The coffee shop was humming with the buzz of conversation. I had come early to choose the plush, comfortable armchairs yet even before the lunch rush, the shop was nearly overflowing. I waited for Bob Van Dijken, International Polar Year (IPY) Coordinator for the Yukon. As I stood by the counter waiting for my drink, a tall bearded man with a countenance of calm walked in, with just a glance I knew this was Bob Van Dijken.
From the beginning of our conversation, Bob talked enthusiastically about what he did. As the IPY Coordinator for the Yukon, he knows all about the importance of science in the North. Bob is passionate about finding ways of communicating science to different audiences and incorporating science into the curriculum in more interactive and enjoyable ways. IPY provided the perfect backdrop for these endeavours.
In the Northern community of Old Crow, located within the Arctic Circle, an innovative teacher engaged her students when she integrated a photographic exhibit of various IPY projects into her science curriculum. “She incorporated IPY into the curriculum […] IPY researchers need a presence in the communities. They need to find those champions to help them understand what’s relevant to the communities, what’s appropriate and who to talk to for certain situations,” Van Dijken explained. Along with a research project that focused on the Old Crow Flats, which Van Dijken called: “an exemplary project and a model for what other Northern scientific collaboration should be”, Yukon communities were involved in unique learning opportunities that would not be available in a basic science curriculum.
Bob Van Dijken’s excitement and enthusiasm for IPY was palpable, he lit up as he recounted the ways IPY was incorporated into the Yukon Quest, an annual 1,000 mile sled dog race. In 2007, a stamp was created to mark the beginning of IPY. The stamp had its official unveiling in Whitehorse in a ceremony that was the first of its kind in the territorial capital. The far reaching effects of this venture were seen the next year (2008) when the USA created an IPY stamp of their own.
As in previous years, mushers braved bone-chilling cold and gale force winds in the Quest; this time, they carried envelopes emblazoned with both IPY stamps and had their envelopes stamped with the location of the start and finish checkpoints. Reflecting on the event, Van Dijken remarked: “The Quest provided exposure to the IPY program in ways we as coordinators couldn’t dream of”. The scope of IPY allowed researchers not only to participate in large social events but go into the communities and build relationships with the members.
IPY provided many firsts for the City of Whitehorse, multiple Yukon communities and even Van Dijken himself. When asked about the legacy of IPY he indicated that: “IPY makes the research relevant to the community so that they keep the data collection going and keeps the community involved. The program showed the importance of capacity building and the inclusion of communities in the research process. IPY is a great start and the research needs to continue.”