Bodø (High North News): The High North Hero of 2023 is Professor Diane Hirshberg of the University of Alaska. She thanks her mother for her commitment to social changes and has a burning engagement for the Arctic Youth.
“The sixth High North Hero is heavily engaged in research, education, and social and societal development in the Arctic through international cooperation."
That was how the chair of the High North Hero Award jury Anu Fredrikson explained the jury’s decision on this year’s High North hero. The award was conferred during High North Dialogue in Bodø, Norway Thursday afternoon.
The - in her own words - "gobsmacked" hero, Diane Hirshberg (59), is a Professor of Education Policy, and Director for the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
She was honored to receive the award, following in some of her own heroes' footsteps.
"We have heard the jury's reason. But why do you think you were given this award?"
"I do think it is because I spent so much time figuring out how to connect people. Whether it is working on our university cooperation, or identifying young people for opportunities that are coming up. Or trying to strategize with top policymakers on how we get more funding and more support for these efforts. I think that is a big part of it, " Dr. Hirshberg tells High North News just after the award ceremony.
I felt it in my bones.
Grounded in Alaska
Diane Hirshberg is not an Alaskan native but was born and raised in Massachusetts, USA. But the minute she set foot in the American Arcitc - by accident through a school exchange - she felt at home.
"It was like the gravity was stronger there. I felt it in my bones," says the Professor.
Her research interests include education policy analysis, indigenous education, circumpolar education issues, and the role of education in sustainable development.
"I have been involved in several US and international organizations, but always keeping in mind that it is not about promoting any individual organization, but how we collectively work to transform what is happening in the Arctic."
Sharing of knowledge
Anu Fredrikson applauded the High North Hero for her enthusiasm and engagement for her international collaboration, something that has characterized the Hirshberg from the early days of her career, often focusing on challenges educators and students face in the Arctic.
"She has been, and continues to be, a promoter for sharing ideas, knowledge, and competencies", Fredrikson said.
For the Hero herself, this is something that resonates with the core of who she is.
"It is most important to share knowledge that is going to help transform communities. There is a lot of focus amongst researchers on how to disseminate findings from our work. But that is a different focus than how to actually use the educational system in the way we share knowledge, to enable communities to make a change," says the Alaskan Professor.
Commitment to the young
She has also studied the boarding school experiences of Alaska Native students, teacher supply, demand, and turnover, including the cost of teacher turnover in Alaska. She has co-authored the Education chapter for the Arctic Human Development Report II, and co-edited “Including the North: A Comparative Study of the Policies on Inclusion and Equity in the Circumpolar North.”
Diane Hirshberg's commitment to the Arctic youth is visible in all areas of her career.
"There is so much focus on taking science and knowledge and get it into the class rooms. Well, no. Lets take knowledge and make sure that the individuals getting that knowledge are then able to translate it into action. And I am not doing this alone, but in collaboration with some amazing scholars and leaders across the north", Hirshberg states.
Raised by a feminist
She thanks her mother for her commitment to social changes. As raised by a feminist activist, Hirshberg observed her mother dedicating her life to getting women elected and making the world a better place.
"Her focus on equity and social justice is profound. So that is where it started, going to peace marches when I was four."
What is you message to the Arctic youth?
"That young people in the Arctic should be proud of the place where they are. They should see that there are incredible opportunities. Yes, there are huge struggles, like the misunderstandings of the Arctic and the long history of colonization that has led us to a place where we are still rebuilding the idea of what it means to be sovereign in the Arctic. These are challenges. But the opportunities are there", says Diane Hirshberg.
"And there being only four million people in the Arcitc, there is space for every young person to make a difference."
About the High North Hero award
Every year, the High North Center for Business and Governance at Nord University Business School awards the High North Hero prize to a person or organization contributing to development and growth in the Arctic. The award consists of NOK 50,000 and the award is conferred in relation to the international conference High North Dialogue, which takes place in Bodø. Nordland County funds the award.