The draw to leave the Philippines for the United States and pursue graduate work at Cornell and Colorado State was a strong one for Dr. Elena Sparrow, and based on her love of earth science. The move started her impressive career at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where she continues to create and manage programs that have influenced the lives of educators and students alike. She attributes her mentoring philosophy to her mother's influence, and recalls her mother telling her "For your inheritance, I do not have money to give you, nor land, because the only land I have is in the flower pots; but education—that I can give you." It is a simple, compelling way to think about mentoring.
Dr. Sparrow embraces the notion that truly successful mentoring comes not from a demographic or attitudinal match between the mentor and the mentee but, rather, in the mentor being able to provide what the mentee needs. In 1996, she founded the Alaska Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program through the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in order to bring science content and the scientific process into K-12 classrooms. The Alaska GLOBE partnership has the responsibility to recruit GLOBE Schools, train GLOBE teachers, and mentor GLOBE students throughout Alaska. Support for her work came from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Her reach is international as well: Through the NSF-funded GLOBE Seasons and Biomes project, her team mentored and trained over 1,400 teachers and trainers from more than 50 countries.
She created a high school summer research internship program for students from rural Alaska (a majority being Alaska natives), as well as a 15-year program beginning in 1984 that recognized female K-12 students who produced and presented outstanding science fair projects. Since 2011, she has led the Experience Science, Expect a Challenge event where Girl Scouts in Alaska participate in hands-on, minds-on science sessions in soil science, wildlife biology, and botany, to name a few fields.
Dr. Sparrow received the 2014 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Service Award from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, as well as the 2013 Outstanding Alumni in Educational Innovation by the University of the Philippines. The Alaska Science Teachers Association presented her with the 2009 Emma Walton Distinguished Service Award.