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Alumni Achievement Awards

Recognizing Outstanding Alumni

A cornerstone Dakota Days event, the Unleash Your Legacy Alumni Achievement Awards celebrates outstanding alumni for their personal and professional achievements, service within their communities, and loyalty to USD. Honorees are recognized in the following four categories: Service to the University, Public Service, Professional Achievement and Emerging Leader.

Know someone that deserves this honor? Check out the award criteria and nominate the next Alumni Achievement Award recipient by Friday, June 10!


SERVICE TO THE UNIVERSITY: Recognition will honor an alum that best demonstrates a unique contribution and sustained service that will leave a lasting impact on the university community, whether through employment, public service, organization leadership or a combination of considerations.

PUBLIC SERVICE: Recognition will honor an alum that best exemplifies leadership in public service or community service in the spirit of volunteerism. Service is considered based on the breadth and depth of the service and in the context of the commitment to lifelong service engagement.

PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT: Recognition considers the alum’s record of professional and career service at the local, state, national or international level. The award honors the alum who has distinguished himself or herself through meritorious service to the profession itself and/or society through demonstrating the university’s liberal arts values such as critical thinking, diversity and inclusion, and communication.

EMERGING LEADER: Recognition will honor an alum that best exemplifies leadership in public service or professional accomplishment. Eligible nominees include alumni who have graduated from USD within the past 10 years.

Meet the 2021 Recipients

Award recipients were recognized at the Unleash Your Legacy reception and Alumni Achievement Awards ceremony on Friday, October 1, 2021, during the 107th Dakota Days.

Scott Jones '75 - Service to the University

Expanding access to dental and oral healthcare is a priority for Scott Jones. Jones has served as CEO of Delta Dental of South Dakota for more than 30 years and has overseen the company’s significant growth to provide dental coverage and access across the state. Under his leadership, the company established a nonprofit foundation, mobile dental clinics and loan repayment programs to help more individuals who live in underserved areas or might have financial difficulties receive dental care to protect their smiles.

Further supporting the company’s mission, the Delta Dental of South Dakota Foundation made a transformative gift to USD to support the university’s dental hygiene program. Earlier this year, USD broke ground on its new School of Health Sciences building that will feature the Delta Dental Oral Health Center in recognition of the gift. Jones said the expansion will help ensure future access to oral healthcare in the state and also give other healthcare professionals exposure to oral health learning opportunities.

Jones also serves as a trustee for the USD Foundation and is a longtime supporter of various scholarship programs and academic opportunities at USD. In 2012, he was recognized by the Beacom School of Business with the Distinguished Service Award: Alumnus – South Dakota Business Person of the Year. Jones graduated from USD in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. He and his wife Julia live in Pierre.

Scott Jones

Kent Peterson '03, '04 - Public Service

As a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives – and current Majority Leader – Kent Peterson is an advocate for investing in the future of our state. Determined to ensure the next generation can succeed in South Dakota, education and economic development are among Peterson’s priorities. In the most recent legislative session, Peterson led the charge as one of the prime sponsors for legislation to create the South Dakota Freedom Scholarship, which appropriated $50 million of state funds to help create need-based scholarship programs for USD and other public and private universities in South Dakota. He also advocated for improving the National Music Museum, establishing a nurse anesthesia program and providing grants to support economic development across South Dakota.

Family drives Peterson’s motivation and efforts. With two young children, Peterson recognizes the importance of having opportunity in South Dakota and strongly believes those opportunities are created through education and economic development. His family also values public service and has a tradition of giving back to institutions and organizations that have had a positive impact on their lives, including USD, through scholarships and various academic and athletic programs.

Peterson graduated from USD in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in business management and in 2004 with his MBA. In addition to serving as a state representative, Peterson is a fifth-generation farmer and previously worked as a financial advisor. He and his family live in Salem.

Kent Peterson

Russell Olson '94, '96 - Professional Achievement

Russell Olson is committed to bolstering economic opportunity in South Dakota. Through his work with Heartland Consumer Power District since 2005, Olson has led efforts to create economic growth and prosperity in our communities and rural areas. He was instrumental in establishing economic development and customer service programs, including the Heartland Economic Development Loan Program (HELP) Fund that provides grants to support growth in rural communities. In 2013, he was named Heartland’s CEO and immediately launched a cost-based, large-load incentive program – called the Energy One Incentive – to further expand economic opportunities.

In addition to leading Heartland, Olson was recently appointed to the American Public Power Association Board of Directors and previously served as chair of the Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice. He served as a state representative and senator for eight years, three of which as the Senate Majority Leader, and worked for the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. He is also the Chairman for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

Olson graduated from USD in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English and political science, and earned his master’s degree in public administration from the university in 1996. He continues to support higher education through volunteer leadership as a trustee for the USD Foundation and by serving on the boards for USD’s Discovery District and Farber Fund’s Chiesman Foundation and the South Dakota Development Corporation.

Russell Olson

Tamara Nash '13 - Emerging Leader

Tamara Nash leads by example. She is committed to public service in both her personal and professional efforts. As far back as elementary school – when she had her calling to become a lawyer – Nash has been inspired by people who changed the world for the better. Coming from a service-oriented family, Nash lives by those traits – finding opportunities to give back to people and her community.

One of the ways Nash gives back is through volunteer leadership. She represents South Dakota on the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division – serving in director positions that allow her to help shape its strategic plans. She currently serves on the South Dakota State Bar’s Law School and Lawyers Assistance committees, and previously served as president of the South Dakota Young Lawyers Section.

Nash’s peers and mentors celebrate her passion and commitment to doing good work: She has been honored with several recognitions – both at USD and national organizations – for exemplifying high achievement, innovation, vision, leadership and legal and public service, especially in underserved areas.

Nash is currently a Sioux Falls-based prosecutor focused on firearm and narcotics offenses. She previously served as a Deputy State’s Attorney in Union County – prosecuting misdemeanor and juvenile offenses – and clerked with the Second Judicial Circuit of the South Dakota Unified Judicial System. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in social sciences from Wayne State College and graduated with honors from the South Dakota School of Law in 2013.

Tamara Nash