Scholarship supports women in science

La'Ona DeWilde

La’Ona DeWilde

La’Ona DeWilde, currently earning a PhD in environmental biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, chose her career because of her strong traditional belief in respecting animals and caring for the environment. She is getting some help from a scholarship designed to boost women in science.

“The Kathryn E. and John P. Doyle Scholarship has helped me greatly this winter, by allowing me to work on my PhD thesis project,” said DeWilde. “I had time to have committee meetings, and conduct interviews with people who live and fish on the Yukon River. Now I am finishing writing my thesis, so I could submit it and graduate,” she said.

She is one of 36 Native PhD students at UAF, out of a total of 305 students pursuing PhDs, according to UAF Planning, Analysis and Institutional Research.

“Salmon was a major part of our diet when I was being raised in the woods, and for this reason it is a part of me. I love salmon and I’m very happy I have a chance to study and contribute to the future health of the Yukon River Chinook salmon,” said DeWilde.

Abigail Blackstone

Abigail Blackstone

Each year the scholarship awards $5000 to two women—one undergraduate and one graduate student. Abigail Blackstone, a UAF senior studying wildlife biology and conservation, is the 2017-2018 undergrad recipient.

“The scholarship has financially enabled me to focus on school and varsity swimming without requiring me to take an outside job,” she said. After she graduates she plans to earn her master’s in wildlife biology. “Upon graduation, I look forward to beginning my career researching birds in Alaska,” said Blackstone.

John Doyle, Alaska’s first Marine Advisory agent, started the scholarship in 2005 in memory of his wife Kathryn, known as K. Throughout her life, K advocated for women to have access to higher education and opportunities in the workforce. K earned her commercial pilot’s license at age 20, but the young mother was barred from flying for a U.S. women’s air transport unit in 1942.

K Doyle went on to a career as a pilot on many different types of aircraft in the midwestern United States and Alaska, and served as chief stewardess and a ground and inflight instructor for Wien Airlines.

John and Kathryn Doyle

John and Kathryn Doyle

K’s husband John had an interesting career as well. John Doyle was hired by the University of Alaska in the early 1960s to establish a fisheries extension program. As an extension agent John traveled throughout Alaska, sharing his expertise in fisheries biology and seafood technology to village residents. During his visits, he encouraged community members to attend college.

In the late 1960s, John secured funding for positions of broader scope in marine extension and became the leader of the new Marine Advisory Program (MAP). John was tapped as assistant director of Alaska Sea Grant when the two programs joined.

The Doyles’ son, Doug Doyle, is on the scholarship application screening committee. “The scholarship is a great value if we can keep students here in Alaska to go to school and attract people to Alaska to get their education,” he said.

The committee is talking about the possibility of offering a third scholarship each year, if it is economically feasible. But we want to be conservative and be able to offer the scholarship for many decades into the future, said Doyle.

Brittany Stone, of the Alaska Community Foundation which handles the scholarship, says the number and quality of applicants has burgeoned in recent years. Last March more than 30 women applied. “The scholarship has a reputation now,” said Stone. “There were a lot of talented women and it was a challenge to select among them.”

The next application period will be March 8 to April 26, 2018. Learn more about the Doyle scholarship.