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 four categories: Emerging Leader, Service to the University, Public Service and Professional Achievement.


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

SERVICE TO THE UNIVERSITY: Recognition will honor an alum who 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 who best exemplifies leadership in public service or community service in the spirit of volunteerism. Consideration for this category is based on the breadth and depth of the service and in the context of the commitment to lifelong service engagement.

PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT: Recognition will honor an alum’s record of professional and career service at the local, state, national or international level. This award honors an 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.

Meet the 2022 Recipients

Award recipients were recognized at the Unleash Your Legacy reception and Alumni Achievement Awards ceremony on Friday, October 21, 2022, during the 108th Dakota Days.

Dawn Marie Johnson '12, '20 - Emerging Leader

Dawn Marie Johnson is a natural leader and mentor who is able to engage and inspire the youth – and peers – she works with. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from USD and continues to be an advocate for the School of Health Sciences, Department of Social Work and university. She was a 2019 30 Under 30 recipient and has a long list of accomplishments through her work with afterschool, health, family engagement and Native American youth programs.

Dawn Marie currently is Director of Leadership and Culture at the South Dakota Afterschool Network and has previously worked with the Sioux Falls School District and Summit School District in roles that support student achievement and engagement. She also volunteers with several community-based organizations.

Dennis Duncan '70, '73 - Service to the University

Dennis “Denny” Duncan has long been a supporter, volunteer and advisor to USD. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1970, followed by his juris doctorate in 1973. As an alumnus, Denny maintained a close connection to the university by serving on the Law School Advisory Council, as a USD Foundation Trustee, a lobbyist for the university at the state legislature and in other unofficial capacities. For more than three decades, he has also made financial contributions to support the modernization of campus facilities, as well as scholarships. Denny is a staunch advocate for USD and the opportunities the university creates for its students and the state.

Originally from Tyndall, Denny now resides in Sioux Falls and is an attorney at The Duncan Law Firm LLP. You can find Denny at many Coyote football and men’s and women’s basketball games and track events.

Erik Muckey '14 - Public Service

Serving others is a core part of who Erik Muckey is. During his freshman year at USD, Erik was asked by his friend and fellow alumnus, the late Dennis John "DJ" Smith-Crawley ('14), to help start a group to support college students dealing with depression and suicide. Through Erik's long-time leadership, that group – Lost&Found – has become a premier suicide prevention and postvention organization for youth and young adults (ages 10-34) for the region, partnering with more than 10 higher education institutions and reaching more than 2 million people annually through digital mental health resources each year.

Raised in Corsica, Erik graduated from USD with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 2014 and was a USD 30 Under 30 recipient in 2019. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Lost&Found, as well as founder & Managing Partner of PASQ, a rural economic development and nonprofit sector consulting firm. He received his MBA and Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of Leadership South Dakota.

Julie Johnson '74, '76, '76 - Professional Achievement

The impact Julie Johnson has had on South Dakota as a lawyer leader is immeasurable. For more than 40 years, she has been a staple at the South Dakota State Capitol. She started as a page and intern in the Senate, and also held internships with the Legislative Research Council, Constitutional Review Commission, Attorney General’s Office and Siegel Barnett Law Firm. After earning three degrees from USD – her B.A. in 1974 and master’s and juris doctorate in 1976 – Julie returned home to Aberdeen to practice law for a few years before going to work for Gov. Bill Janklow in the Department of Labor. As secretary of the department, she helped South Dakota weather a recession and ag crisis. She also served the state as Secretary of the Department of Revenue, helping to remodel the property tax system.

Not only has Julie held official roles within the state government, but she has also led several other organizations, including the Industry and Commerce Association, Absolutely!Aberdeen, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and South Dakota Rural Development Council. Julie has also brought her professional leadership, counsel and advocacy to countless other nonprofits, boards, commissions and associations focused on economic development, small business, education and more.

Julie currently focuses on legislative issues for the region, and serves as a registered lobbyist for many groups. She serves as a USD Foundation Trustee and on its Board of Directors.