Celebrating the fall 2021 Honorary Degree and Meritorious Service Award recipients

by Matt Jardin and Catalina Myers  |   

(All photos by James Evans, Chief of Photography and Videography, University of Alaska Anchorage)


On Wednesday, Dec. 1, the University of Alaska Anchorage honored individuals with the Meritorious Service Award and Honorary Degree during a special ceremony in advance of fall commencement. 

Honorary Degree

The criterion for individuals to receive an honorary degree from UAA is evidence of a significant and lasting contribution to the university, the state of Alaska or to the individuals' discipline or profession. It is UAA's honor and privilege to award Ann Fienup-Riordan and Elizabeth Ripley an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for the fall 2021 semester.

Ann Fienup-Riordan

Ann Fienup-Riordan
(Photo courtesy of Ann Fienup-Riordan)

The quintessential scholar, Ann Fienup-Riordan is a cultural anthropologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Fienup-Riordan chose a life of independent research over university affiliation. In so doing, she — along with her many Alaska Native collaborators — has given us an invaluable window into some of the traditions and stories of Alaska’s First People. At the same time, she has created a written record that will preserve in perpetuity the oral histories brought to life in her extensive body of publications.

Fienup-Riordan’s contributions to our understanding of Alaska Native history and culture are grounded in more than 40 years of collaboration with scholars and elders. She has authored  more than 20 books and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. A reviewer of her work, Mission of Change in Southwest Alaska: Conversations with Father René Astruc and Paul Dixon on Their Work with Yup’ik People, 1950-1988, wrote, “[Her] book is a model for how oral historians can deal effectively with complex material involving multiple narrators and contributes substantively to the body of oral history work that explores the lives of people who call Alaska home.”

In addition to her written scholarship, Fienup-Riordan’s contributions include curating the Anchorage Museum exhibit “Agaiyuliyurallput: The Living Tradition of Yup’ik Masks,” acting as consulting anthropologist to the Yupiit Nation and serving as consulting humanist for the Nelson Island Oral History Project. She also helped build the next generation of scholars by consulting with a host of academic researchers and teaching at both UAA and Alaska Pacific University.

If there’s one constant that runs through Fienup-Riordan’s scholarship, it is her recognition of the contributions made by her Alaska Native collaborators, as well as her gratitude toward, and affection for, the communities she studied. Introducing the 2021 book, Yungcautnguuq Nunam Qainga Tamarmi / All the Land’s Surface is Medicine: Edible and Medicinal Plants of Southwest Alaska, she wrote, “First and foremost, we thank the many elders who contributed to this book over the years. Close to one hundred men and women from all over southwest Alaska shared knowledge of their homeland. They are the authors of this book, and these are their stories.”

Elizabeth Ripley

Elizabeth Ripley
(Photo couresty of Elizabeth Ripley)

Elizabeth Ripley has dedicated her career to improving access to health care and the fundamentals shaping a population’s health: education, employment, early childhood development and community conditions. As chief executive officer of Mat-Su Health Foundation (MSHF), Ripley’s visionary goals consist of building upon her community’s strengths to grow Mat-Su’s economy, add living wage jobs and ensure Matanuska-Susitna Borough residents live, work and play in healthy environments.

Ripley helped lead the transformation of hospital services in Mat-Su from Valley Hospital to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. She represents the foundation on the hospital’s board of directors, which has continued to add licensed beds and services, including behavioral health. Under her leadership, the foundation increased its ownership percentage in Mat-Su Regional from 25% to 35%, ensuring a greater percentage of hospital profits remain in Mat-Su.

Since 2008, Ripley has led and reshaped MSHF, investing its share of hospital profits into the community through grants, scholarships and services. Growing from $2 million to $13 million annually under her guidance, she helped leverage millions in investments from state and national funders. With a goal to measurably improve the health of the Mat-Su population, she established MSHF as a credible source for health data and analysis; and through community partnerships and advocacy, she improved systems supporting Mat-Su residents — from behavioral health, child welfare and crisis response, to transportation and senior services.

Before joining MSHF, Ripley held numerous positions in health care. Currently, she serves on the boards of Philanthropy Northwest and Grantmakers in Health. She was recognized by the Alaska Public Health Association with its long-term service award in 2014 and presented with a YWCA Women of Achievement award in 2016. Ripley earned a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Western Maryland College and a Master of Arts in religion from Yale Divinity School. 

Ripley is known for her thoughtfulness, caring for others and dynamic leadership. She is a champion for providing quality health care for everyone and advocating for those who don’t have a voice. She works each day to make a difference in the lives of those around her.

Meritorious Service Award

The Meritorious Service Award is bestowed to an individual who has demonstrated significant work in the areas of public, academic, volunteer or philanthropic service to UAA, one of the community campuses or an Alaska community. It is UAA’s honor and privilege to award John Havelock, Thomas Hennessy, Ronald Swartz and Timothy Edwards the Meritorious Service Award for the fall 2021 semester.

John Havelock

John Havelock
(Photo courtesy of John Havelock)

Educated at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Havelock came to Alaska with statehood in 1959 as an assistant attorney general. He was soon appointed chief of the Civil Division office and was selected to serve as deputy attorney general. He was also elected to the board of the Alaska Bar Association and became Alaska’s representative to the American Bar Association.

Havelock was appointed as a White House Fellow, and spent a year serving as a special assistant to the secretary of agriculture. He focused on procuring grant programs for development in Alaska’s rural villages. Upon returning to the state, he worked to achieve a just settlement for Alaska Natives during the negotiation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.

In 1970, when William Egan was elected governor, he appointed Havelock as his attorney general. Havelock endeavored with the governor to change Alaska’s position on Alaska Native claims from an adversarial one to a cooperative one, helping to create a positive context for settling those claims. Concurrently, Havelock played a significant role in establishing a tax regime for the oil companies, authorization of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and enactment of the limited entry fisheries law. He helped transform Alaska’s fisheries, making them one of the most successful fishing industries worldwide. Additionally, he also crafted language for the privacy amendment to the Alaska Constitution, which provided the foundation for the Alaska Legislature adopting women’s right to an abortion in 1971.

After entering private practice, Havelock was called on by Gov. Steve Cowper to serve as chief counsel and staff director of the Alaska Spill Commission after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He later served as chair of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. Havelock also served Gov. Tony Knowles as the neutral member of a special commission on shooting wolves in Alaska.

Since he retired from state service, he has written a highly respected occasional column on public policy issues for the Anchorage Daily News. He has authored a book on the strengths and infirmities of the Alaska Constitution, Let’s Get It Right.

Thomas Hennessy, Ronald Swartz and Timothy Edwards

Since COVID-19 irrevocably changed life as we knew it, UAA’s COVID response team, including Timothy Edwards, director of safety with UAA’s Department of Environmental Health & Safety and Risk Management, Ronald Swartz, emergency manager, and Dr. Thomas Hennessy, an infectious disease epidemiologist, worked tirelessly to handle the evolving situation. The group exemplified leadership by providing guidance and developing protocols. Their safety, public health and crisis management expertise ensured operations ran smoothly at all three University of Alaska campuses.

Thomas Hennessy
(Photo courtesy of Thomas Hennessy)

In 1994, Thomas Hennessy, M.D., M.P.H., became an Epidemiology Intelligence Service fellow with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1998, he joined CDC’s Alaska field station, the Arctic Investigations Program. Throughout his 25-year career, Hennessy provided leadership in response to some of the largest outbreaks worldwide, including the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, 2003 SARS outbreak, 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and 2014 Ebola response in West Africa. In 2009, he joined UAA as an affiliate faculty for the Master of Public Health program. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Hennessy was invited to be a consulting epidemiologist by UAA alumna Natasha Pineda, director of the Anchorage Health Department at the time. Hennessy led a group of UAA faculty and students to support the Health Department’s response. He also joined UA’s COVID response team to provide medical expertise for mitigation and education efforts.

Ronald Swartz
(Photo courtesy of Ronald Swartz)

For two decades, Ronald Swartz has dedicated his career to UAA. Starting as an officer in the University Police Department, he rose through the ranks, eventually training new UPD officers. After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Swartz branched out to become an expert in all-hazards training. Not only has he trained UAA employees in emergency response but has offered training statewide on crisis management. In 2015, Swartz transitioned to his current emergency management position. Throughout the pandemic, Swartz liaised between the university, statewide and national emergency management teams.

Timothy Edwards
(Photo courtesy of Timothy Edwards)

Relatively new to UAA, Timothy Edwards served in the Air Force Active and Reserve for 30 years, 24 of them as director for safety at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Used to operating in stressful situations, Edwards served a tour in Afghanistan, surviving a rocket launch attack within hours of landing. He spent the latter half of his career managing flight safety for pilots, ground crews and aircraft. His training and experience helped him maintain calm in the middle of a storm. Although the pandemic forced Edwards and his team into extended work weeks, it was a situation he was all too familiar with and prepared to handle.

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