There were two big challenges in following Roger “Doc”  Locandro’s natural resources class around the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska for two weeks. The first was getting up to speed on the enormous range of issues that confronted the class: Native American rights, wildlife and fishery management, clear cutting, tourism, the oil pipeline, natural disasters. The second challenge was gaining the confidence of the students, who were skeptical of two adult strangers in their midst.  

Doc sat for his "official interview" on a 12-hour ferry from the Whittier side of Prince William Sound to Cordova, a fishing village of about 4,000 residents, not reachable by road and the gateway to the Copper River Delta. Along the way we stopped in Valdez, the site of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Six years after the event at the time, the thought of this beautiful land covered in oil made us all sick. I haven’t bought gasoline from Exxon/Mobil since.

Early on, I stood along side photographer Nick Romanenko as he lined up the shot for a spectacular sunset view of Kenai Lake. The lake was steps away from the U.S. Forest Service cabins at Moose Pass, our home for two nights. Czar took many great shots on this trip, some of his best work didn’t make the cut. My favorite was of instructor Carlos Martin standing alone on a cliff with the majestic Harding Ice Field behind him. Instead, we used a less dramatic shot of a student at the ice field on the cover. I had the shot of Carlos blown up to poster size.    

The cover captures the essence of the story. In the magazine, stories about student life and learning often took a back seat to stories lauding top faculty and big donors. For the cover lines, we borrowed two prophetic sentences from a student's journal to incapsulate the experience: “Alaska has changed me. I will not leave this place the same.”

Doc, the Ernest Hemingway of Rutgers, nicknamed Nick  “Czar”  on this trip. The Alaskan experience turned Nick—among the closest riends I made in my 20 years at Rutgers—into a hunter and fisherman. We thought so much of the experience that we both took vacaltion time and paid our own way in 1997 to follow another of Doc’s classes through Newfoundland and Labador, Canada. In 2003, we were assigned to do a similar story, this time in Puerto Rico. While the class wasn’t Doc’s, he was along as an instructor.

We’ve since been guests several times at Doc’s Frog Hollow Peach Farm in Stockton, a rural oasis of enormous charm and character—and a part of New Jersey that the most New Jerseyans seldom see. You never leave hungry or thirsty—Doc taught a meat and edible plants class for many years on the Cook Campus. I met many professors in my years at Rutgers; no one was more committed, or was a more natural teacher than Doc. I count my lucky stars that our worlds collided, and I know that the Czar feels the same way.

Doc's Alaska

A Reflection