Paula Williams, Ph.D.
On January 5, 2009 I was privileged to become the first Sustainability Director at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. A resident of Alaska since 1985, I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible, river rafting and used to scuba dive. I also enjoy reading, sewing and serving in interest groups such as: Anchorage Citizens Coalition, Anchorage Master Gardeners, Alaska Botanical Gardens, and a permaculture group.
I completed my Interdisciplinary Ph.D. through the University of Alaska Fairbanks and graduated May of 2009. My academic work has focused on the interaction between humans and their environment, specifically on the influences on human perception of change, and on our willingness to adapt. This continues to be my passion, as well as finding ways to motivate people to increase adaptive capacity.
In a prior life, I was an attorney in Anchorage for about 20 years. During my last eight years as an attorney, I worked for state and municipal agencies that enforce the laws prohibiting discrimination.
I teach an Honors College course related to climate change and feel that students should be aware of what's going on so they know how it will impact their lives. The goals of the course are to stimulate critical thinking, to introduce complex systems and understanding of non-linear interactions, to help students develop scholarly writing skills, and to expose students to a systems view of the world from an interdisciplinary perspective. I love teaching and keeping up with the science.
My dissertation is titled "The Role of Social Paradigm in Human Perception and Response to Environmental Change." My research led naturally to working as Sustainability Director here at UAA because it examines the interactions between the biophysical environment and human social systems, which is also the focus of sustainability
Although the degree was issued by Fairbanks, I completed my coursework and research here at UAA. The last year and a half of work on my dissertation was supported by a fellowship provided by the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) through the National Science Foundation. Prior to receiving the fellowship, I worked as a Research Associate for UAA's Resilience and Adaptive Management (RAM) Group for about two years. Working for the RAM Group allowed me to participate in research investigating the perceptions that people living in small communities in the Norton Sound area have of their subsistence resources and water. While there, I also focused on mining research.