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Honorary degree recipients named

Submitted by Carla Browning
Phone: (907) 474-7778


Former USS Cole officer Rick Heckert will give the keynote address at the University of Alaska Fairbanks 82nd commencement ceremony Sunday, May 9. Honorary degrees will also be awarded during the ceremony to former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, Alaska Native leader Al Ketzler Sr. and pioneering Alaska geologist Austin Post.

Former USS Cole officer Rick HeckertHeckert graduated from UAF with a degree in chemistry in 1998. After attending officer candidate school in the U.S. Navy he was assigned to the Cole, which deployed in August 2000 for a six-month assignment in the Persian Gulf. Heckert, the ship's electrical officer, was on board Oct. 12, 2000, when, while in port for refueling in Aden, Yemen, a small boat filled with explosives blew up next to it, blasting a hole in the destroyer's side. The attack left 17 sailors dead, 39 injured and caused extensive structural damage.

Heckert was later assigned as the auxiliaries officer on the USS Stout and returned to the Gulf in October 2001 where he participated in enforcing the United Nations trade embargo on Iraq. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and the National Defense Medal. He's now living in Pullman, Wash. and plans to work towards a pharmacology degree this fall.

Lt. Gov. Jack CoghillUAF will also honor former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill, a lifelong Alaskan born in Fairbanks and raised in Nenana. Coghill will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

John B. "Jack" Coghill served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Alaska Command in the Aleutians during World War II where he received a good conduct and World War II Victory Medal. Coghill returned to Nenana after the war to run the family-owned business.

His political career began when he was elected to the Nenana School Board in 1948. Coghill then served as a territorial representative from 1953-1957 and was one of 55 delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention held at UAF in 1955.

Coghill served as mayor of Nenana for 22 years, making him the longest-serving mayor in Alaska history. In 1959 he was elected for a six-year term in the state senate and served in the senate again from 1984-1990. He was elected lieutenant governor on the Alaska Independence party ticket in 1990 and served under Gov. Walter Hickel.

Coghill is a longtime supporter of the university and one of the first members of the College of Fellows. He donated his framed copy of the state constitution and photographs of all 55 of the signers to the university, which are currently displayed in Signers' Hall.

Alaska Native leader Al Ketzler Also receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree this year is Alaska Native leader Al Ketzler Sr. In the early 1960s, Ketzler helped organize a region-wide meeting of Alaska Native people in Tanana to initiate the Native land claims movement and the organization of the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC). Ketzler traveled to Washington, D.C., to present a petition from 24 Alaska villages asking then Interior Secretary Stewart Udall to freeze state land selections until Native claims issues were settled. He served as an Alaska field representative for the Association on American Indian Affairs and was one of five people authorized to negotiate terms of the land claims settlement issue. In 1969, he was elected the first president of TCC, which now serves more than 40 villages, has more than 800 employees and benefits 13,000 Alaskans.

Ketzler became the deputy director of the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1970. He was appointed acting executive director in 1971 where he worked to increase support for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon Dec. 18, 1971. He retired from TCC in 2002 after serving 21 years, including 11 as chief administrative officer. Ketzler also helped organize the first Alaska Native publication, the "Tundra Times." He has a long history of working with the university's Cooperative Extension Service and promoting formal educational opportunities to Alaska Native people, including extension education in agriculture and 4-H programs for young people.

USGS research hydrologist, Austin PostRetired U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research hydrologist Austin Post will be honored with an honorary doctor of sciences degree for his contributions to the field of glaciology.

Post received the Richard C. Hubley Crystal in 1990 for his pioneering analysis of aerial photography to study the dynamics of glaciers. His work has led to better understanding of glacial surges, calving and the stability of tidewater glaciers for which he was recognized with the Meritorious Service Award from the USGS in 1984.

His body of work is used as the basis for ongoing studies in glaciology at UAF's Geophysical Institute and around the world. After more than 20 years documenting glaciers for the USGS and the University of Washington, Post is credited with one of the most extensive photograph collections of glaciers in the world as well as predicting the retreat of Alaska's Columbia glacier and potential hazards in shipping lanes due to ice flows. He has produced several publications and technical reports, including the book "Glacier Ice," which he co-authored with Edward R. LaChapelle.

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, he helped establish the Iceberg Monitoring Project in Prince William Sound, a two-year project funded by the Regional Citizens' Advisory Council to obtain time-lapse photography of ice leaving Columbia Glacier and causing hazards in nearby shipping lanes. Icebergs are thought to have played a role in the spill as the Exxon Valdez had shifted course to avoid them and subsequently ran aground on Bligh Reef dumping 11 million gallons of oil into the sound. Post is unable to travel to Alaska for the commencement ceremony, so UAF Chancellor Marshall Lind will present his degree during a private ceremony at his home in Vashon, Wash. Honorary degree recipients are selected for significant achievements that have brought distinction to their academic or professional careers, and for their lasting contributions to the state and the nation.

Note to editors: High-resolution downloadable photos are available at http://www.uaf.edu/files/news/download/releasephotos/hdr04