Island Institute Staff and Board
The Island Institute currently has five board members and one paid and one volunteer staff. We appreciate the dedicated work of all our current and past board members; your support and commitment to the Institute's mission is essential for our work to succeed.
Linda Behnken first traveled to Sitka in 1982 as a college student, hoping to find a job on a fishing boat. After a summer of longline fishing, she knew she wanted to be part of the fishing community and work to sustain it. Linda worked as crew on a number of different boats from Sitka to the Bering Sea and has earned a livelihood as a commercial fisherman on her own boat since 1991. She has been Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association since 1998, as well as serving on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Academy of Science Individual Fishing Quota Review Panel, among others. Linda has been instrumental in a number of conservation initiatives and fisheries management measures, including creating a Sustainable Fisheries Trust in Alaska. The Trusts’ mission is to achieve triple bottom line objectives—economic, ecological and social— by investing in access opportunities for community-based fishermen dedicated to sustainable fishing practices. Linda’s involvement in the Island Institute comes from a deep commitment to place and community, and the desire to improve her relationship with both.
Brenda Campen came to Alaska in 1977 and began a 33-year social-studies teaching career in Alaska Native communities in the Alaska Interior and southeast Alaska. For 25 years she taught at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, the state residential school for rural and Alaska Native students. Her expertise in Alaska History and contemporary Alaska Issues earned her multiple awards, including the first “Governor’s Award in the Humanities for Alaska History Teaching” and the Alaska Historical Society’s “Contributions to Alaska History” award. Passionate about the subject, Brenda has also been instrumental in Alaska history and culture studies teacher-training. She has watched the Island Institute enrich Sitka and the region with the Symposium and the residency program, as well as serve the community with opportunities for discourse during times of division and stress. Brenda is delighted to be involved in and share the exciting work of the Institute. She divides her time between Sitka and a cabin near the Admiralty Island village of Angoon.
Charles Goodrich serves as Director for the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word at Oregon State University, a program with a vision similar to the Island Institute's. Charles is the author of three volumes of poems, Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden; Insects of South Corvallis; and the forthcoming A Scripture of Crows, as well as a collection of essays, The Practice of Home. Charles also co-edited the volume In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens. His poems and essays have appeared in Orion, Northwest Review, Willow Springs, The Sun, and Best Essays Northwest among many other publications, and a number of his poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on "The Writer's Almanac." Before earning his MFA in creative writing at Oregon State, he worked for twenty-five years as a professional gardener.
Armed with a Master's thesis from University of Oregon on the history of U.S. land use conflict, Daniel Henry moved in 1983 to Haines, Alaska to study frontier rhetoric in vitro. In the thirty years that followed, Henry worked as a deckhand, reporter for the Chilkat Valley News, program director for public radio KHNS-FM, high school English teacher, and debate coach. Over the decades, Henry sustained a quest to understand the clash of arguments over natural resources. To that end, he interviewed community members from all camps, moderated dozens of local meetings, and published many related essays and articles. As a Board member, Henry brings his passion for the ways we talk about the Earth, also a central theme for the Island Institute. Henry lives with his wife Robin Grace, and their 15-year-old son Charlie in Haines, Alaska, and Eugene, Oregon.
Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins represents Sitka and rural Southeast Alaska in the Alaska House of Representatives. He is the youngest member of the Alaska Legislature, and was elected in November 2012 at the age of twenty-three. Jonathan was born and raised in Sitka, graduated from Sitka High School, and is deeply invested in Sitka and Southeast. While in college at Yale, he started two programs in Sitka. The first, Bulldogs on Baranof, brings college students from the Lower 48 to Sitka to work for local nonprofits and organizations. So far, over 50 students, mostly from Yale, have spent a summer in Sitka. The second, the Sitka Fellows Program, is a multidisciplinary residency on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. It brings together top American talent under the age of 30 across all fields and disciplines to spend seven weeks in Sitka working on projects that will change the world, in ways big, small, or subtle. Jonathan is a musician and has performed as symphonic soloist on his cello and also toured as a chamber musician on both cello and double bass. Prior to the legislature, he worked as a substitute teacher, a deckhand on a troller, and did public policy work, and served as interim manager of Sitka's recycling program.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, nature writer Bill Sherwonit has called Alaska home since 1982. He has contributed essays and articles to a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, journals, and anthologies and is the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent books include Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey and Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness. Most of Sherwonit’s work focuses on Alaskan subjects, with an emphasis on wilderness adventure, wildlands preservation, environmental issues, natural history, our species’ complex relationship with place and wildlife, and notions of wildness, including the wild nature to be found in and around his adopted home, Anchorage. Sherwonit also teaches nature and travel/adventure writing and is a devoted advocate for Alaska’s wildlands and wildlife. His website is www.billsherwonit.alaskawriters.com.
Dorik Mechau, Senior Fellow, arrived in Sitka some twenty years ago as a result of his duties at the Alaska Humanities Forum. Then, having fallen in love with Carolyn Servid and Sitka, he could not help himself from engagement with the Island Institute. His early formative years included schooling in a Colorado ghost town and New York City, followed by a rare liberal education at St. John’s College. His subsequent experience includes a decade-long stint at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory before coming to Alaska in 1968. Here, he found himself absorbed in issues related to cultural conflict: oil, land claims, rural education, and community. Participating in the work of the Island Institute has proved to be a wonderful continuation of an exploration of our place on earth.
Carolyn Servid, Executive Director, moved to Sitka in 1980 after falling in love with Alaska’s wild country on a trip the previous summer. Her interest in the literary arts quickly connected her to Old Harbor Books where she and other employees dreamt the Sitka Symposium into being and gave the Island Institute its foundation. Her work with the Institute earned her the 2001 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Humanities Educator. Her memoir/essay collection Of Landscape and Longing chronicles her childhood in India and her unexpected attraction to Alaska as a place that would become her home. It was that move that galvanized her interests in issues of place, community, and the natural world.