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$10,000 Usibelli award winners named at UAF

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


Recipients of the 2005 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Research and Public Service awards have been announced at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Professor of Volcanology John Eichelberger was recognized for his research contributions, Professor of Statistics Dana Thomas for teaching and Associate Professor of Biology Abel Bult-Ito for public service. Each of the winners received a cash award of $10,000. A reception was held in their honor Monday, May 2 at 3:30 p.m. in UAF's Wood Center conference rooms C and D. University of Alaska Regent Joseph Usibelli Jr. was on hand for the awards presentation.

Eichelberger has been a researcher and teacher with UAF's Geophysical Institute and the College of Natural Science and Mathematics since 1991. He received bachelor and master of science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1974. He was a staff member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico from 1974-1979 and worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 1979-1991, where he was designated Distinguished Member of Technical Staff and later supervisor of the Geochemistry Division. He then came to UAF where he has served as chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics since 2003 and as coordinating scientist of the Alaska Volcano Observatory since 1992.

Eichelberger's research on active volcanoes such as Alaska's Katmai and Unzen volcano in Japan has led to paradigm shifts on the cause of chemically-zoned eruptions and why volcanoes sometimes erupt explosively and at other times produce lava flows. In July 2004, he and his team were able to successfully drill into the conduit of an active volcano, Unzen; the first time this had been done. His leadership of AVO has led to geophysical monitoring of 30 Alaska active volcanoes, making AVO first in the world for number of volcanoes under surveillance. He has published nearly 70 peer-reviewed papers including in the journals Nature and Science. Throughout his career, Eichelberger has linked his research to the teaching mission of the university. Under his leadership, AVO supports some 15 graduate students a year in volcano monitoring, research and education. He also founded an international volcanological summer field school that brings students from Russia, Japan and the U.S. together on active volcanoes in Alaska and Kamchatka, Russia.

Dana Thomas, the recipient of this year's teaching award, joined UAF faculty in 1981 and was promoted to full professor in 1996. He is well-known in the university and Fairbanks communities for his service, however his dedication in the classroom has been consistent throughout his 24-year teaching career. Whether Thomas is demystifying the complex world of statistics or bringing the theoretical to life, student opinions of his teaching abilities remain high from the undergraduate foundational courses to more complex graduate-level courses. In addition to serving on master's candidate committees, Thomas has been active with the graduate school and has shared his knowledge of statistics with students and departments across campus. He also has given of his time to help develop middle and high school mathematics curriculum.

Thomas has served as department chair and as special assistant to the chancellor on enrollment and assessment, provost's faculty associate for assessment and development and was co-chair of the institutional self-study steering committee that led to UAF's successful reaccreditation in 2002.

He has volunteered his services to UAF's Outdoor Adventures program as canoe instructor and to the United Way of the Tanana Valley since 1999, providing his expertise in reviewing and analyzing data for the Health and Human Services Indicator Report and a community action plan assessing critical needs for Interior Alaska residents. His book, "Resource Selection by Animals: Statistical Design and Analysis for Field Studies" is in its second edition and used by wildlife and fisheries researchers.

Thomas earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in biology in 1974, and a master's degree and Ph.D. in statistics from Oregon State University in Corvalis in 1978 and 1982, respectively.

Abel Bult-Ito, the recipient of this year's public service award, has been teaching at UAF since 1999. He is currently president of the UAF Faculty Senate and associate professor of biology with the Alaskan Basic Neuroscience Program. In the past five years, he has served on more than two dozen committees at the departmental, campus and statewide levels. He has worked tirelessly to facilitate effective communication between the Faculty Senate and university administration and played a leadership role in faculty involvement in performance-based budgeting. He has taken a leadership role in ensuring that UAF continues to be an equal opportunity employer and serves on the Chancellor's Campus Diversity Action Committee. His dedication is not limited to the university. He has served as an advisor for students participating in the Statewide High School Science Symposium and was recently reelected president of the Fairbanks Montessori School Board.

In addition, Abel continues to teach and conduct research. He is currently mentoring four Ph.D. and three master's candidate students and works closely with a number of undergraduate students in the neurosciences. In the past five years, Bult-Ito has successfully submitted National Institute of Health and University of Alaska grant proposals totaling more than $7.5 million. He has published eight peer-reviewed articles in journals such as the Journal of Neuroscience and the American Journal of Physiology.

He received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 1985 and 1988, respectively. He earned his Ph.D. in biology from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He was a postdoctoral fellow in molecular neuroscience at Yale University from 1993-1996 and held a post of the same name at Michigan State University from 1996-1997. He was tenure-track assistant professor at Middlebury College in Vermont from 1997-1999.

The awards, representing UAF's tripartite mission, are funded annually from a $600,000 endowment established by the Usibelli Coal Mine in 1992 and are considered one of the university's most prestigious awards. Nominees are evaluated by a committee which includes members from the faculty, the student body and a member of the UA Foundation Board of Trustees.

Note to editors: High-resolution, downloadable photos are available at http://www.uaf.edu/files/news/download/releasephotos/05/05Usibelli/.

CONTACT: Carla Browning, UAF public information officer, at (907) 474-7778 or e-mail: carla.browning@uaf.edu, or Hild Peters, assistant to the provost, at (907) 474-5178 or e-mail: fnhmp@uaf.edu.

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