Who were awarded honorary doctorates at UAF this weekend?


At the 101st graduation ceremony at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on Saturday, two Alaska Natives were singled out for honorary advanced degrees. They are:

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson

Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of Juneau received an honorary doctor of laws degree. He is Tlingit from the Kaagwaantaan clan, Eagles Nest house, and a lifelong resident of Southeast Alaska. He grew up in Kasaan, a community on Prince of Wales Island, and became the youngest mayor in Alaska in 1997.

He has served as president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, a federally recognized tribe in Southeast Alaska, since 2014, and is serving his third term. He leads the largest regional tribe in the state with a focus on economic development, tribal sovereignty and community sustainability.

Helen (Dick) MacLean

Helen (Dick) MacLean received an honorary doctor of education degree. She was born in 1945 in a tent at spring camp and grew up in Lime Village, located along the Stony River in Southwest Alaska. Elders trained MacLean in the Dena’ina language, and she was charged as a young girl to be a culture bearer. For decades, MacLean has worked with students of all backgrounds, from preschoolers to college students. She is a master instructor of the Dena’ina language and has a long history of working with doctoral students as a mentor and advisor. She was the primary instructor in two films, “Living Dena-ina” and “Dena’ina Birch Baskets.”

MacLean served as an elder advisor to UAF’s rural development seminars and has been vital in developing Dena’ina curriculum for university courses. She is considered the most skilled living Dena’ina first language speaker and is known for her ability to bridge Western pedagogy and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Also recognized, but with the designation “Meritorious Service,” were four other individuals:

Joan Braddock, Carl Benson, Jason Gootee and Ron Inouye received Meritorious Service Awards, which recognize service to the university or an Alaska community.

Microbiologist and UAF alumna Joan Braddock has been a part of the UAF community for more than four decades. She earned her doctorate in oceanography from UAF in 1989 and joined the faculty the following year. Her scientific research focused on bioremediation of environmental contaminants, especially petroleum. Throughout her career, she served as a professor and then dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. She retired with emeritus status in 2009. In addition to being a donor and consistent volunteer at the university, Braddock has returned twice to provide temporary leadership to units with vacancies: once as interim dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and another as director of the University of Alaska Press.

Alumnus Jason Gootee has remained an active part of UAF since he graduated in 2005. He is a past president of the UAF Alumni Association Board of Directors, currently chairs the UAF Chancellor’s Board of Advisors and serves as a director on the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Directors. Gootee, who is Moda Health’s vice president for sales and strategic marketing development, lives in Oregon with his wife, Katie, and their four children but returns frequently to Fairbanks. He is an avid hockey fan and, together with his father, established the Gootee Family Hockey Scholarship to support UAF student-athletes.

Ron Inouye has served the university for many years as both an employee and an advocate. His university career started in 1970 as an instructor at the Ketchikan Community College. Prior to his 17 years at the Rasmuson Library’s Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, he also worked at the UAF Center for Northern Educational Research. At the library, many of his years were dedicated to indexing Alaska’s periodicals. Today, the index is widely used by historians, researchers and students. During his time there, he also served as the interviewer for numerous oral history recordings. Inouye is a philanthropist and volunteer for numerous university and community organizations, serving with the Friends of the University of Alaska Museum of the North and the Rasmuson Library’s Rare Book Endowment Committee.

Professor emeritus Carl Benson has been associated with UAF for more than 60 years. His career as a researcher and professor of geophysics and geology has been marked by significant contributions to snow and ice science in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica. He taught and mentored some of today’s leading scientists in the field. He worked at the university from 1960 until 1987, including a three-year term as chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and has continued his research, teaching and service long after retirement. He continues to give guest lectures and attend graduate student thesis and dissertation defenses. He and his wife, Ruth, are donors, volunteers and participants in the UAF community. Outside UAF, he is active in civic issues, sharing information via public testimony and newspaper columns.

1,088 awards conferred on approximately 1,023 students:

  • 76 occupational endorsements
  • 133 certificates
  • 190 associate degrees
  • 435 bachelor’s degrees
  • 176 master’s degrees
  • 32 doctorates
  • 47 recommendations for education licensure

Diversity breakdown:

  • 610 women, 393 men, 20 specified other genders
  • 57 Alaska Native/American Indian
  • 41 Asian American
  • 38 Black or African American
  • 71 Hispanic or Latino
  • 590 Caucasian or white
  • 12 Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • 89 other or unknown
  • 24 international
  • Average age: 33; median age: 30


  1. Interesting that the average and median age is 33 and 30. I guess I’m not the only one that was slow

  2. A PhD in glacialogy. Watching the glaciers advance and retreat. Is there a way to receive a PhD in painting houses too? Watching the paint dry and writing a thesis paper on it?

    • UAF can help you with that. Push the donate button and ask for an honorary degree……
      or two.

  3. I wish they would award an honorary doctorate to President Donald J. Trump for once. Do you hear me?

  4. No ill will to anyone, but I’ve never understood the purpose of “honorary degrees”.

    • Good will and money. UAF confers these non-meritorious and unearned degrees simply to get more donor money to the school. Many of the honored don’t even have a high school diploma.

      • It’s all connections to $$$. And climate activism. THAT will buy you a board seat on the regents.

        • Julia…….
          or a vowel, to your name on one of the old UAF buildings that is being re-named because it was previously named after some old White dude.

          • Joe Usibelli gets it back in spades. Lifetime coal contracts to the UAF and Interior. The entire Usibelli family is laughing their *sses off. Climate Clowns at UAF will choke on coal particulate while employing more climate clowns to figure out WTF is causing more particulate and CO2. Italians rule……
            at least they know how to count $$$, and they are smarter than UAF climate clowns.

          • I smile everytime I walk by the Joe Usibelli Building at UAF. A monument to King Coal at the nation’s farthest north climate action institution. Love watching the coal trains park in front of UAF and shake the dickens out of those coal hoppers. Stacks just belching dark smoke into the raw -25 degrees, and settling slowly into the residential neighborhoods where the climate action professors live. Oh, the holy grail of it all. Thank you, Joe Usibelli. Your UAF education really did work for you. All of those fuzzy-brained college students just keep scratching their heads when they see all those coal cars rollin by, and thinking to themselves, “how the f*ck did I end up at UAF?”

          • Just saw today’s news where Biden is going to punish those who still use coal power plants in the US. I guess the federal funds to UAF will stop flowing for climate research.
            Maybe the idiots and embiciles who run UAF can convert to windmills and solar and shut down the new coal plant. Should be interesting with little wind at the Banks and the sun missing from October to April. Hello? Mr. Usibelli, please send solar panels and windmills with your next train load of coal.

          • And if Usibelli doesn’t cooperate and write more checks to UAF, they’ll strip his name off the Engineering Building and give it to a more deserving member of the community. Maybe a Native. Usibelli is just another capitalist, White dude who tears up the ground for a living.

  5. Diversity breakdown? Who cares. What does an individual know and how well do they apply it? Their skin color is about as relevant as their eye color.

  6. Why did they leave out a “diversity breakdown” by religion? Sexual preference? Body weight? Body height? Left-handed, right-handed, ambidextrous? Physical disabilities? Mental disabilities? Tattoos? How do they expect us to appreciate the story without these over-riding, most-important factors?

    • Wayne Douglas, Exactly right! I might add that you Sir, should also be awarded an Honorary Doctorate for your lifetime of service to your fellow man. You have carried the torch for proper grammar and enlightened witticism on the comment section of Must Read Alaska as evidenced above.

      U.A.F in granting Wayne Coogan an Honorary Doctorate would give plenary recognition to those over achieving souls that grew up not only in Wall Tents but also Trailer Court Wobble Boxes. I believe
      bestowing this honor upon you would be emblematic of real diversity, especially regarding your fearless choice of footwear. I say this because you have for years worn nothing but wool socks and Roman Sandals despite the season. No made in China Xtr-Tuffs for you! Bravo!

  7. A message for Suzzane
    I f you can write a story that will help motivate people to Anchorage greenbelt along Chester Creek and beyond for spring clean up.
    I have seen a wide range of participation, MOA, APD, volunteers and homeless people themselves cleaning up garbage along the trails and creeks.
    Some of these people are military veterans and others who are caught up in mental illness, physical disabilities, so not all are abusing drugs and alcohol.
    Orange Bags are free at Fred Meyer’s stores. Unusual amount of garbage this year.

    Thank You

  8. And to think that there are many among us that will not be happy unless and until the number of males receiving degrees is reduced from 393 to ZERO. (Maybe we can get into negative numbers if we revoke degrees “unfairly” granted in the past!). The trend line is looking good. Once we get the requirement for neutering in place, things will be even better. It is great way to build a society: Pick the scapegoat, freeze it, demonize it, personalize it and then marginalize and eliminate it. All of life’s problems can be blamed on the target and the eradication program can go on for a long time.

    • I’ve noticed that a lot of the skilled men in Alaska are in the Trades. They may not have Degrees, but boy can they make (and fix!) stuff! Hands on, do it yourself, self reliant ABILITY is WAY more valuable than a Degree!!! Don’t sweat it. Just do what we ALL value. Be MEN.

  9. Art,
    All honorees are Left-wing Democrats, and several are far, extreme climate activists. Perfect credentials for honorary degrees from UAF…….an institute full of bafoonery, LGBTQ, and academic dishonesty. I consider my degree from that hill to be a worthless piece of paper.

    • Yes, Larry… Its an invalid document that will be used to falsely enhance their position.

      • All of my college age kids went out of state for their education. UAF degrees, excluding Engineering and Business Colleges to some extent, are choked with climate clown activism, so much that it has become academic brainwashing. Wokeism, racism, all the Democrat political agenda identifiers, is the manipulative product delivered at UAF. Virtually everyone in Alaska knows that UAF has encouraged LGBTQ before that acronym was even created. This is what the UAF has become. A university full of professors and administrators who live off of oil production and heat their classrooms with coal.

        • No kidding. UAF just built a brand new $300 million coal-fired power plant that will last 100 years. But UAF instructs its students that coal is the dirtiest form of energy on the planet and should be eliminated as a combustible resource. So while the next batch of students listen to their lefty professors pontificate about how miserable coal is, they can enjoy the view of the UAF power plant as it belches out tons of particulate matter into the delicate Fairbanks air. Only Joe Usibelli will be laughing his a– off…….all the way to the bank.

          • Usibelli even got the new climate clown building at the UAF named after him. Follow the money, not the clowns. The climate clowns will lead you back to the coal fields via a circuitous route.

  10. The Left Wing Democrats own the Colleges and University’s, let alone ALL Primary Education. If your hiring personnel, and the Job Discription requires a Degree, then you will probably have to hire a GROOMED LEFTIST. A good example of this is the Bud Light story, or our Anchorage Library.. This is why so much of our PFD Check goes to fund LEFTIST Education. This Circular Funding gets repeated with Government Employee Unions, Labor Unions, Police and Fire Unions—all lobbying Senators and Representatives, pouring money into their campaigns—-to move YOUR PFD Check from OUR account to THEIRS. Each year THEY get stronger, each year we get WEAKER. The only leverage we have left is the Governor’s Line Item Veto. He has nothing stopping him from using it, except for lack of Will, Conscience–Campaign Promises—Or SPINE.

  11. IS their nursing program unaccredited? Is their teaching program accredited? Is their physical education program (still) accredited?

    • No, but I hear they still hand out Home Economics degrees occasionally, to 100-year olds with deep pockets ?

    • NNP…..
      True. UAF hasn’t had a Home Economics Department since the 1960’s. But a healthy donation and a little political influence will still get you that degree. College kids today never learned how to make an omelette, iron their clothes, clean their room, or change a bulb in the oven. But they can opine pervasively on climate change and LGBTQ.

      • They can sqwack like a parrot without having any ration explanation for why they sqwacked. It’s called fundamental brain-washing, or indoctrination.

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