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Researchers Seek to Help Alaska Native Communities Conserve Energy

EL PASO, Texas (Nov. 7, 2023) – A team of researchers hopes to help remote Indigenous communities in Alaska become more energy efficient.

A team of researchers hopes to help remote Indigenous communities in Alaska become more energy efficient.  The team includes Olga Lauter, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology in the UTEP College of Liberal Arts who is part of an effort to help communities in Alaska improve energy efficiency in their homes and adapt to the changes.
A team of researchers hopes to help remote Indigenous communities in Alaska become more energy efficient. The team includes Olga Lauter, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology in the UTEP College of Liberal Arts who is part of an effort to help communities in Alaska improve energy efficiency in their homes and adapt to the changes.

“Residential buildings in the Alaska Native communities are significantly energy inefficient as a result of inadequate housing conditions,” said Olga Lauter, a researcher at The 山ּ of Texas at El Paso who is part of an effort to help communities in Alaska improve energy efficiency in their homes and adapt to the changes.

Lauter is a visiting assistant professor of anthropology in the UTEP College of Liberal Arts. She is the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) project that will be used to improve living conditions for Indigenous communities in rural parts of Alaska. The grant is part of an NSF initiative called ‘Navigating the New Arctic.’ 

“Many indigenous homes are not built in a way that conserves energy, which can create hardship because of the high cost of fuel in Alaska and the extremely cold weather,” Lauter explained. “Our work will be to build trust with the communities and collaborate with them to design efficient energy strategies for their homes that are culturally sensitive, helping them stay warm and save money and fuel.” 

Lauter has extensive experience working with Alaska Native communities, particularly the Yup’ik Indigenous people of southwestern Alaska. Her research examines how the migrating Yup’ik Indigenous people transplant their culture to urban spaces.

Lauter, along with her colleagues Lu Liu, Ph.D., and Yunjeong Mo, Ph.D., in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at Iowa State 山ּ, will work with the Yup’ik and other Indigenous people in the southwestern Alaskan villages of Newhalen and Togiak to conduct a needs assessment and identify construction methods that can save energy in residential buildings. As an anthropologist, Lauter’s role is to build trust and rapport with the Indigenous communities and to investigate how their unique cultures influence their housing and alter their interactions with the built environment.

Anadeli Bencomo, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said, “This research shows how interdisciplinary work between anthropologists and engineers can be used to directly improve people’s lives while ensuring that the outcomes reflect the voice and needs of the community.”

Last Updated on November 07, 2023 at 12:00 AM | Originally published November 07, 2023

By MC Staff UTEP Marketing and Communications