Stake President Named Professor of the Year

Contributed By By Whitney Evans, Church News
staff writer

  • 18 December 2012

Photo courtesy of University of Puget Sound.

Article Highlights

  • Gig Harbor Washington Stake president Karl Fields received the 2012 Washington State Professor of the Year award in November.
  • He specializes in Asian studies and politics, which he became interested in following serving as a missionary in Taiwan.
  • He and his wife, Melanie Ann Merrill, are the parents of four children.

“I could not be who I am in any aspect of my life without the gospel of Jesus Christ.” —Karl Fields, Gig Harbor Washington Stake president and 2012 Washington State Professor of the Year

Karl Fields, a professor at the University of Puget Sound and president of the Gig Harbor Washington Stake, was named 2012 Washington State Professor of the Year. This award—given through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education—is the most distinguished for teaching undergraduate courses. 

President Fields is a professor of comparative politics, Asian politics, and Asian political economy.

In a note sent to President Fields after the award was announced November 15, 2012, Elder Robert M. Call, Area Seventy over the Northwest Area of the United States said, “President, I’m so impressed. Your goodness spans all facets of your life. I’m proud of you in what you do as a priesthood leader and as a professional.”

Humility defines President Fields, a man who, when asked how he feels about receiving this prestigious award, mentioned all the other excellent professors in the department and at the university who could have been nominated and come out with the same result.

Trinkets and mementos from former students dot his office, representing his associations with students during his 22 years at the University of Puget Sound. He treasures the chance this award has given him to reconnect with students and see what they have made of their lives. Several of his students have received their doctorates and are teaching in political science departments at various U.S. universities, but he most enjoys seeing the families they have started and how they have contributed to their respective communities.

President Fields works tirelessly to be a worthy disciple of Jesus Christ, and He acknowledges God’s hand in his successes.

“I could not be who I am in any aspect of my life without the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. 

To the extent that students perceive him as being honest, kind, and compassionate, he attributes this to patterning his life after the Savior.

He specializes in Asian studies and politics, a love affair he would not have kindled had he not served as a missionary in Taiwan.

Elder Call described him as a “gentle, wonderful man.”

“You would never know the acclaim and respect he garners from his employment in being around him. He’s just a gentle, down-to-earth, everyday guy,” Elder Call said. 

Don Share, a professor in the department of politics and government at the University of Puget Sound, has team taught with President Fields and collaborated on a textbook project. He said President Fields is easy to work with, has a great sense of humor, and is reliable and hard working. 

Between his work, family, and Church responsibilities, President Fields does not have as much personal time as most. Well-read without being flashy, he approaches teaching humbly, in a way that seems to draw people to him. This is the same way he handled the publicity associated with this award, recognizing the benefit this brings to the school and the department. His “top-notch intellect” and hard work led to a successful Asian studies program and have attracted students, faculty, and donors to the program.  

His career is a far departure from his roots on a cattle ranch in south-central Idaho, near the Sawtooth Mountains.  

He was baptized at 11 but did not actively attend Church until high school when his bishop and teachers quorum helped bring him back to Church. 

After high school, he received a call to serve a mission in Taiwan. He felt like this was an eye-opening experience and pursued his undergraduate degree in Asian politics at Brigham Young University and a graduate degree at the University of California–Berkeley. 

“I love the rhythms of academic life,” he said, adding that when finals are over, the slate can be wiped clean, ready for a new beginning. As a professor, he is able to get into the same type of rhythm, using each semester as a new start. 

He met his wife, Melanie Ann Merrill, while at BYU, and she transferred to UC Berkeley after he started PhD work there. They both have degrees from this institution (she has a bachelor’s and he has a doctorate). They have four children.

“She is my best friend and the great strength of our home,” he said.

Going forward, he is excited for the opportunity to teach full-time again, build new courses, research on the side, and participate in the community.