Distinguished award archives
The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the association's most prestigious award. It was first awarded in 1962 and continues to annually recognize living graduates of UAF. Alumni are selected for the award based on meritorious service on behalf of UAF, distinguished accomplishments in business and professional life, or distinguished human service in community affairs.
All alumni are encouraged to nominate individuals for the Distinguished Alumnus Award. There must be three letters of support for the nomination, all from UAF graduates or former students. The nomination should include information on the candidate's life achievements.
2019 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner
Neal Fried ’78
Neal Fried took the long way to a career in economics in Alaska. He was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Vienna, Austria. He is one of six boys and moved with his family overseas when his father took a job with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1960. The Fried boys attended the American International School and became bilingual in German and English.
Fried moved to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks where he earned degrees in both economics and history. Today, Fried is the supervisor of the Anchorage office of the Alaska Department of Labor. He has worked as an economist in Alaska for more than 40 years, an exciting time to observe the field as the state’s economy changed dramatically with the discovery of oil and other innovations.
Fried’s role has been as a producer of objective economic and demographic measures and analysis. He has not been a political advocate or policymaker.
“His signature bow ties and ability to relate to Alaskans across the economic and cultural spectrums set Neal apart,” wrote Robert Coghill Jr., a UAF classmate and lifelong Alaskan, in nominating Fried. “In addition to generating succinct and readable reports of the state, Neal has addressed chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, Alaska Native organizations and a host of other organizations.”
Some of the topics Fried has analyzed include the cost of living in the state; annual forecasts for Anchorage, Fairbanks and Alaska’s economy; construction; income and wage trends; the military; the health care industry; transportation; oil industry issues; labor needs; rural economic trends; the economic impact of the 1989 Prince William Sound oil spill; and Alaska's largest employers.
Fried met his wife Mary Hilcoske ’76 (B.A.) at UAF. They were married in 1982 in Anchorage and have two grown children, Ruby and Evan.
2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner
Eric Toskey `86, `90
Eric’s story shows that a UAF degree can take you anywhere. Eric is a 1982 graduate of Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, and earned his bachelor of science in petroleum engineering in 1986 and his master’s degree in petroleum engineering in 1990. During his 20 years with Schlumberger, Eric visited or lived in 40 different countries around the globe, including in the former USSR.
In 2009, Eric and his family decided to come back to the states where he went to work at Letton Hall Group in Houston, an engineering firm that specializes in oil and gas flow. At Letton Hall Group there are at least three UAF alumni that Eric has hired. In addition to running the company, Eric continues to focus on technical innovation.
Eric has contributed much to the global oil and gas industry having been involved in logging and testing oil and gas wells, production systems research, running jack-up rig operations offshore, and connecting field operations to global information databases. He’s led production systems research and development, and multiphase flow measurement.
Dr. Shirish Patil, a professor of petroleum engineering, wrote in his nomination letter: “Eric Toskey has made outstanding contributions to the oil and gas industry through research and <development, administration, and support of University of Alaska Fairbanks students. In all these, he has exhibited tremendous originality, creativity, dedication and leadership. In my view, he represents the best characteristics of a true leader.
2017 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner
Virginia Farmier `84
The Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna award is based on specific meritorious service on behalf of UAF, distinguished accomplishments in business and professional life, or distinguished human service in community affairs. Our 2017 Distinguished Alumna, Virginia Farmier, fits all these categories and more.Virginia moved to Fairbanks from Alabama in May 1972. She attended Lathrop High School and went to work for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in her junior year. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree at UAF in Business Administration in 1984, with a focus on accounting. After graduating, Virginia moved into the position of controller at the News-Miner and shortly after started serving on the board of directors as treasurer of the corporation. She worked for C. W. "Bill" Snedden, the newspaper’s publisher, from November 1974 until he passed away in July 1989. She continued working with his wife, Helen Snedden, for more than 20 years after that. While working with Helen, Virginia was able to create an endowed chair of journalism at UAF in 2003 in memory of Bill. Since then, UAF has been able to bring high-caliber journalists to the university each year, providing many students with the opportunity to learn the craft of journalism.When Helen passed away in May 2012, her estate created two foundations: the Helen E. Snedden Foundation and the Snedden Family Foundation. The Helen E. Snedden Foundation purchased the News-Miner in January 2016, Serving as the sole trustee and executive director of the two foundations, Virginia facilitated the purchase of the newspaper, among many other projects around the community. She currently serves as a committee member of the Snedden Chair of Journalism at UAF and is involved in many other community organizations in Fairbanks.With all of her community involvement, Virginia still manages to run her own accounting practice, True North Business Services. She has a son, Chris Farmier, and is the proud grandma to Andrew and Mercedes. She is a Lifetime member of the Alumni Association. While Virginia is the type of alum who seems to attend everything and be everywhere, she’s never been one to seek the center of attention or demand or expect recognition. The Alumni Association is honored to present the 2017 Distinguished Alumna award to Virginia Farmier.
Chantal R. Walsh `85
Since earning her bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from UAF in 1985, Chantal Walsh has worked to resolve critical technical challenges to improve recovery of Alaska’s oil and gas. During a span of more than 30 years, she has held positions with BP, Arco, Chevron and Petrotechnical Resources Alaska.
Chantal also has remained a steadfast advocate for UAF and engineering education. In all her jobs, Chantal has mentored young engineers and interns. When Arco honored Chantal with its Outstanding Technical Achievement Award in 1999, she contributed part of the award to UAF. She serves as vice chair of the College of Engineering and Mines’ advisory council and was a member of the Department of Petroleum Engineering’s advisory board. She has championed completion of the new UAF engineering building with regents, legislators and oil and gas industry leaders.
Born in Cordova, Chantal spent several years in her mother’s native France before moving to Anchorage with her parents, three brothers and two sisters. Her father, Tom Tunley, also graduated from UAF’s engineering program before receiving a master’s degree in mining engineering from Stanford University.
Chantal lives in Anchorage with her husband, Tom, and her three children, Sophie, Alexander and Marshall.
Chantal’s volunteer activities are extensive. She has served as a judge for the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ prestigious Petrobowl competition for students representing universities around the world. She has led sessions and committees at several SPE regional meetings. Chantal commits her time, talents and financial resources to the United Way of Anchorage, Habitat for Humanity, her local PTA (even though her children are now grown) and a variety of other local nonprofits.
2015 Distinguished Alumnus award
Sherry Simpson ’86, ’95
Sherry Simpson’s most recent book is “Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska.” The book won the 2015 John Burroughs Medal, putting her in the company of John McPhee, Peter Matthiessen, Aldo Leopold, Barry Lopez, Richard Nelson and many other internationally known natural history writers.
Sherry grew up in Juneau after her family moved there when she was 7 years old. At UAF, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in creative writing.
Sherry worked for many years as a staff reporter and freelance writer for newspapers and other media outlets in Alaska. She was a contributing editor to Alaska magazine.
In addition to “Dominion of Bears” and several travel books, Sherry has published two essay collections, “The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska” and “The Way Winter Comes,” the winner of the inaugural Chinook Literary Prize. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies.
Sherry is a professor of creative writing in the master’s program at UAA and a faculty mentor in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She and her husband, Scott Kiefer, live in Mimbres, New Mexico.
2014 Distinguished Alumnus award
Frank Paskvan, '85
Frank Paskvan, a third-generation Alaskan, followed his father’s footsteps to the UAF College of Engineering and Mines. He received a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering in 1985. Frank has worked for BP and ARCO for 26 years in Alaska and Jakarta, Indonesia, as a reservoir engineer, mentor-coach and team manager. Frank has worked on a wide variety of oil and gas fields from discovery through project approval and operation. Frank led BP’s research into Alaska’s viscous and heavy oil developments and now leads development planning for the Prudhoe Bay area.
Frank is BP’s University of Alaska champion, actively supporting college recruiting, research and development, and continuing education at the UA Process Technology program. Frank serves on the UAF College of Engineering and Mines Advisory and Development Council, the United Way of Anchorage's Board of Directors and the UA Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association Fairbanks Chapter awards Frank Paskvanl with the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award.
2013 Distinguished Alumnus award
Information is coming soon.
2012 Distinguished Alumnus award
Claus-M. Naske, ’61
Claus-M. Naske was born in Stettin, Pomerania in 1935. During World War II, his family
attempted to flee their province in advance of Russian troops; unfortunately they
were unsuccessful. Eventually the German population was evicted from the province
in July 1945. He and his family walked across Germany and reached Goslar in the Harz
Mountains in October where they reunited with his father.
Claus attended school in Goslar, but left in the ninth grade to start an agricultural management apprenticeship that allowed him to emigrate to Palmer, Alaska, in 1954. After only 28 days in Palmer, Naske broke his leg and decided to attend high school. Naske graduated in a year and then went to work for the Alaska Road Commission. In January 1957, he moved to Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He married Dinah in May 1960 and graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees, in political science and history, in 1961. Naske received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1964 and his doctorate from Washington State University in 1970. He became a faculty member at UA in 1969. While maintaining his full load as a professor of history, in 1988, Naske also became director of the University of Alaska Press overseeing the production of scholarly work on the North. He encouraged the research and writing of many authors. Claus retired as an emeritus professor in 2001, but continued at the UA Press until 2004.
Naske has garnered a reputation as one of the state’s most prominent historians. He captured respect and attention on local, state, federal and international levels with his expertise on numerous topics within the realm of Alaska’s history, from its position as a Russian outpost to a U.S. territory and ultimately statehood. He has authored and co-authored numerous books, including Bob Bartlett of Alaska: A Life in Politics, 1979; A History of Alaska Statehood, 1985; and Ernest Gruening: Alaska’s Greatest Governor, 2004. Naske’s book Alaska: A History, is widely considered the gold standard work on this state. In numerous articles, he has recounted the economic and political development of Alaska and the relationship between Alaska and the rest of the U.S. Through his extensive research and published works documenting Alaska’s history and politics Naske has provided a foundation for classroom instruction on Alaska’s history, both within the state and beyond its borders. His latest book Alaska: A History, third edition 2011, provides a full chronological survey of the region’s and state’s history, including the precedent-setting Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1970, which compensated Native Americans for their losses; the effect of the oil industry and the trans-Alaska pipeline on the economy; the Exxon Valdez oil spill; and Alaska politics through the early 2000s.
Naske is married to Dinah and has two children – Natalia-Michelle Nan-geak and Nathaniel-Michael Noah. It is with great pleasure the UAF Alumni Association presents the 2012 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Claus-M. Naske.
2011 Distinguished Alumnus award
Sylvester Neal, '78, '83
Sylvester Neal, the son of Willis and Imam Lee Neal, the sixth of nine children, was born and raised in rural Texas near Austin. He graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1962, which at the time was only recently integrated. After witnessing his house burn down, Sylvester chose firefighting as a career; he joined the Austin Fire Department in 1965. In 1968, Sylvester enlisted in the Army and was sent to Ft. Wainwright. He started working for the Fairbanks Airport Fire and Police upon leaving the service in 1970. The next chapter in Sylvester’s life involved the university: in 1978 he completed an associate degree in police administration and in 1983 he received his bachelor’s degree in Justice.
Sylvester's professional career includes 26 years of service in firefighting, airport security and industrial safety. He served as a fire and police chief at Fairbanks International Airport and was appointed to two terms as the state fire marshal for Alaska. He chaired the Alaska State Fire Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, served on the board of Alaskans for Drug Free Youth and two community college boards. He volunteered with United Way, Special Olympics and was a chairman of the Alaska Fallen Firefighters Memorial fundraising committee. He is an ordained deacon in his church and recipient of the Citizen Volunteer Award from the Anchorage School District.
Kiwanis is the true highlight of Sylvester's career. During his tenure at Kiwanis Club of Fairbanks, Sylvester served as club secretary, club president, lieutenant governor and Alaska Yukon governor. Upon moving to Anchorage, he joined a local club. He currently is a member of Kiwanis Club of the Valley in Auburn, Wash. He served as governor of the Pacific Northwest District for Kiwanis in 2002 - 2003. Sylvester quickly ascended the Kiwanis International ranks, serving as trustee, vice president and president-elect. In June 2010, at the 95th Annual Kiwanis International Convention in Las Vegas, Sylvester was elected president of the 600,000 member Kiwanis International organization.
Before joining the international board, Sylvester served on numerous district and international committees: Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, membership diversity and new-club building and membership growth -- North America. Sylvester held a position as honorary chair for the Pacific Northwest District Kiwanis/SIGN project. SIGN stands for Surgical Implant Generating Network and addresses the need for neglected fracture care in more than 40 developing countries of the world.
Outside of Kiwanis, Sylvester owned a consulting company for two years which specialized in diversity and special events coordination. He loves reading and writing poetry. He is also in the process of writing an autobiography he hopes to complete after his presidential term.
Sylvester Neal is a life member of Kiwanis International and a Diamond-level George F. Hixson Fellow of the Kiwanis International Foundation. His clubs recognized him as Kiwanian of the Year four times.
Sylvester and his wife, Doris, are parents of five children and have seven grandchildren.
2010 Distinguished Alumnus award
Shirish Patil '87, '95, '07
Shirish, the oldest of three children, was born and raised in Pune, India in 1960.
Shirish graduated in 1981 from the College of Engineering in Pune. In the same year
he moved to the U.S. and received master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, petroleum
engineering and engineering management in 1983, '87 and '95 from the University of
Pittsburgh and UAF. He also received his Ph.D. in 2007 in mineral resource engineering
Shirish embodies the tripartite mission at UAF for a faculty member: to excel in teaching, research and professional/public service. As an instructor, professor and department chairperson in the Petroleum Engineering department for over 20 years, he has taught 15 different courses from undergraduate fundamentals of petroleum to graduate petroleum evaluation and economic decisions. He has authored over 75 technical papers and reports, edited two proceedings and garnered over $14 million dollars in research grants. On campus he served as the Society of Petroleum Engineers faculty advisor, UAF Faculty Senate president, and as chair of the University of Alaska Faculty Alliance. In the community he was appointed to two Fairbanks North Star Borough commissions, and was appointed to represent the state of Alaska on the Energy Resources Research and Technology Committee of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. He also served on the International Society of Petroleum Engineers Distinguished Lecturer selection committee. Currently he is the program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technologies (ABET), a national engineering accreditation board.
Shirish's abilities have not gone unnoticed. He was recognized by UAF in 2007 as the Emil Usibelli Distinguished Service Award winner. In 2006, he was presented with the Society of Petroleum Engineers Western North America Regional Service Award. In 2005 Shirish not only became UAF Petroleum Engineering faculty of the year, but was also named engineer of the year by two other organizations: Alaska Engineering Societies and the Society of Petroleum Engineers Alaska Section. During 2004-05 he was distinguished as the Outstanding Faculty Senator of the Year. Moreover, Shirish has been recognized by the students in his department seven times for his outstanding service.
To the Patils UAF is a family affair. His wife of 26 years, Anjali, '03, and his children Samir, '07, '10 and Mitali, '08, are also UAF alumni.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association awards the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Shirish Patil.
2009 Distinguished Alumnus award
Richard N. Foster
Representative Richard N. Foster passed away in October 2009 from a previous medical condition. He was honored in September 2009 as the Distinguished Alumnus for the UAF Alumni Association. Our condolences to his family and friends.
Representative Richard N. Foster was born and raised in Nome, Alaska in 1946. Richard was the second of four children and he graduated from Nome High School in 1964. After graduation from High School, Richard attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and graduated with a bachelor of business administration. While at the University he was active in the Army RPTC program.
After graduation Richard went into the Army where he served two tours in Vietnam and finished his career as a Captain. He was awarded a Bronze Star and two Army Commendation Medals for his extraordinary service and commitment.
Richard returned to Nome and began working for the people in his area by taking over management of an air taxi service established by his father. He has held many public service positions in Northwest Alaska. He served on the Sitnasuak Native and Bering Straits Native Corporation board and with the Nome Eskimo Community. Richard’s service eventually led him to local and then state politics. He served on the Nome Planning and Zoning Commission, Nome City Council and School Board before he was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1988. As a member of the legislature for the last 21 years, Representative Foster has served on multiple committees including finance, transportation, and the special committee on military and veteran’s affairs. He also served on the deferred maintenance and the alcohol and drug abuse task force. Representative Foster also held the majority whip position from 2002 through 2008.
Richard has been a member of numerous organizations including the Nome Community Center, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Northwest Community College, Rotary and Lions Club, and Pioneer Igloo #1.
Richard has been married to Cathy Foster for 21 years and he has nine children. Richard is an avid outdoorsman and gun collector.
2008 Distinguished Alumnus award
Jim Sampson came to Alaska in 1952. He is the oldest of eight children and the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1973 with an associate degree in police administration. Sampson has held a variety of public service positions in Alaska, beginning with his involvement with Laborers Local 942. He served as Alaska Commissioner of Labor from 1986 to 1990 and was twice elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, serving from 1991 to 1997.
In 2003, Jim took the reins of AFL-CIO, Alaska’s largest labor organization. In addition to leading the organization, he has worked to attract support for an Alaska natural gas pipeline, urging Congress to pass a tax incentive package to advance the project. Sampson retired from his position at the AFL-CIO in 2006. This year, he was inducted into the Alaska Business Monthly Junior Achievement Hall of Fame.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association awards the 2008 Distinguished Alumnus award to Jim Sampson.
2007 Distinguished Alumnus award
William "Bill" Stroecker
William "Bill" Stroecker, the son and grandson of pioneering Alaskan families, has made Fairbanks his home for life. He was born in 1920 and graduated from the University of Alaska in 1942 with a business administration degree. Soon after graduation, Bill joined the United States Army and helped send American airplanes to Russia in the Army's lend-lease effort at Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright. After his enlistment ended in 1947, Bill became a bookkeeper at the First National Bank of Fairbanks where he worked his way to chairman and president in 1967. He served in that capacity until 1977. Today, after 61 years in banking, Bill serves as vice president of public relations at Key Bank. Although Bill is well past the average age of retirement, he shows up for work every day with a smile.
Bill is also very involved in civic endeavors in the community. He has served as the president of the Alaska Goldpanner board for 43 years. He is a founding board member of the Greater Fairbanks Hospital Foundation, a life member of the Salvation Army Advisory board, a long-time board member of the Friends of the University of Alaska Museum, a member of the Fairbanks Rotary Club and a co-trustee for the Marion Stroecker Weeks Foundation that makes annual donations to more than 40 local charities. Bill is also well known for his musical talents. He plays trumpet and can be heard regularly performing with "The Frigid-Aire's Band". In 2006, he endowed a scholarship in journalism to honor his friend and author Helen Van Campen.
Bill received the Fairbanks Historical Person of the Year, the 2001 Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America, honors from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and the 2007 Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce's Golden Citizen's President’s Award.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association awards the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award to William "Bill" Stroecker.
2006 Distinguished Alumnus award
Jyotsna "Jo" Heckman
Jyotsna "Jo" Heckman was born and raised in India. She came to Fairbanks in 1975 to attend school, but with hard work and dedication has become a pioneer in the Alaska banking industry. Jo graduated from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and received her master's of business degree in 1985. In 2002, she also received a master's degree from the Stonier Graduate School in Banking at Georgetown University.
Jo was instrumental in successfully chartering and opening Denali State Bank 20 years ago. During that time she has held multiple positions in the bank, including in operations, marketing, information systems, human resources and as executive vice president. She has held responsibilities for retail, financial, lending and administrative areas of the bank. In April 2003, Jo became the first woman in Alaska's history to hold the position of bank president and chief executive officer. As bank president Jo oversees a staff of over 90 employees with five branches in Interior Alaska. In 2003 Jo was named one of the 25 women to watch in banking by U.S. Banker.
Jo is also very involved in civic endeavors in the community. She is past president and board member of Junior Achievement, president of Financial Women International, former board member of the UAF Alumni Association, member of the UAF College of Fellows, Quota International, Rotary, executive committee for the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Boys and Girls Club of the Tanana Valley and in 2004 she was selected to co-chair the United Way of the Tanana Valley campaign.
Jo received the William Cashen Service Award from the Alumni Association in 1999 and was honored in 2004 by the Farthest North Chapter of the Girls Scouts Council as one of their Women of Distinction.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association awards the 2006 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Jyotsna Heckman.
2005 Distinguished Alumnus award
Dr. William Benitz
Dr. William Benitz has blazed an amazing trail from his beginnings in the small town of Petersburg, Alaska. Benitz graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks summa cum laude in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He earned an MD at the Stanford School of Medicine in 1978. Benitz served at the Stanford School of Medicine as a resident in pediatrics from 1978-1981, then chief resident from 1981-1982 and later a postdoctoral fellow in the division of neonatal and developmental medicine.
Benitz joined the faculty at the medical school in 1985 and became a full professor in 1999. He is renowned for his work in neonatology where his area of expertise is infections in newborn children. Benitz also heads the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Nursery System and is the associate chief of the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine at Stanford's School of Medicine. His research has resulted in 52 published papers, 23 books or chapters in books, many abstracts and editorials and two patents. Benitz has been recognized multiple times as one of the best doctors in California. He was also recognized in 1997 and 2003-2004 as one of the best doctors in America and in 2002-2003 as one of America's top pediatricians. In 2003 he was awarded the first Philip Sunshine MD, Professor of Neonatology endowed chair at Stanford.
Although Benitz has had an extraordinary career he has never forgotten about his alma mater. He established a memorial scholarship fund in honor of Jack Distad, his mentor and one of his favorite mathematics professors at UA, and he supports the UAF mathematics department.
It is with great pleasure that the UAF Alumni Association awards the 2005 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Dr. William Benitz, a man who has made healing children his number one priority.