprising things I learned,” Shin said. “One was that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has declared falling through ice an epidemic in Alaska. Because of the warming temperatures, the ice is becoming weaker. A lot of people have fallen, and quite a number of people have actually died.”
Shin said she also learned about negotiations between Native Alaskan communities and governing bodies such as the Forest Service.
“Instead of just doing research online and doing my own things, actually having conversations with people […] was a good way to learn,” Shin said.
Shin said she felt inspired to examine the human impact of climate change because of the growing sense of urgency surrounding the issue.
“I feel that in Los Angeles we are kind of shielded from the effects of climate change,” Shin said. “I want to allow the stories of the communities that I’m learning about to shine through. I wanted to show that [climate change] is affecting people, people are dying [and] people’s ways of life are threatened. Climate change is not a problem in the future; it’s having real effects right now.”