Della Keats Program

Moses student


The Need

Kanani Morrow

In 2016, only 2% of the 1,643 physicians providing direct care in Alaska self-identified as American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) despite this demographic making up 15% of the state’s population. The under-representation of AI/AN individuals in health careers is not isolated to Alaska as the ratio of AI/AN physicians practicing in the United States has been dropping over the last 30 years. Between 2013 and 2017, only 27 self-identified AI/AN students with Alaskan residencies even applied to a U.S. medical school. Furthermore, for the past 15 years, AI/AN self-identified students have represented less than 0.3% of doctoral recipients in the U.S.

Pre-college programs, such as summer research experiences or bridge programs, allow high school students to gain valuable skills and habits related to college success. In particular, underrepresented minority high school students who participate in a summer research experience reported increased confidence in science ability, science skills, and motivation and affirmation to pursue a science career. Studies show students, in particular underrepresented minority students in science, who participated in a pre-college laboratory research experience were 4 times more likely to enter medical school.

For 16 years, staff of the WWAMI School of Medical Education at UAA operated a series of intensive residential summer programs to propel rising 11th and 12th grade students into careers in health care. Despite this documented pathway to success, the Della Keats Program was paused in 2018 due to federal funding cuts to high school pathways programs.


KodaProgram Overview

UAA aims to re-start the Della Keats Program during Summer 2023, named after Della Keats, an Alaska Native Inupiaq traditional healer from the Kotzebue region. Della Keats provided both educational and medical services to her people throughout her life, and believed strongly in the importance of expanding, maintaining, and sharing medical knowledge in ways that would benefit both Alaska Native people and the broader Alaskan community. The Della Keats Program is administered by the UAA WWAMI School of Medical Education (Alaska WWAMI). 

The program will offer a series of intensive residential summer programs that prepare and inspire Alaskan high school students to pursue higher education with a focus on a career in the health profession. Participants will experience university residential life, complete health science-related pre-college coursework, carry out health-related research projects, and complete at least four different medical or health care professional job shadows. The program specifically aims to recruit Alaska Native, rural, and other underrepresented people to work in Alaska health fields, focusing on students who are interested in careers in biomedical research, medicine, or health-related professions, with the aim of creating a more diverse, innovative, and productive biomedical workforce in Alaska.

Goals and Objectives

The fundamental goal of the Della Keats Program is to increase early college success of rural Alaska Native and other underrepresented students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), and health-related careers by increasing student confidence in both their academic and socio/emotional preparation through a highly supportive residential program that offers a near-college experience for 11th and 12th grade students. 

  • 1: Increase Academic Readiness

    Increase 11th and 12th-grade student confidence and self-sufficiency in learning through the introduction of six EBL strategies (retrieval practice, spaced repetition, interleaving, dual coding, elaboration, and concrete examples). These strategies will guide students as they experiment with the implementation of high-yield study strategies while learning content from Health Promotion themed curriculum.

  • 2: Increase Cultural Readiness

    Increase confidence of 11th and 12th-grade Alaska Native/underrepresented students in their ability to navigate the social construct of college life through a mentored residential experience and the development of an ongoing, supportive student community. The residential nature of the program will enable students to experience college life first-hand and acquire the life skills they will need to succeed at college. Participants will be supervised by Youth Peer Mentors (science, pre-medical or pre-nursing students with experience as residential assistants). Additionally, participants will work together to create dedicated social media platforms they can use to support and encourage each other as they progress on to college.

  • 3: Increase Career Exploration

    Increase knowledge of STEM and health-related careers of 12th grade students by providing an on-campus four-week research internship that will foster, affirm, and encourage students’ interest in biomedical professions. Participating Alaska Native/underrepresented students will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on biomedical research that encourages project ownership by the student.

Program Results

Della Keats has a history of unparalleled success in the number of participants completing high school and college, and going on to a career in health care. When the program previously ran,


of participants completed a college degree or certificate program,


became nurses,


are now medical doctors, and


are pharmacists.


Community Support

We invite community support for this program in the following ways:

  • Request for Partners

    In an effort to both revitalize and stabilize the Della Keats Program, the UAA College of Health has launched a campaign to secure $215,000 to re-start the program for 20-25 students in summer 2023. Gifts of any amount are accepted. Donors may sponsor a Della Keats student from a specific rural community in Alaska. A full student sponsorship is $10,000. 

  • Job Shadowing

    Della Keats participants will be given the opportunity to shadow four professionals working in different areas of medicine, nursing, and/or the allied health professions. These preceptorships will be arranged by the Alaska AHEC in collaboration with Providence Alaska Medical Center. While the majority of these opportunities will be medically based with students shadowing medical professionals in a range of clinical settings, interested students will also be given the opportunity to shadow UAA-based chemists, biologists, physicists, and psychologists. 

  • Guest Lectures

    Participants will be introduced to research, medical, and college experience through a combination of guest lectures and tours that will be centered on the theme of Health Promotion. These will include tours of the research and medical facilities associated with UAA and the adjacent hospitals (including the Alaska Native Medical Center and the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories) as well as tours of the support facilities available to AN/underrepresented students at UAA, including Native Student Services (NSS), AHAINA (African American, Hispanic, Asian, International, and Native American students), Disability Support Services, and the TRIO program. It will also include guest lectures by UAA research scientists and local medical professionals who will discuss possible careers in both fields. The series will also include informal meetings with biomedical research, medical, and nursing students, as well as graduates from AN/underrepresented backgrounds who as near-peers will be uniquely capable of interacting with and inspiring the participants. 



To learn more about how you can support this program, please contact UAA College of Health Senior Development Officer Jennifer Motes, (907) 713-7735,