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BHSU psychology professor recognized with 2011 Distinguished Faculty Award


Dr. James Hess, professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, was honored with the 2011 Distinguished Faculty Award. He was recognized for being a leader on campus through his dedication to and support of his students, his colleagues, and the University.

Hess, who was selected by his peers to receive the award, was surprised during class with the news. According to Hess, he was extremely honored to receive this award especially since becoming a professor was not his intention. When he was first given the opportunity to teach over 30 years ago, he found that he enjoyed making a difference in the lives of students. He also practiced as a counseling psychologist for years, before deciding to focus more of his energy on teaching.

Over the years Hess has hosted numerous workshops and lectures at BHSU and in the surrounding communities. One of the things he enjoys most is teaching and sharing his knowledge with people. Making a difference is extremely important to him and he has had many gratifying moments in his life that have proven that his efforts were appreciated. He once had a mother during a workshop that asked him to “fix” her son. After talking to her son, he discovered he was a very normal and healthy boy. When relaying that information to the boy’s mother, he used the analogy of baking cakes. Hess told her that if you take your cake out of the oven 15 minutes early, it won’t taste very good. He told her that her son had all the right ingredients, he just needed some time to finish baking. A few years ago, that mother called Hess thanking him for the advice, and told him that her son had finished baking – he had just graduated from medical school.

Hess’s classes are preferred by many students for his real-world experiences in clinical and counseling psychology. He is sought as an advisor by psychology students and often provides advising for students while they are actively enrolled at BHSU and long after they have graduated. Recently, a graduate asked for Hess’s assistance in finding an internship opportunity - something with which her graduate program was not helping. Another BHSU graduate (from over a decade ago) recently called seeking his professional advice. “It’s those moments that tell me I still make a difference, as long as I have that feeling I will be actively involved in teaching,” said Hess.

Not only does Hess demonstrate dedication to his students, he is also an avid supporter of the University in many ways. He established the Lois Watts Psychology Scholarship, in honor of his grandmother, and recently pledged an additional $50,000 bringing the value of the endowment which provides scholarships to BHSU psychology students to $100,000.

“I gave the contribution because I believe strongly in something my grandmother taught me as a small child. We all need to give more than we take and this donation was a part of my commitment to honor her message," said Hess. The sales of his book, “The Unexpurgated Guide to Theories of Personality,” also go to the scholarship. Hess is working on growing the endowment so it can continue to help students even after Hess is retired from the University. Steve Meeker, vice president of University Advancement at BHSU, commented, “Dr. Hess has been a true leader on campus for many years and is a great example for all employees. This generous gift shows his commitment and passion for psychology students, his colleagues, and BHSU.”

Hess received his bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as his master’s degree in counseling and his doctorate in counseling psychology, from Oklahoma State University. He has been a member of the BHSU faculty since 1983. At that time he was the only faculty member in the Psychology Department. His primary focus includes personality theory, clinical psychology, contemporary human behavior, psychological testing, abnormal psychology, and internship supervision.

The BHSU Distinguished Faculty Award is presented each spring to encourage and reward outstanding teaching and professional dedication by faculty members at BHSU. The recipient is formally recognized during the spring commencement ceremony and is invited to deliver a keynote address at the following year’s commencement ceremony. In addition, the recipient receives a monetary award for personal and professional growth.

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