Brina Kessel


In May 2018, we invited the community to join us for a special celebration of the museum's collections! Visitors learned about the legacy of Brina Kessel, who has endowed the museum with one of the largest gifts in the history of the university. They explored the museum's collections, saw objects and specimens, met curators and collection managers, and more.


Kessel was a former ornithology curator at the museum and a true scientific pioneer, says curator Kevin Winker. “Brina paved a bold new road in Alaska ornithology for succeeding generations. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with her and to try to follow in her footsteps.”

Brina Kessel, UAF photo

After her death in March 2016, the estate of Brina Kessel worked to fund the Birds of Alaska project. She had dreamed of supporting ongoing efforts to document birds in Alaska and research at the UA Museum of the North. Her estate awarded one of the largest gifts in the history of philanthropy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Part of that gift is funding the Kessel Ornithology Endowment Fund.

By all accounts, Brina Kessel was extraordinary. The UAF professor rose quickly to head the Department of Biological Sciences in 1957 and was named the first female dean of the College of Biological Sciences and Renewable Resources in 1962, a position she held until 1972. In 1980, she declined further administrative responsibilities to concentrate her efforts on research and the development of the University of Alaska Museum. In 1999, she was awarded emeritus status as professor, dean, and curator of ornithology. Her research took her to nearly every corner of Alaska.

Kessel published numerous ornithological papers and books. In 1993, a Friends of Brina Kessel Committee established the Brina Kessel Medal for Excellence in Science to be awarded annually to honor an outstanding University of Alaska undergraduate science student. Later, Brina established an endowment so that a monetary award could be added to the honor.

Read more about Kessel's legacy from the museum's bird collection.

If you would like to join Kessel in supporting birds and other collections at the museum, contributions may be made to the University of Alaska Foundation (fund 40815), P.O. Box 755080, Fairbanks, AK 99775.