UAF names 2023 honorary degree, service award recipients

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has selected six people to honor during its 2023 commencement weekend in May.

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and Helen (Dick) MacLean will receive honorary doctorates, which recognize recipients’ lasting contributions to the state and nation, and significant achievements in their respective disciplines.

a women wearing removes bark from a birch tree
Courtesy of Helen MacLean
Helen (Dick) MacLean

Helen (Dick) MacLean
Helen (Dick) MacLean will receive an honorary Doctor of Education degree. She was born in 1945 in a tent at spring camp and grew up in Lime Village, which is located along the Stony River in Southwest Alaska. Elders trained MacLean in the Dena’ina language, and she was charged as a young girl to be a culture bearer. For decades, MacLean has worked with students of all backgrounds, from preschoolers to college students. She is a master instructor of the Dena’ina language and has a long history of working with doctoral students as a mentor and advisor. She was the primary instructor in two films, “Living Dena-ina” and “Dena’ina Birch Baskets.” She has served as an elder advisor to UAF’s rural development seminars and has been vital in developing Dena’ina curriculum for university courses. She is considered the most skilled living Dena’ina first language speaker and is known for her ability to bridge Western pedagogy and Indigenous ways of knowing.

a portrait of a man in a black shirt and Indigenous necklace
Courtesy of Richard Peterson
Richard Peterson

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson
Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He is Tlingit from the Kaagwaantaan clan, Eagles Nest house, and a lifelong resident of Southeast Alaska. He grew up in Kasaan, a community on Prince of Wales Island, and became the youngest mayor in Alaska in 1997. He has served as president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, a federally recognized tribe in Southeast Alaska, since 2014. With a strong background in public service and entrepreneurship, he leads the largest regional tribe in the state with a focus on economic development, tribal sovereignty and community sustainability. His innovative approach to supporting Southeast Alaska communities through the COVID-19 pandemic has been adopted and recognized as a template for best practices in tribal disaster response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Joan Braddock, Carl Benson, Jason Gootee and Ron Inouye will receive Meritorious Service Awards, which recognize service to the university or an Alaska community.

A woman with blonde hair and glasses
Courtesy of Joan Braddock
Joan Braddock

Joan Braddock
Microbiologist and UAF alumna Joan Braddock has been a part of the UAF community for more than four decades. She earned her doctorate in oceanography from UAF in 1989 and joined the faculty the following year. Her scientific research focused on bioremediation of environmental contaminants, especially petroleum. Throughout her career, she served as a professor and then dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. She retired with emeritus status in 2009. In addition to being a donor and consistent volunteer at the university, Braddock has returned twice to provide temporary leadership to units with vacancies: once as interim dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and another as director of the University of Alaska Press.

A man wearing a pink blazer
Courtesy of Jason Gootee
Jason Gootee

Jason Gootee
Alumnus Jason Gootee has remained an active part of UAF since he graduated in 2005. He is a past president of the UAF Alumni Association Board of Directors, currently chairs the UAF Chancellor’s Board of Advisors and serves as a director on the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Directors. Gootee, who is Moda Health’s vice president for sales and strategic marketing development, lives in Oregon with his wife, Katie, and their four children but returns frequently to Fairbanks. He is an avid hockey fan and, together with his father, established the Gootee Family Hockey Scholarship to support UAF student-athletes.

A man wearing a red polo shirt
UAF photo
Ron Inouye

Ron Inouye
Ron Inouye has served the university for many years as both an employee and an advocate. His university career started in 1970 as an instructor at the Ketchikan Community College. Prior to his 17 years at the Rasmuson Library’s Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, he also worked at the UAF Center for Northern Educational Research. At the library, many of his years were dedicated to indexing Alaska’s periodicals. Today, the index is widely used by historians, researchers and students. During his time there, he also served as the interviewer for numerous oral history recordings. Inouye is a philanthropist and volunteer for numerous university and community organizations, serving with the Friends of the University of Alaska Museum of the North and the Rasmuson Library’s Rare Book Endowment Committee.

A man wearing a gray blazer
Courtesy of Carl Benson
Carl Benson

Carl Benson
Professor emeritus Carl Benson has been associated with UAF for more than 60 years. His career as a researcher and professor of geophysics and geology has been marked by significant contributions to snow and ice science in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica. He taught and mentored some of today’s leading scientists in the field. He worked at the university from 1960 until 1987, including a three-year term as chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and has continued his research, teaching and service long after retirement. He continues to give guest lectures and attend graduate student thesis and dissertation defenses. He and his wife, Ruth, are donors, volunteers and participants in the UAF community. Outside UAF, he is active in civic issues, sharing information via public testimony and newspaper columns.