Ulmer to head ISER

Former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will take the helm of UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research Feb. 14 as its new director, her second job at UAA. Ulmer served as a visiting professor of public policy during the spring 2004 semester, where she enjoyed an office at ISER and was able to see operations firsthand. Ulmer said her fondness for UAA and her respect for the ISER team contributed to her interest of the position. Ulmer submitted her application materials as soon as she saw the position was open.

“I enjoyed my time at UAA last year,” Ulmer said. “Plus, I wanted a change professionally to move away from politics and toward higher education.”

Because of the institute’s reputation for excellence, the search for a new director was a formidable task. It began with a nationwide search. A search committee interviewed and read the resumes of candidates until it narrowed the search down to two finalists.

“I submitted a letter, references, did interviews with the selection committee via phone, was selected as a finalist and came to campus for in-person interviews with ISER staff, the provost, chancellor and others,” Ulmer said.

As director, Ulmer will work with ISER staff in monitoring research progress, as most of the ISER projects are grant-funded.

“There’s a whole process of focusing on the issues to be studied,” Thomas Case said. Case serves as the dean of the College of Business & Public Policy, which oversees ISER. “Finding grant sponsors to fund that research, she will administer all that.”

ISER was established in 1961 by the Alaska legislature to research issues of relevance to Alaska, and has since become Alaska’s premiere economic research institute. The institute’s research spans Alaska’s modern history from the effects of the 1964 earthquake disaster to the growing debate over Alaska’s permanent fund dividend. Some of ISER’s current projects include economic analyses, Alaska Native and rural studies, and education and social research.

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“Fran’s experience in the public policy arena for well over 30 years is very impressive,” Case said. “She was unanimously recommended as the strongest candidate for the job, and I concurred with that.”

Both private citizens and policymakers use ISER’s research. Recently, ISER began incorporating school districts, communities and universities into its research projects. ISER’s statewide reputation is something Ulmer commented she would like to see strengthened even more.

“ISER has an excellent reputation as a nonpartisan institute of research and analysis,” Ulmer said. “I want to continue that tradition, but expand the issues we work on and the way that we assist the public policy dialogue both on and off campus.”

Ulmer said her primary goal is to increase ISER’s usefulness to the state.

“I would like to expand ISER’s impact so that it is more useful to policy makers, in both the public and private sectors,” Ulmer said.

Current ISER director Scott Goldsmith will continue working with the institute as a research economist.