2015 Archive

Remembering Mike Burns

Mike Burns demonstrated his love of Alaska in a way that will impact the state for decades to come. As a respected businessman, Executive Director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, and a community volunteer, he created a legacy through his service, leadership and stewardship. Mike passed away peacefully on July 16, 2015 at his home in Juneau, Alaska, surrounded by family.

Members of the University of Alaska (UA) community join many Alaskans and organizations in expressing deep condolences to Mike’s family and gratitude for his many years of service to the University. While he wasn’t a product of the University of Alaska – Burns received a bachelor's degree in political science from Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois and a law degree from the University of Denver – his commitment to higher education in Alaska was evident through the volunteer roles he played. Burns was appointed to the UA Board of Regents by Governor Tony Knowles in 1997 and served nine years including serving as Chair from 1998-2001. He also served on the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees from 1997-2001 and again from 2004 - 2005.

To honor Mike and in recognition of his commitment to higher education, a group of friends and colleagues have created an endowment at the University of Alaska Foundation to enhance the student experience and foster creativity, excellence and leadership for UA students in the areas of business, management, public policy and public administration.

Mary K. Hughes, University of Alaska Regent, recalls “From his arrival in Alaska in 1985, Mike involved himself thoroughly in Alaska. While President of Key Bank Alaska, he served the University of Alaska on the Board of Regents and also served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Alaska Foundation. He was genuine, personable, helpful and professional. All qualities shone brightly upon his appointment as a Regent and eventually chair of the Board. I was so fortunate to have served on both the Foundation Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents with Mike. In particular, his leadership of the Board of Regents, during an economic environment in which the University was recovering from a time of extremely poor state funding, was strong and unwavering, partnering with then-UA President Mark Hamilton to secure the necessary UA state financial support as well as promoting Alaskans’ respect for the university’s mission.”

Burns offered his wealth of business knowledge and investment savvy to the UA Foundation Investment Committee as a member since 1997. Eric Wohlforth, Chair of the Investment Committee says “He was both creative and open to new investment ideas and supremely well-grounded in investment fundamentals. He was of great value to the Fund and the pleasure in knowing him personally was his friendliness and interesting and attractive personality. He will be missed by many."

The Michael J. Burns Excellence Endowment is a fitting tribute to a man who had such a profound impact on the University of Alaska. It will provide much-needed student support for experiential learning opportunities such as collaborative research projects, participation in national and international conferences and competitions, and access to cutting edge technology. These experiences help the University of Alaska to produce not just educated students, but future leaders with hands-on experience in academic inquiry, entrepreneurship and leadership.

To contribute to the Michael J. Burns Excellence Endowment, checks may be made payable to: University of Alaska Foundation. Please note the Michael J. Burns Excellence Endowment and mail to: 1815 Bragaw Street, Suite 203, Anchorage, AK 99508.


UA Foundation awards migratory bird research grant

Molly McDermottHeidi PearsonTrevor Haynes






The University of Alaska Foundation announces two winning proposals for the 2015 Angus Gavin Memorial Migratory Bird Research Grant.

Molly McDermott, a post-graduate student in biological sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, received $6,122 to support her proposal entitled “Food Availability and Breeding Success of Tundra-nesting Passerines in Western Alaska.” The project concentrates on the study of insect prey available as food for migratory birds in the arctic. McDermott is collaborating with the US Geological Survey as part of the Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative, which studies the impact of climate change on birds in Alaska.

Heidi Pearson, assistant professor of marine biology, and Trevor Haynes, a recent doctoral graduate in fisheries, also received $8,878 to support their joint proposal entitled “The Role of Avian Predators in Nutrient Transport in a Glacially Fed Southeast Alaska Estuarine Ecosystem.” The project relates to an ongoing study, which is looking at the linkages within and between the ecosystem of the Juneau Icefield to the estuarine ecosystem of Berners Bay, as well as examining the impact of climate dynamics on these two ecosystems.

The Gavin Award is provided annually to support research on bird species found either permanently or seasonally in Alaska or its coastal waters, including their biology, general ecology and habitat relationships. These two projects will assist in understanding how climate change may affect Alaska’s avian population over time.

The Gavin Grant, part of the UA Foundation’s consolidated endowment fund, was established in 1981 with a gift from the Atlantic Richfield Co. to honor the memory of Angus Gavin, an environmental scientist and advisor to ARCO. Gavin was hand-picked by ARCO Chairman Robert O. Anderson to observe, categorize and quantify the little known flora and fauna of Prudhoe Bay in 1969. Gavin’s work was instrumental in helping ARCO and the scientific community draw conclusions, pro or con, about the impact of oil field development on the ecology of the North Slope and to recommend operational changes that would minimize or negate any adverse effects on the environment.



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