Distinguished Alumnus Award

The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the association's most prestigious award. It was first awarded in 1962 and continues to annually recognize living graduates of UAF. Alumni are selected for the award based on meritorious service on behalf of UAF, distinguished accomplishments in business and professional life, or distinguished human service in community affairs.

All alumni are encouraged to nominate individuals for the Distinguished Alumnus Award. There must be three letters of support for the nomination, all from UAF graduates or former students. The nomination should include information on the candidate's life achievements.

2022 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner

Dr. Allison Kelliher ’01

Dr. Allison Kelliher ’01
Dr. Allison Kelliher ’01

Dr. Allison Kelliher ’01, a pioneer in integrative medicine, is the first medical doctor designated as a tribal doctor having worked as a traditional healer in a clinical setting. Kelliher, originally from Nome, is Koyukon Athabascan. 

"My studies in traditional medicine began when I was a child of four," she said. "My mother’s family had experience in healing. My great-grandmother is a medicine person. I was able to nurture my skills by walking on their backs."

In addition to her practice as a board-certified family and integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Kelliher directs the American Indian Collaborative Research Network and serves as the director at large for the Association of American Indian Physicians.

She received her bachelor’s degree in Indigenous medicine from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, graduated from the University of Washington School of Medicine in 2005 and completed the Alaska Family Medicine Residency in 2009. “Dr. Kelliher is an essential bridge between traditional medicine and Alaska Native communities’ approach to well-being,” said Kelly Drew, director of the Center for Transformative Research in Metabolism at the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology.

Dr. Kelliher began her career in the field of neuroscience by analyzing cerebrospinal fluid samples and assisting with field work surgeries of Arctic ground squirrels. This helped to lay the groundwork to develop a pharmaceutical for cerebrovascular and cardiovascular events. During medical school, she identified the need to promote vaccine awareness in rural Idaho and then held a series of community events.

"Although I have a background in neuroscience, I am most honored to have studied with practitioners of ethnomedicines, including Alaska Native, Native American, First Nations, Native Hawaiian, Ayurvedic, Thai traditional medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western herbalism."

Currently based in North Dakota, Dr. Kelliher is an instructor at both the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Washington, where this year she will be lecturing on the concept of decolonizing medicine. She regularly visits Alaska, including the village of Nulato where she was honored to be welcomed the last time she was there as a member of the tribe. The opportunity to learn from her people and have access to Indigenous ways of knowing is what brought her to UAF in the first place.

"UAF gave me the opportunity to work on my bachelors degree in chemistry through an interdisciplinary approach that included behavioral psychology," she said. "The connections through my teachers and mentors and their enthusiasm involving traditional values allowed me to succeed. I learned that traditional Alaska Native views and perspectives are valuable and can benefit us all."

2022 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner

DeLys Cooks ’06, ’07

DeLys Cooks ’06, ’07
DeLys Cooks ’06, ’07

DeLys Cooks ’06, ’07 has always known her purpose -- caring for others. Her family arrived at Ft. Wainwright when she was three. She credits her parents' love and their decision to stay in the community of Fairbanks for allowing her to flourish in the medical field. Now she is empowered to give back to the community.

"I was drawn to medicine at a young age and always knew I wanted to be a nurse." 

Her journey began as an intern at Bassett Army Community Hospital, where she worked with military doctors in internal medicine and procedures. She later attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and certificates in medical assisting and medical/dental reception. While waiting for entry into the nursing program at UAA, Cooks worked for the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and became a certified nurse assistant in 2005. 

Cooks worked at Denali Center and later transitioned to the emergency department, working as an emergency room technician.

Darryl Lewis ‘88 first met Cooks when she was in high school. She was soft spoken and willing to work behind the scenes where she would make her presence known. “In that capacity, she’s the very same person now. I am honored to recommend her for the UAFAA distinguished alumna award as she is everything it represents.”

In 2016, Cooks completed her bachelor’s in nursing, and last year she completed a master's program to become an advanced practitioner as a certified nurse midwife. All said, she has worked as a nurse in the Fairbanks area for more than 15 years, working through the pandemic to provide care for mothers and babies.

“The last two years have not been easy,” she said. “Staff shortages, politics, separation of family and casualties of exposure to the COVID virus are just a few challenges that have affected the community.”

Cooks has mentored high school students in the medical explorer program. She is a new member of the NAACP health committee, where she plans to represent and help educate minorities and normalize health care.