Employee volunteerism: Sean's story
Sean Wisner works as Alyeska’s Fire Chief and Health and Safety Supervisor. In his off time, Sean is also the Executive Director of the Alaska Avalanche Information Center.
Sean, tell us about The Alaska Avalanche Information Center. What does the organization do? The Alaska Avalanche Information Center, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to public safety and avalanche information in Alaska. The AAIC strives to increase public awareness and safety through avalanche education, research, and the networking of avalanche professionals across the state.
Specifically, we provide public avalanche forecasts and snow observation information for Valdez, Cordova, Haines, Hatcher Pass, and the Northern Alaska Range near Fairbanks, and provide links to public forecasts in Juneau and Turnagain Pass.
Using primarily volunteers and philanthropic funding, the AAIC has provided free professional avalanche bulletins for the major mountainous regions of the state for the past five years. These avalanche bulletins are published every day from September through June, and are created in accordance with the American Avalanche Association and Canadian Avalanche Association standard guidelines, using the North American Danger Scale.
We also provide avalanche education and outreach programs across the state and instruct courses at the awareness, level 1 and level 2 curriculum following American Avalanche Association (AAA) and American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) standards for education.
It is our goal, through research, information exchange, and education, to increase public safety amongst the recreational and professional users of avalanche terrain in Alaska; and reduce the overwhelming number of annual avalanche fatalities in Alaska. Our education programs have reached approximately 500 students each year, ranging from elementary school children to professional mountain and ski guides.
Why is it important to have an organization like AAIC in our community? I believe it is important to have organizations, such as the AAIC, that are dedicated to public safety in Alaska. Statistics show that an average of 36 people will die in avalanches every year in North America, and 185 people worldwide. Unfortunately Alaska leads the statistics for avalanche fatalities by state per capita. The only way to reduce these numbers, in my opinion, is through information and education.
Our goal is to teach people how to make informed decisions in the mountains, choose terrain that is appropriate for the avalanche conditions each day, and be aware of the hazards associated with traveling in avalanche terrain. We don’t want to discourage people from recreating in the beautiful mountains this state offers us, but to make good decisions and “live to ride another day.”
Why is this organization important to you? Serving as the director of the Alaska Avalanche Information Center is important to me for many reasons. I have worked in the fields of emergency response and mountain rescue for 23 years at this point, and have responded to or been involved in many avalanche incidents and fatalities over the years.
I decided to take a more proactive approach by educating and informing people of the hazards associated with mountain recreation ahead of time, versus the reactive approach provided by rescue services. I also believe that avalanche education and information exchange in the US is limited due to the fact that 90 percent of all avalanche centers are funded by the government, thus limiting the amount of outreach programs, terrain served, and funding sources available.
By creating a non-profit avalanche center, our opportunities to educate and inform people are limitless.
Alyeska gives back to northern pipeline corridor communities
The pipeline corridor north of Fairbanks includes the villages of Rampart, population 31, Stevens Village, population 63, and Wiseman, population 14. Alyeska aims to be a good neighbor to these remote pipeline corridor communities.
Rampart and Stevens Village are located on the Yukon River near Alyeska’s Yukon Response Base, and Wiseman is a small mining community in the Brooks Range, 3 miles from the Dalton Highway.
One example of the successful partnership between the villages and Alyeska is the Rampart and Stevens Village spill response teams. Alyeska has long-standing agreements with both villages to provide spill response support personnel. Teams from both villages train quarterly with Alyeska and provide response personnel for oil spill exercises and events not only on the Yukon River but in areas all along the pipeline.
“The village response teams provide an extremely high level of expertise, local knowledge, and teamwork,” said Wes Willson, Emergency Preparedness and Compliance Manager. “They are one of the first groups called out during an emergency response.”
A traditional event at Stevens Village (and at Rampart when there are children in residence) is the annual holiday visit by Santa Claus and his elf, played by various TAPS employees over the years. Gifts and fresh fruit for the youth are donated by Alyeska employees and delivered by Santa who arrives not by reindeer sled, but via an Alyeska surveillance helicopter.
"Stevens Village and Alyeska have been involved in a successful team effort since 1995 that not only provides training and personnel in the event of an oil spill emergency but has also served as a vital link in the ongoing relationship between both entities,” said Maureen Mayo, of Stevens Village. “The community of Stevens Village appreciates Alyeska’s ongoing outreach efforts to its residents and tribal members.”
Alyeska invests in higher education
A strong component of Alyeska’s commitment to workforce renewal is the ongoing investment the company makes in higher education in Alaska.
Through direct contributions to schools and programs to intense and involved internships along the pipeline to support for scholarship funds, Alyeska contributes to educating and training today’s students who could become future employees. Alyeska has funded engineering scholarships for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage (ANSEP) since 1995 and provided funding for the construction of the 14,000-square-foot ANSEP building on the university campus. In 2008, Alyeska pledged funding for an ANSEP Endowment Chair, for a total commitment of $500,000. This is a significant step in ensuring that there is a faculty advocate for ANSEP students.
The company also made a multiyear commitment to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Pacific University to help support university education for rural Alaska students and to develop experienced technical and craft professionals into vocational instructors. Alyeska has a longstanding commitment to Prince William Sound Community College, contributing to their wellness center and scholarship funds. Many TAPS employees in Valdez are alumni of the college.
Each year Alyeska provides $750,000 in scholarships to help Alaska Native students attending high schools, universities, vocational training institutions and colleges. Since 1996, Alyeska has awarded more than $9 million in scholarships to students from across the state of Alaska.
Alyeska’s 12-week internships for college students usually take place in the summer, although there may be work during the winter and holiday break. Another component of Alyeska’s commitment to workforce renewal is the company’s Building Foundations for Excellence Program. The program develops valued employees and focuses on transferring knowledge within the workforce in anticipation of future business needs. Depending upon the assignment, participants are challenged with diverse, multidisciplinary projects including construction management, preventive maintenance and environmental assessments.
Roxanne Peter, originally from Arctic Village, completed her internship with Alyeska in October 2010 and is now in the BFEP prgoram.
"The best part of the internship program was that I was provided real life experience, working on actual projects, not just given administrative duties,” said Peter, now a Contracting Officer.
Employee volunteerism: Tom’s story
Tom Brady works for Alyeska as Program Manager for the Occupational Health Unit. He has volunteered for Hospice for many years and currently serves on the organization’s board.
Hospice provides a family-centered approach to care, emphasizing quality of life offered by a team consisting of doctors and nurses with expertise in pain and symptom control. Other support comes from social service support, bereavement support and trained volunteers. Each team member works together with the family to focus on the dying person’s needs. The organization plays a unique role in meeting the needs of individuals and families in our community with a life-limiting progressive illness. These services are delivered regardless of people’s ability to pay. There is no charge to families for any of Hospice’s services.
What does the organization do? Most people think of Hospice as medical care provided to someone who is terminally ill, but there is a broader mission filled by Hospice, including addressing the non-medical aspects of death, while helping the survivors cope not only with the terminal illness of a loved one, but death and the aftermath. The Hospice care philosophy sees death as a normal part of living, instead of something to always struggle against, and seeks to reduce the suffering involved in the dying process for both the dying person and their family.
Why is it important to have an organization like Hospice in our community? Hospice as a non-profit organization and the service is important, as the care helps provide comfort and dignity through the natural process of dying. Hospice care is a healthy concept and focuses on supporting the family before, during, and after the loved one’s death, allowing them to grieve. Without Hospice, families would face these times alone and struggle with how to plan and learn about the challenges and available resources for the last phases of life. Families are never charged for any of the services provided by Hospice.
Why is this organization important to you? Hospice is important to me as it fills a large gap between life and dying, providing a gentle hand guiding families through one of the most difficult life events we all will face.
TAPS employees hit the road in Prudhoe Bay
Prudhoe Bay is not exactly a community in the sense of a place with families, stores, churches and movie theaters. But for the hundreds of men and women who spend weeks at a time working and living there, the annual fun runs hosted by various facilities in Prudhoe Bay throughout the summer come as close to fostering a sense of community as they may ever feel.
"Pump Station 1 has been participating as one of the sponsors since 1996," said Pump Station 1 Lead Tech Tim Rupp. "This year we are anticipating at least 800 participants at each of the two ‘Pump Station 1 Stampede’ events."
Other Fun Run sponsors also have cute names for their events, like Peak’s Keep on Truckin’ Fun Run, the Endicott Causeway Curise, the ENI Dog Jog, the Pigging Wallow Run, the Milne Point Hoot Scoot, and the Deadhorse Dash. But the event at Pump Station 1 is one of the most anticipated of all the runs, according to Rupp. "Folks look forward to the centralized location of our facility and the privilege of being able to walk next to the famous pipeline that is transporting their product to market."
A highly coveted tee shirt is given to those who complete the 5K run/walk. "We have seen our shirts worn by folks throughout Alaska and at many destinations in the lower 48," said Rupp. "It’s always great to see the social time and camaraderie generated at the fun run events. It would be difficult to equal the good will and positive PR these events afford – both for Alyeska and our industry."
Alyeska steps up to fight hunger
On Monday evenings, the Valdez Food Bank is abuzz with activity, and last night was no different. Volunteers from Alyeska and others were busy stocking shelves, divvying up large bags of rice, flour and beans, and helping clients sign in and check out. The non-profit, which serves Valdez and occasionally other communities in Prince William Sound and the Copper River Valley, has seen its clientele double since 2010. This year, the Food Bank serves 100 people a week; without volunteers, the doors wouldn’t open for families in need.
Food banks around the state rely on companies and individuals to donate food, time and money, so they can ensure families put food on the table. Alyeska Pipeline - both as a company and its individual employees- is an important ally to these organizations.
Alyeska is a longtime donor to the Valdez Food Bank, giving over $5,000 annually to the organization. Employees from the company often volunteer at distribution, have served as board members, and often give personally to the cause. The “tip” jar at the Valdez Marine Terminal cafeteria is actually a Food Bank of Valdez donation jar that averages well over $1,000 dollars a year.
An employee-driven campaign helped give new life to the Anchorage-based Food Bank campaign during the 2011 United Way campaign, with employees combining to contribute more than $7,000. Also, as they have in many years past, employees joined up to lend a hand at the Food Bank, processing some 3,000 pounds of food.
Hunger remains a threat to many Alaskans, but Alyeska and its employees are doing their part help to help families in need.
Employee volunteerism: Mel’s story
Mel Williams, Alyeska’s Business Practice Officer/Employee Concerns Program Manager, is a longtime volunteer with Bridge Builders of Anchorage and has served as president since fall 2010. The organization was established in 1996. Bridge Builders is dedicated to making Anchorage a safer, friendlier city.
Mel, how long have you been involved in Bridgebuilders and in what capacity? I joined Bridge Builder in the spring of 2007 as a member of the board representing Alyeska. In the fall of 2010, I assumed the role of president and continue to serve as president.
What makes you passionate about the organization? Their desire for unity and harmony among all people that reside in Anchorage and neighboring cities, coupled with the activities and events that bring people from all backgrounds together in harmony and respect.
What do you want others to know about the work of Bridge Builders? I think everyone in Anchorage should be aware of the vision and pledge of Bridge Builders.
Bridge Builders Vision is “To make Anchorage the first city without prejudice as the first step to eliminate racism in Alaska.”
Bridge Builders Pledge of Mutual Respect is, "We the people of Anchorage, Alaska, pledge to respect one another, celebrating the differences that make us unique: our customs, spiritual beliefs, cultures, colors, dreams and ancestral traditions. Standing together, hand in hand, young and old, we affirm that through mutual respect we can build a stronger, more harmonious community, a more unified nation and a better, safer world."
How does your involvement with the organization align with your role at Alyeska? As the Business Practice Manager, I work to resolve work difference and conflicts with employees in the organization to help Alyeska be a safe and productive company in our community. With that, we promote an Open Work Environment, respect for one another and we celebrate the diversity that every employee contributes to make Alyeska an employer of choice.
Employee volunteerism: Betty’s story
Betty McIntosh is a public relations coordinator on the Valdez Marine Terminal and also a volunteer with the Valdez Native Youth Olympics team. NYO is an annual contest where kids from across the state come to compete in ten events based on traditional Alaska Native games.
Betty, tell us about Native Youth Olympics. What does the organization do? Native Youth Olympics started in 1972. There are 10 events that test the hunting and survival skills along with agility, strength, endurance and the balance of the mind and body. This friendly competition is Alaska Native based culturally, but the competition is open to all ethnic backgrounds. The State Native Youth Olympics Competition brings together over 500 students from all over Alaska ranging from grades 7 to 12 to compete and demonstrate their skills. The state competition is usually a three-day event that takes place at the end of April.
Why is it important to have an organization like NYO in our community? At the Native Youth Olympics – even though it is a competition – you see competitors help each other out in whatever event they are competing in. You don’t see this kind of camaraderie at other sporting events. Also, because these events are part of the Alaska Native culture, it is nice to keep the Olympics alive in all the communities to share traditions with the youth. This heritage-based event is good to share not only with the Alaska Native students, but with other non-native students as well.
Why is this organization important to you? I originally started helping out with the Valdez Native Youth Olympics team because my son joined and I wanted help him do well. I’ve gotten to know the students over the years, and have made friends with other coaches from around Alaska. It is nice to come together once a year to talk about how their year was in the different villages and to catch up with life in general. Also, we have grown from a relatively small team to a pretty large team. I ask coaches Morrison and Cockerham if they need any help and they usually do. I enjoy spending time with the students, getting to know them and helping them out to be their best for the State Competition. I want all of our youth to do their best in whatever they are doing. This last season, a Valdez High School student set a World Record in the One Foot High Kick. She also holds a first place in the Eskimo Stick Pull with one of our junior high students holding second. Another high school student scored first in the Indian Stick Pull. Our team did awesome this year!
Alyeska committed to the next generation of TAPS employees
Given Alyeska’s commitment to workforce development — and the reality of many in the workforce nearing or reaching retirement age — it is natural that Alyeska would support many student activities focused on STEM education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.
For example, Alyeska’s philanthropy program enables high schools throughout the Fairbanks North Star Borough to participate in the Alaska State Robotics Championships.
“Robotics is hands-on engineering,” said Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Curriculum and Instruction Executive Director Peggy Carlson. “Through the development and construction of robots, students apply the four main aspects of engineering: 3D drawing and design, mechanisms and linkages, electronics and circuit construction, and computer programming. Participating in this program, students have the opportunity to explore and experience a variety of engineering fields and then refine and focus their educational goals to develop workforce skills that support their field of interest.”
Alyeska also sponsored the National Ocean’s Sciences Bowl this year. Engineering Director Brian Tuminello helped with the weekend event in Seward where students built remote-operated oil skimmers and answered tough science and engineering related questions in a quiz competition.
“There were many high school students from across the state, and it was pretty exciting to see their knowledge of ocean science,” Tuminello said. “I was impressed! It was great to observe the next generation of engineers and scientists at work.”
Alyeska philanthropy reaches rural residents
Alyeska Pipeline supports many statewide programs, paying particular attention to the pipeline corridor — the towns and communities along the 800 mile TAPS route, originating in Prudhoe Bay and culminating in Valdez. Outreach in the southern pipeline corridor includes residents living in and around Salcha, Delta Junction, Ft. Greely, Glennallen and Copper Center.
In 2009, Alyeska joined forces with the Fairbanks Concert Association to bring a performing group to Delta. From this modest beginning grew an awesome partnership between Alyeska, the Delta Library Association and the Fairbanks Concert Association. By last year, it grew to include activities in Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright and several performances a year in Delta. Another sponsor jumped on the wagon to help bring performers to Healy and the Parks Highway.
“With annual support from Alyeska, our library horizons have expanded in many new directions,” said Delta librarian Joyce McCombs. “World class musicians now travel to Delta Junction to perform, and each year we've added books, audios and movies to our collection. Authors, speakers and educators have presented a wide variety of highly anticipated and very well attended programs. The Delta Community Library's partnership with Alyeska simply defines success.”
Seeing the enthusiasm of these rural residents for FCA performances, Alyeska agreed to underwrite the first ever outreach of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (FSAF). On July 16-18, the string quartet Sweet Plantain will travel to Salcha, Delta, Kenny Lake, and the Black Rapids Lodge on the Richardson Highway for brief performances followed by workshops.
Other recent outreach to southern communities includes Delta’s Partners for Progress workforce development, the Kenny Lake Library summer literacy program, Entrepreneur’s Day at Kenny Lake School and Copper Basin Senior Citizens, and the Salcha fair.