The best way to honor his legacy is to strengthen the sustainability of our communities. He dedicated his life to it.
By Tom Marsik
The death of Dr. Todd Radenbaugh, a highly respected colleague and my friend, at the age of 56 is a sad thing. But thinking about his life also brings another feeling – inspiration. It’s the type of inspiration that all of us can use to make the world a better place. He was the perfect example of somebody who thinks globally and acts locally. He was an amazing individual dedicated to serving his community.
Dr. Radenbaugh was professor of environmental science at the Bristol Bay Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The UAF Bristol Bay Campus is an Alaska Native Serving Institution located in the community of Dillingham in Southwest Alaska. Dr. Radenbaugh worked tirelessly to study the ecosystems of the region, strengthen the sustainability of local communities, and develop science programs for Alaska Native and rural students. After battling with cancer for a long time, he knew his last day was coming, but continued serving underrepresented students till the very end. The first class he missed was the one on the day he died, October 26, 2020.
Many people could attest to his endless interest in the natural world and enthusiasm to share it. His wife, Michele, says it best: “My husband, Todd, was my walking encyclopedia. Ask him any question related to time, space and place; he knew the answer. With degrees in marine biology, paleontology and interdisciplinary science and a deep self-curated knowledge of history, cultures and human geography, Todd excelled at explaining the complexity of earth’s ecosystems and understanding humankind’s impact on these natural systems over millions of years. He was always the consummate educator, whether in the classroom, in the field or in our yard that backed onto a national wildlife refuge and thousands of acres of Alaska native lands. He inspired many of us how to appreciate this planet and its ecological value.”
When I moved to Dillingham in 2009 to work at the UAF Bristol Bay Campus, Todd was already well settled in the community. I didn’t know him before, but quickly learned that he was all about action. He wasn’t about producing reports that sit on a shelf and collect dust; he was about making real things happen. Todd and I quickly became friends and I found myself helping him with things like installing solar panels on his garage, setting up a wind turbine, or adding insulation to his house. He wasn’t just teaching about developing sustainable communities, he was doing it. Wherever he saw an opportunity to make a difference, he jumped on it. He served on boards of directors, participated in professional organizations, worked with regional tribes, organized educational events for youths, provided consulting on local projects, did radio interviews, wrote newsletters, and lot more.
Among his many contributions to the society, of course, were his contributions to science, from innovative research methods to numerous publications and presentations, often with the involvement of Alaska Native and rural students. Listing all his awards and accomplishments would be beyond the scope of this article, but one thing to highlight is his leadership in organizing conferences and meetings. As a founder of the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Association, he was the main organizer for several years of the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference, where he also chaired numerous sessions. He was also an organizing committee member for the Alaska Forum on the Environment, and the chairman of its Environmental Education Track. He chaired a number of sessions at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Arctic Science Conferences, and was the main organizer of the 2011 AAAS Arctic Science Conference. He was also the main organizer of the Alaska Workshop for Supporting and Advancing Interdisciplinary Geoscience Education (SAGE) in Two-year Colleges in 2013, and the Southwest Alaska Interagency Meetings in 2011 and 2014. He also chaired sessions at the Annual Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, American Indian Science and Engineering Society National Conference, and AAAS Annual Meeting, among others.
Another thing to highlight is Todd’s dedication to citizen science and civic engagement. One of his classes frequently offered in the community dealt with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and was empowering participants, no matter what their age or background, to have their voices heard when it comes to natural resource development in rural Alaska. He was also involved with the National Center for Science & Civic Engagement (NCSCE) and its Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) initiative. The combination of his expertise, leadership skills, and commitment created a profound impact on the society that will never be forgotten.
One of the amazing things about Todd was that he did not show his pain. What he showed was his concern for the future of the world. Instead of complaining about dying, he handed over class materials, held an election for a new program head to replace him, and made sure we had the tools in our hands to continue making the world a better place without him.
Todd was incredibly passionate about supporting the wellbeing of future generations and the best way to honor his legacy is to continue just that – building sustainable communities. We miss you, Todd.
Tom Marsik is associate professor of sustainable energy at the UAF Bristol Bay Campus. He has a joint position with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.