Award and posthumous doctorate honor Bernice Joseph

June 8, 2017

Leona Long

Bernice Joseph
Bernice Joseph

The late Bernice Joseph’s legacy as a higher-education visionary and an indigenous scholar has been honored by the creation of an award in her memory and the presentation of a posthumous doctorate.

At the time of her death in 2014, Joseph was vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In March, the Western Alliance of Community College Academic Leaders created the Bernice Joseph Award to recognize problem-solving and innovation among community colleges in the western United States.

Also in March, the University of South Australia granted Joseph a doctorate, the institution's first posthumous degree.

“Bernice lived her vision,” said Evon Peter, the current UAF vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education. “As a university leader and as an indigenous scholar, her innovative ideas and influence continues to be felt at home in Alaska and worldwide. Bernice helped set a precedent for delivering distance education in rural communities that is now being used in higher education institutions nationwide.”

The Bernice Joseph Award will be given annually to the organization or institution whose tool is selected from those submitted to the Academic Leaders Toolkit. The toolkit is a collection of online resources that help the two-year institutions' leaders. Peter Pinney, UAF associate vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education, presented the inaugural award to the University of Hawai'i Community Colleges for its Sector Mapping Tool at the alliance’s annual meeting in Long Beach, California, this March.

The University of South Australia awarded Joseph's doctorate during its March commencement ceremony in Adelaide. Joseph submitted her dissertation, “Indigenous and Western Knowledges: Transforming Educational Practices in Native Alaska,” before her death in 2014.

Joseph also was the first student to graduate from the university’s David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research. The college broke intellectual ground by becoming the first worldwide to include indigenous content in every undergraduate program.

Joseph’s sister, Kathleen Meckel, an assistant professor of Alaska Native studies and rural development at UAF, represented her family at both events.

“Bernice encouraged and inspired people to pursue their education while working tirelessly to increase access and create pathways for their education to occur,” Meckel said. “The distance education model Bernice worked to develop for the College of Rural and Community Development is now being adapted for indigenous communities in Australia. It’s amazing to realize the impact she had and continues to have. It makes the pain of losing her a little easier to bear."