UAS Honors Beth Kerttula with Honorary Doctorate of Laws at 2022 Commencement Ceremony
Kerttula will receive her award at the UAS Juneau Commencement Ceremony on May 1
Date of Press Release: April 20, 2022
The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) uses the occasion of Student Commencement each year to recognize individuals in our community who have offered outstanding service to the University, the State of Alaska, or Southeast communities. Honorary degrees are bestowed on individuals who exemplify a significant and lasting contribution to the University, to the State of Alaska, or to the individual’s discipline or profession. The UA Board of Regents approves candidates who are nominated by local campuses. This year UAS will honor Beth Kerttula with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws.
Beth’s family’s roots in Alaska go back to 1918 when her grandfather, Oscar Kerttula sailed to Nome. Oscar loved Alaska and its people and in 1935 he, and his young Finnish-American wife, Elvi Marja, brought their family back to Alaska as part of a Federal project to colonize the Matanuska Valley.
Beth’s father, Jalmar (Jay) Kerttula, went to UAF, and the University of Washington, and returned home to become a successful farmer. Instrumental in building Alaska’s University system, he served 34 years in the Alaska State Legislature, where he became the only legislator to hold both distinguished positions of House Speaker and Senate President.
Beth’s mother Joyce, an English teacher who had an adventurous nature, and a strategic mind, ran Jay’s offices and campaigns as an unpaid volunteer during this entire time. Together, they were a remarkable team and taught Beth to respect public service and the power of education.
Beth grew up in both downtown Juneau (during the legislative session) and on her family’s farm in Palmer. She graduated from High School in 1974 and went on to Stanford University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, then to the University of Santa Clara School of Law for her Juris Doctor. During Law School Beth and her Moot Court partner won their school Moot Court contest (and best brief) and went on to quarter-finals nationally.
Beth returned to Alaska as a young lawyer, beginning as a law clerk for the Chief Judge of the then newly-created Court of Appeals. She was a trial attorney at the Alaska Public Defender Agency, Volunteer Counsel to the Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee, and served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Alaska Department of Law, where she found her true calling, Ocean and Alaska Coastal Zone Management. Beth’s legal work was highly respected and she became President of the Alaska Bar Association Board of Governors.
Beth eventually followed in her parents’ footsteps and successfully ran for political office, representing Juneau and Northern SE Alaska in the Alaska House of Representatives for 15 years. A stalwart supporter of the University and a respected leader, she was noted for her fair and thoughtful negotiating style as well as focusing on issues and not personalities. She was House Minority Leader from 2007 to 2014.
In 2014, Beth left her legislative seat to return to Stanford as a Fellow with the Center for Ocean Solutions. A few months later she was appointed by the Obama Administration to run the newly created National Ocean Council (NOC), representing 27 federal agencies, state and Tribal governments, as well as a host of other stakeholders. Again, she was known for her fairness, dedication and her ability to work with diverse parties. In her time with the NOC, Beth implemented the National Ocean Plan and coordinated the nation’s first two regional marine plans (New England and Mid-Atlantic). After her service at the NOC, she was presented with a U.S. Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest recognition the Commandant may bestow on a civilian. She was also given the Office of Science and Technology Policy Director’s Award for Excellence for helping coordinate the first visit to the Arctic by a sitting U.S. president.
In addition, Beth has been a Council of State Governments Toll Fellow, a Roosevelt Fellow, and a Center for Women’s Policy Studies Foreign Institute Fellow. She received great recognition for filing the nation’s first cruise ship pollution legislation, and is currently part of a team funded by the National Science Foundation designed to inform Arctic decisions with the best available scientific, Indigenous, and decision-making expertise.
While Beth is proud of and committed to Alaska, education, and public service, she feels that her greatest role was that of family caregiver for her parents. She thanks her husband, Jim Powell, PhD, and her sister, Anna Kerttula de Echave, PhD, for their love and support.
Chancellor Karen Carey noted, “Beth is so deserving of this award. She has served in numerous capacities for the state of Alaska from the Alaska House of Representatives, to her being appointed by President Barack Obama as the Director of the National Oceans Council, to serving on the Arctic Policy Commission. She is devoted member of the community and it is an honor for UAS to present the Honorary Doctorate to Beth.” Kerttula will receive her award at the UAS Juneau Commencement Ceremony on May 1.
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