Spring 2014: UAA to award two honorary degrees at commencement

by Jamie Gonzales  |   

On Sunday, May 4, UAA will congregate in the Sullivan Arena to honor graduates and pay tribute to some of the Alaskans who inspire their achievements. This year, honorary doctorates will be awarded to Dr. Alex Hills, a telecommunications pioneer, author, philanthropist and student mentor, and William and Karen Workman, respected anthropologists and archaeologists who have traveled widely throughout Alaska to conduct field research.

Each year, UAA also confers a Meritorious Service Award on an individual who has dedicated him/herself to serving the state of Alaska. This year, Marie Meade was nominated by her peers to receive the award for her dedicated service to preserving Alaska Native languages and culture. Read more about the award recipients below in their brief biographies.

Dr. Alex Hills, Honorary Doctor of Letters

Alex Hills

Dr. Alex Hills awarded Honorary Doctor of Letters at UAA Commencement 2014. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

Dr. Alex Hills's innovations have transformed communication in our state. A 44-year Alaskan, Hills is now Distinguished Service Professor of Engineering & Public Policy and Electrical & Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. But, beginning in the early 1970s, he worked on developing our state's public radio network, first focusing on building radio stations in western Alaska. Then Hills led the bush telephone field crews that installed the VHF radiophones that provided the first telephone service in Alaska's villages. His goal was simple-that even the smallest village could receive radio broadcast coverage, telephone service and eventually television service.

At Carnegie Mellon he developed the first ever campus-wide, high-speed wireless network, which served as the prototype for modern Wi-Fi networks in Alaska, across the nation and around the world.

Hills has combined his passions for empowering students and for improving the lives of those in impoverished areas of the world by supervising student projects in many developing nations.

Hills has taught classes at UAA, sponsored undergraduate research and civic engagement awards, and served on the Advisory Boards of the College of Engineering, the Honors College and the Mat-Su College. He has advocated strongly with our Legislature for engineering facilities at both UAA and UAF, and he has sponsored an engineering scholarship through the University of Alaska Foundation.

Hills's book Wi-Fi and the Bad Boys of Radio chronicles his adventures building both the communication system for the Alaska bush and that first Wi-Fi network. His latest book Geeks on a Mission describes how his students help people in developing nations.

In 2007 he was named Alaska's "Engineer of the Year." Today he is just as likely to be found volunteering for community projects near his home in Palmer as teaching and advising UAA students or working on a project on the other side of the world.

William and Karen Workman, Honorary Doctor of Letters

Karen and William Workman

Karen and William Workman awarded Honorary Doctor of Letters at UAA Commencement 2014. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage.

The Workmans came to Alaska in 1969, part of an international group of graduates from the University of Wisconsin Madison who had specialized in circumpolar studies. William earned B.A. (1963), M.A. (1969) and Ph.D. (1974) degrees in anthropology. He is a UAA Professor Emeritus who taught from 1977 to 2005 here, and at Alaska Methodist University (AMU) (now Alaska Pacific University) until 1976. He was the second archaeologist at AMU and the third statewide, while Karen was the fourth when hired as state archaeologist within the newly created Office of History and Archaeology in the Division of Parks in 1972. Karen has a B.A. in anthropology from Montana State University, Missoula (1964) and an M.A. in archaeology from UW Madison.

William began work on Kodiak in 1962, returned in 1963 and, 50 years ago in 1964, he and Kodiak native son Donald Clark surveyed Kodiak coastlines after the Great Alaska Earthquake, finding several 7,000-year-old Ocean Bay sea mammal hunting occupations there. His interest in maritime adaptations spurred the creation of field schools on Afognak and in Kachemak Bay.

Karen traveled widely south of the Brooks Range for the State of Alaska. She surveyed by helicopter the proposed Road to Nome, went on hands and knees over the Copper River Railroad and many less extreme cases in advance of highway and aviation construction around the state. An avid researcher, a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, her diverse background includes social work, museums and libraries.

Karen and Bill met in graduate school, were married late in 1967, spent the summer of 1968 in Aishihik and have since shared subarctic fieldwork (Karen for nine seasons, Bill for many more), laboratory analysis, report writing and editing for over 30 years. William is a four-field anthropologist who most enjoyed teaching undergraduates and hosting with Karen Arctic archaeologists from all over the world as they passed through Anchorage. William estimates he has taught 3,500 students at UAA and meticulously graded close to 300 blue books each semester.

Marie Meade, Meritorious Service Award

Marie Meade

Marie Meade honored with Meritorious Service Award at UAA Commencement 2014. Photo courtesy of Marie Meade.

Marie Meade is a humanities scholar, language expert, educator and Yup'ik tradition bearer. In 1970 she was chosen by her community of Nunapicuaq to teach the village's first bilingual program for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Though she grew up speaking Yup'ik, she learned how to read and write the language so she could teach village children. Later, while studying structure and grammar, she created teaching materials for the Yup'ik Language Workshop and helped develop bilingual programs in Alaska. Over the years, she has taught Yup'ik throughout Alaska as well as in Oregon. She has taught Yup'ik language and culture courses for UAA's Alaska Native Studies Program for more than a decade.

Marie has organized and curated cultural exhibits and served as a translator for international exhibits and publications. She has also authored and edited works that contribute to Yup'ik scholarship.

Her work as a translator and interviewer has included oral history projects, AT&T's language line, coaching and voiceovers for a Hollywood film, public service announcements and KYUK Radio reporting in Bethel.

Marie is a member of the International Council of Indigenous Grandmothers, which meets throughout the world to encourage the teaching of indigenous languages. She was part of the world-traveling Nunamta Yup'ik dance troupe and is teacher and mother to Pamyua, a singing group that has won a Native American Grammy Award.

As a person, a language expert, and an elder, her contributions to the humanities, to academia and to Yup'ik language and cultural education have been invaluable and irreplaceable.

Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement. 

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