UAF announces 2019 Usibelli Award recipients

August 29, 2019

Jeff Richardson

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has announced the winners of the 2019 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Service and Research Awards.

The Distinguished Teaching Award will go to Charles Mason, a photography professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism. The Distinguished Research Award will be presented to Katey Walter Anthony, a research professor at UAF’s Water and Environmental Research Center. Michael West, research professor and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, will receive the Distinguished Service Award.

Charles Mason
Charles Mason

Mason has taught photography and photojournalism at UAF since 1990, and has spent more than 10 years as department chair during that time. He previously worked as a staff photographer at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and his award-winning photos have appeared in art shows and numerous major publications.

Students who nominated Mason praised his humor, patience and willingness to challenge them academically. His time at UAF has spanned the shift from film to digital photography, and he has even developed a recent expertise in making photos with a wet-plate technique from the 1800s. His students have gone on to a variety of related careers, including photojournalism, commercial photography and filmmaking.

“It’s professors like Charles Mason that propel students beyond ‘the default,’” wrote his former student Ben Grossmann, a 1995 UAF alumnus, in a nomination letter. “He challenges his students to do great work, and he reminds them they have everything they need to be the best in the world, and motivates them to be whatever they want in life.”

Mason earned a bachelor’s degree in natural science and mathematics from Washington and Lee University, and a master’s degree in documentary photography from Illinois State University.

Katey Walter Anthony
Katey Walter Anthony

Walter Anthony joined UAF’s Institute of Northern Engineering in 2007 and has established a strong research program focused on the effects of degrading permafrost on climate change. Her efforts have raised awareness of the self-perpetuating cycle of permafrost-released methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Walter Anthony is recognized as an expert on the subject through both professional journals and popular media articles. She and her research group have established a program to monitor methane bubbling from northern lakes with the help of scientists, teachers, citizens and satellites. Her popular YouTube videos that show methane gas being ignited from icy lake bubbles have helped illustrate the issue to a broader audience.

Matthew Wooller, the UAF Alaska Stable Isotope Facility's director, said Walter Anthony has raised the profile of a critical subject.

“Dr. Walter Anthony has established herself and her group as a world leader in the research area of methane-related biogeochemistry, an area that will be increasingly in demand in light of ongoing environmental changes in the Arctic,” Wooller wrote in his nomination letter.

Walter Anthony earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Mount Holyoke College, a master’s degree in ecology from University of California, Davis, and a Ph.D. in biology from UAF.

Michael West
Michael West

West has worked at UAF’s Geophysical Institute since 2004 and has served as Alaska state seismologist since 2012. He directs the Alaska Earthquake Center and leads its mission to reduce Alaska’s vulnerability to earthquakes through monitoring, research and public engagement.

West has promoted Alaska’s earthquake research needs at the national level and has advocated for several congressional bills related to natural hazards. Through his efforts, the center has improved and expanded monitoring of Alaska's earthquakes, which occur throughout the state at an average rate of once every 10 minutes. West coordinates a strong team at the center and has emphasized providing reliable and engaging information to the public, media and policymakers.

“He has built up a reservoir of trust and goodwill, and become a true leader in the state of Alaska on the issue of earthquakes,” wrote Jeff Freymueller, a Michigan State University professor and former UAF colleague, in his nomination letter.

West earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

The Usibelli Awards are among the university’s most prestigious awards. They are funded annually from an endowment of more than $750,000 that Usibelli Coal Mine established in 1992.

Each year, a committee that includes members from the faculty, the student body and the UA Foundation board evaluates the nominees. Each winner receives a cash award of $10,000.