Kubátová named Chester Fritz professor

Chemistry prof receives UND’s highest academic honor in surprise announcement

Mark Kennedy and Alena Kubatova

UND President Mark Kennedy (left) and Provost Tom DiLorenzo surprised Chemistry Professor Alena Kubátová with the honor of being the newest UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor on Tuesday. The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship, UND highest academic honor, was established with an endowment gift from the late University benefactor Chester Fritz. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Alena Kubátová had no idea what she was getting into on Tuesday morning.

The chemistry professor and her colleagues had been summoned by department chair, Harmon Abrahamson, for an impromptu meeting in Abbott Hall to discuss “important issues.”

“So I was thinking ‘what could those issue be,’” Kubátová said. “I was trying to prepare my mind for it and strategize.”

The pressure amped up a bit more when UND President Mark Kennedy and Provost Tom DiLorenzo joined the gathering.

The meeting was indeed about important issues, but Kubátová was surprised to learn that she was the star attraction.

That’s because the President and Provost brought good news, naming Kubátová the University’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.

“It’s a distinction that we hold very dear and only give to our very finest professors,” Kennedy said.

Highest honor

The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship, UND highest academic honor, was established with an endowment gift from the late University benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983). Revenue from that endowment provides for a $2,000 stipend to full-time faculty recipients, who thereafter may use the title “Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.”

Kubátová was nominated for the honor by members of the Council of Deans and Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors. Nominations were evaluated by a four-member committee, comprising three Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors and chaired by Grant McGimpsey, UND vice president for research & economic development and graduate dean.

The committee’s recommendation is then reviewed by the Provost before it’s forwarded to the UND President for final decision.

“I really have not had time to absorb it yet,” said Kubátová, shortly after the surprise announcement. “I am a scientist so my emotion always comes one day late.”

Mark Kennedy and Alena Kubatova

Kubátová will be officially honored for her Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship and presented with a special plaque and medallion during the general commencement proceedings on Saturday, May 12. Of the nearly 600 full-time faculty currently on the UND campus, only 26 are Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Triple threat

Fellow Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Mark Hoffmann was on hand for the announcement. He brought with him congratulations from College of Arts & Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs who was unable to attend.

“Alena is an excellent example of what one can do in research, teaching and service without any compromises,” said Hoffmann, a specialist in theoretical and computational chemistry.

Kennedy used an entertainment industry term when describing the breadth of Kubátová’s impact on UND and its students.

“She has been referred to as a triple threat – as in being really really good at teaching, really good at research and really good at service,” Kennedy said.

Kubátová, an analytical chemist and chromatography expert, continued the entertainment analogy when describing the passion she has for not only teaching chemistry but also letting students experience it through research in the lab.

“It’s all about the experiential learning,” she said. “People in theatre, they perform; that’s their experiential learning. We do research – that’s ours.”

Popular workshops

According to her biography, Kubátová’s research, among other areas, explores the origins of air pollution and its relation to climate changes and health. Her research methods specifically focus on analysis of complex mixtures in real-world matrices employing chromatographic techniques, with various types of detectors, mainly mass spectrometry (instrumentation frequently used in research and industry).

Recently, Kubátová has made news for her collaborations with unmanned aircraft systems experts on campus, incorporating the flying platforms in her research on carbonaceous particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Kubátová also was recognized for her role in securing $1 million in scholarship funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), targeting first-generation college students in science, technology and mathematics fields. She and a UND College of Arts & Sciences faculty team were earlier awarded a $600,000 NSF grant that provided scholarships to talented undergraduate students with interests in environmental sciences.

Also, new collaborations she’s helped establish in her native Czech Republic resulted in another recent NSF award that’s providing research experiences to Midwestern U.S. students in Prague, the cosmopolitan Czech capital.

Kubátová also has been known for her high-impact and popular Air Pollution Workshops for high school students. Each time, these events typically have brought more than 150 students from around the region – including schools from rural and tribal communities – to UND to engage in hands-on activities and to spark interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

UND's newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Alena Kubátová (right) has a passion for not only teaching chemistry but also letting students experience it through research in the lab. Above,Kubátová works one of her her students, Anastasia Artemyteva.

Kubátová (right) has a passion for not only teaching chemistry but also letting students experience it through research in the lab. Above,Kubátová works one of her her students, Anastasia Artemyteva. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

Collegiality abounds

Kubátová earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Prague at Charles University, before moving on to do post-doc work at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

In 2000, she started doing research at UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center. Since 2005, she has been a faculty member in the UND Department of Chemistry.

Kubátová received the UND Foundation/B.C. Gamble Outstanding Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research or Creative Activity and Service from the UND Alumni Association & Foundation in 2015.

She will be officially honored for her Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship and presented with a special plaque and medallion during the general commencement proceedings on Saturday, May 12. Of the nearly 600 full-time faculty currently on the UND campus, only 26 are Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors.

Kubátová can’t say enough good things about support she’s received from her research team, her colleagues in the chemistry department and partners across campus. It’s that kind of support, she says, that’s made her who she is today – a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.

“I really enjoy working here at this University,” Kubátová said. “Collegiality is really something that keeps me here.”