University Honors 2012 Usibelli Award Recipients
Fairbanks, Alaska—The University of Alaska Fairbanks has announced recipients of the 2012 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Research and Public Service Awards. Debendra Das, professor of engineering and mines in the College of Engineering and Mines, received the teaching award; Sergei Avdonin, professor of mathematics and statistics in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, received the research award; and Kenji Yoshikawa, research professor at the Institute of Northern Engineering, received the service award. All three were honored at a reception Tuesday at the UA Museum of the North. Das first joined UAF in 1984 as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. In addition to his excellence in teaching, Das’ contributions in the area of student mentorship and involving them in his research have been extraordinary, according to CEM dean Doug Goering. “He has worked to include many undergraduate students in his research and helped them reap the rewards of his work via publications and paper presentations,” wrote Goering in his nomination letter for Das. “Deben’s highest priority has clearly been to enhance the experience of students through efforts that extent well beyond the traditional bounds of the classroom.” Over the years, Das has been recognized for his work as an advisor, including the UAF Carol Feist Outstanding Advisor Award in both 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. In 2006, he received the national Student Section Advisor Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and, in 2007, the ASME Dedicated Service Award. Goering also praised Das for his commitment to graduate students. “Several times he has ‘rescued’ graduate studentsfrom failure and worked tirelessly to ensure their success,” wrote Goering. “In every case that I am aware of he was able to successfully turn around the academic programs of these students and lead them to a UAF graduate degree and careers in industry.” Das holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from University of Rhode Island. Avdonin has built a distinguished career in mathematics research. His current research focuses on mathematical studies for glaciology and he has developed new methods that offer a major step toward predictive glacier models, which are important in the study of glacier-climate interactions, ice-core dating and assessment of natural hazards. Avdonin began his career in the late 1970s at the department of mathematical sciences at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, where he rose to the position of professor in 1991. He spent time as professor and chair of the department of mathematics at St. Petersburg University of Economics and Engineering and as a senior research fellow at The Flinders University of South Australia. Prior to joining UAF in 2001, he served a year as a visiting professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Avdonin’s international reputation immediately improved UAF’s stature in mathematics,” wrote nominator and colleague, John Rhodes. “His presence with the department of mathematical sciences helped it focus more clearly on its research mission. By quiet example, Avodnin has helped set the research tone and encouraged a remarkably high productivity rate for the department.” Avdonin’s publication record includes more than 35 peer-reviewed articles since coming to UAF. Prior to that, he authored nearly 70 peer-reviewed articles. “This publication record is very impressive by mathematical norms, since one quality paper a year can easily be all a top researcher can produce,” Rhodes stated. Avdonin received his master’s degree in physics and mathematical physics, his doctorate in mathematics and his doctor of science degree inmathematics from St. Petersburg State University in Leningrad. Since arriving at UAF in 1999, Yoshikawa has launched a research outreacheffort on the study of permafrost for students and teachers in rural Alaska, Canada, Russia and other countries. Yoshikawa has created a comprehensive network of close to 200 communitiesand schools to monitor the state of permafrost across the circumpolar North. He has traveled to villages around the state to install permafrost temperature monitoring instruments, known as “frost tubes,”and worked with local students and teachers to have them monitor and record the data collected from the tubes. When he visits the communities, heexplains his work to community members and teachers and instructs students in the classroom with self-created manuals and materials. “The effort not only illustrates the joy of scientific discovery to children, it literally transforms them into engaged scientists,”wrote nominator Bill Schnabel, director of the UAF Water and Environmental Research Center. Yoshikawa’s outreach methods are known for their originality. He created a superhero, Tunnel Man, to help get students more excited about the science of permafrost and has introduced them to Tunnel Man through YouTube videos and comic books. “Kenji has been a huge supporter of my students, our school science program and a model of encouragement to many of my rural students,” wrote Robbie Everett, former science teacher for Kotzebue Middle/HighSchool. “Because of Kenji, many more now really do love science.” Other recent outreach endeavors include developing an ice-cellar monitoring program in Alaska whaling communities to see how permafrost-cooled food-storage chambers may be changing and developing a magazine featuring village temperature data, frost depth and interviews with elders. Yoshikawa received both his master’s and doctorate degree in environmental science from Hokkaido University. The Emil Usibelli Distinguished Teaching, Research and Public Service Awards are considered one of the university’s most prestigious awards. They represent UAF’s tripartite mission and are funded annually from a $600,000 endowment established by Usibelli Coal Mine in 1992. Each year, a committee that includes members from the faculty, the student body and a member of the UA Foundation Board of Trustees evaluates the nominees. Each of the winners receives a cash award of $10,000.