The Last Word: Fran Ulmer ’72

Interview compiled and edited by Karen Koethe

Chair of the US Arctic Research Commission

Fran Ulmer director photo redDescribe your current job.
In 2011, President Obama appointed me chair of the US Arctic Research Commission. The commission is an independent federal agency that provides advice to the President, Congress, and federal agencies on research in the Arctic.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The opportunity to learn, engage, collaborate, influence, and contribute to science and policy about the Arctic — a very special, valuable, and vulnerable region. Four million people call the Arctic home, many of whom are indigenous. Countless marine mammals, land mammals, fish, and birds populate the area. And the region has significant oil, gas, and mineral resources. As the ice retreats, species must adapt quickly or not survive. One of my projects, creating the Arctic Update e-newsletter, ensures that we can get the word out about important Arctic congressional hearings, legislative actions, noteworthy news stories, and future events related to the Arctic.

Why did you go to law school?
As a double major in economics and political science, I wanted a career in public policy, and I felt that as a woman, I needed an advanced degree to be taken seriously. Law school seemed like the best option, and I was right.

Who was your favorite UW Law professor and why?
Frank Tuerkheimer was one of my favorites. He was a very good communicator and made his class more meaningful with real-world examples.

Who is your favorite lawyer of all time?
My late husband, Bill Council. He was smart, competent, hard working, funny, and kind.

How do you define success?
To me, success is using your talents and opportunities to make a positive difference in your field and in your community.

What is your most prized possession?
A remote, historic cabin on an island in southeast Alaska very close to Glacier Bay National Park. This stunning area is alive with sea otters, whales, eagles, and deer. My family has gone there for decades to reconnect with the abundant and beautiful nature that restores spirits.