Story last updated at 11:12 PM on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sigman wins award for environmental education

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Honored for developing educational programs benefiting thousands of children and adults, Marilyn Sigman, executive director of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, has received Alaska Conservation Foundation's Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.

  Photo by McKibben Jackinsky
Marilyn Sigman, director of Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, introduces a sea star from the Homer harbor to people on a "Creatures of the Dock" tour Saturday.  
"(Sigman) is committed to making the world a better place to live through learning experiences that lead to environmental stewardship. She works tirelessly in that direction," science educator Daisy Lee Bitter of Homer wrote in her nomination of Sigman for the award.

The Dixon Award recognizes educators who innovatively integrate stewardship of Alaskas' natural resources into their instructive activities. Nominations include teachers from all disciplines, including experiential and outdoor educators. Candidates must demonstrate a long history of service with students, as well as "outstanding, innovative contributions to the pursuit of conservation education," according to information provided by ACF. A cash prize of $500 accompanies the award.

"Isn't she wonderful?" said Nick Hardigg, ACF executive director, adding, "It's a great organization and a great community that she serves."

Prior to coming to the center 10 years ago, Sigman worked as a wildlife biologist, as well as a habitat biologist.

"As a statewide coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's 'Alaska Wildlife Curriculum' program, she developed and distributed multi-media units on 'Alaska's Forests, Alaska's Wetlands and Wildlife,' and 'Wildlife for the Future' to every school in the state and received an Outstanding Contribution award from the U.S. Department of Interior for the wetlands unit," Bitter said.

Organizations founded and/or led by Sigman include the Alaska Natural Resources and Outdoor Education Association, the Southeast Alaska Coalition for Outdoor Education, the Southeast Ecotourism Alliance, the Kachemak Bay Ecotourism Network and the Kachemak Bay Environmental Alliance.

Sigman also was chairman of the Alaska Natural History Association. Numerous other involvements include development of a community involvement plan for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council long-term monitoring program, involving tribal groups and communities throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Since being with CACS, Sigman has helped expand the center's core program at Peterson Bay Coastal Science Field Station, located on the south side of Kachemak Bay, by increasing offerings at the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center on East Skyline Drive. In addition to those sites, CACS has its headquarters at the corner of Smoky Bay Way and Lake Street in Homer, as well as a yurt at Homer Harbor Ramp 2.

In 2007, programs offered by CACS attracted more than 12,000 people.

"It's wonderful to get recognition and be told you're doing something excellently," said Sigman in a phone interview from the Peterson Bay Field Station. "But it's the people of the center that have given me the opportunity to do this kind of work."

People outside of the center are benefiting from Sigman's efforts, as educational programs are moved online.

"That's really where teachers go for resources. We're able to reach a lot more people," said Sigman who, on Tuesday, was at Peterson Bay, involved in a two-week teacher workshop to develop online curriculum.

Curt Olson, CACS board president, measured the impact of Sigman's efforts by the center's expansion.

"We've grown to the point where we are more than a $500,000 organization now," Olson said. "Most nonprofits don't generate revenue through the programs they offer, but (Sigman) has organized CACS in such a way that the programs offered are ones people want to take and spend some dollars doing it. We have people coming all the way from Fairbanks and outlying villages."

Olson praised Sigman's dedication and approach to environmental education.

"I've not worked with many people in my life that are more dedicated to a goal in a way that doesn't want to force education down anyone's throat, but (educates) people in a way that they want to do good and be proud of where they live," Olson said. "(Sigman) just does a wonderful job for that. It shows through the people that are employed there, how they act toward the environment. She lives it. It's her life."

Olson's observations are reflected in Sigman's own words.

"I have a job where I get to turn over rocks with people and discover things," she said. "I have the opportunity to hang out with people and help them explore and learn about the environment."

For more information on the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, its programs and activities, visit the Web at or call 235-6667.

Other awards announced by the Alaska Conservation Foundation include:

* Celia Hunter Award Outstanding Volunteer Contributions: Andrew Keller, chair of the Denali Group of the Sierra Club.

* Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions: Jim Stratton, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

* Lowell Thomas Jr. Award for Outstanding Civil Service: Judy Alderson, environmental specialist for the National Park Service.

* Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists: Bryce Timm of Ketchikan.

* Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award for Excellence in Still Photography: Amy Gulick, writer and photographer.

* Lifetime Achievement Award: Tom Meacham of Anchorage.