UAF announces 2022 honorary degree recipients

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has selected Dermot Cole, Sarah James and Michael Williams Sr. to receive honorary doctorates in 2022. 

Cole, a longtime Fairbanks author and journalist, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. James, a Gwich’in leader and educator, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Williams, a sobriety advocate and well-known musher, will receive a Doctor of Laws degree. 

Dermot Cole
Courtesy Dermot Cole
Dermot Cole

Cole, who grew up on a rural Pennsylvania farm, moved to Alaska after studying at Chinese University of Hong Kong and Montana State University. He graduated from UAF with a journalism degree in 1979.

While a student at UAF, Cole began working at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner as a sports reporter. His role at the newspaper expanded to include politics, business, the environment, the arts and a long-running column. He also spent four years as a columnist for the Alaska Dispatch News. Cole currently writes a blog, “Reporting from Alaska,” which provides political analysis and commentary. Cole is also a noted historian, writing five books on Alaska and Fairbanks. His many honors include awards from the Fairbanks Historical Preservation Foundation, Midnight Sun Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the UAF Alumni Association. 

Sarah James
Matika Wilbur photo
Sarah James

James was born in Arctic Village, raised by her parents in traditional subsistence activities with respect for air, water, land, life and sky. She left home to attend Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, graduating in 1967, then moved to San Francisco to attend Heald Business College and work for Blue Shield Insurance.

James moved back to Arctic Village in 1970, serving as the village health aide, a preschool teacher and special education aide. In 1988, James was appointed by Gwich’in elders to serve as a spokesperson for the Gwich’in Steering Committee. A founding member and board chair of the organization, she traveled the world for 30 years to educate audiences about the Gwich’in people and the importance of sustainable stewardship. She has received many national honors related to her decades of advocacy against oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. James continues her work now as Neets'aii Gwich'in spokesperson on Arctic Refuge issues for the tribal governments of Arctic Village, Venetie and Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government.

Mike Williams Sr.
Courtesy Mike Williams Sr.
Mike Williams Sr.

Williams grew up in Akiak, learning traditional Indigenous subsistence skills and culture. Leaving home to attend Chemawa Indian Boarding School in Oregon, he was an outstanding high school athlete and his class president, graduating in 1972. 

After losing six of his brothers to suicide and alcohol-related deaths, Williams became an advocate for sober living and a traditional lifestyle focused on Indigenous culture and language. He used the Iditarod to promote a message of sobriety, winning the race’s Most Inspirational Musher award three times. As an advocate for Indigenous education, Williams is a longtime board member for the Yupiit School District and served on the Alaska State Board of Education. He served as an advisor to a veterinary program offered by UAF and Colorado State University to provide services to communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area.

Cole, James and Williams will be among those recognized at a ceremony at 5 p.m. April 29 in the Davis Concert Hall on the Fairbanks campus. More information about UAF commencement events is available at