Governor Rounds, members of the South Dakota Board of Regents, representatives of this nation’s universities and colleges, Black Hills State University faculty, staff and students, community members, friends, and family. It is humbling to stand before you today as we celebrate a historic moment for this fine university. Many individuals have dedicated their careers to Black Hills State University since our founding in 1883. As your ninth president, I pledge I will honor the history and traditions of the past 123 years and will strive to ensure that Black Hills State University continues to provide a nurturing and invigorating environment for our students to learn and our faculty and staff to work.
As I listened to the greetings, I was reminded of a student essay written about Socrates. It noted that Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice… They poisoned him. To avoid a similar fate, I will refrain from offering advice today. Rather, I will reflect on the history of this great university and our responsibility to be innovative as we meet the diverse needs of our students and address the dynamic expectations of the Information Age and Global Economy.
In 1881, Spearfish was a small community in the rugged western section of the Dakota Territory. Committed to the value and ideals of learning, the citizens of Spearfish believed an institution of higher education was essential for the residents in this region. Such an institution, they believed, would bring culture and enlightenment and would provide qualified teachers for their children. Such an institution was a required element in their vision for the future of Spearfish and this region. While they were successful in getting the legislation passed in 1881, they were unable to secure a site for the institution within six months as mandated in the bill. Disappointed and exhausted, these entrepreneurs could have devoted their energy to other endeavors that would have benefited the fledgling community. However, the supporters of a Normal School remained committed to their vision. In 1883, they again requested and received approval from the Territorial Legislature for the institution. They were also able to raise the required funds for the land. Dakota Normal School finally became a reality. To put this effort into perspective, I find it remarkable that our predecessors were so determined to provide access to higher education in this region even before we gained statehood which occurred 6 years later in 1889. I also find it gratifying that the legacy of risk taking, innovation, and belief in the transformational value of education continues to permeate the culture of Black Hills State University. During our early years, many individuals in the community were staunch supporters of the college. Today, the campus and community continue to be integrally linked. In addition, BHSU has established programs that impact the region and the state. Examples include the Mobile Science Lab, Center for American Indian Studies, Center for the Advancement for Math and Science Education, Teacher Learning Center, Center for Tourism Research, Center for Conservation Biology, among others. In addition, we are meeting the needs of nearly 1,000 place bound students in Rapid City through the West River Higher Education Center, have articulation agreements with Western Dakota Technical Institute, work closely with the tribal colleges, and have collaborative programs with PK-12 schools. These programs are examples on a long list that support this university’s legacy of innovation and service to the state and Greater Black Hills Region.
When this institution was established in 1883, our purpose was "to provide instruction of people, both male and female, in the art of teaching in all the various aspects that pertain to a good common school education as well as to provide instruction in the mechanical arts, in husbandry and agricultural chemistry, in the basic and fundamental laws of this nation, and in the rights and duties of citizens." As the country moved from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age, our predecessors scanned the environment and responded to the needs of our students. Our academic programs were adjusted accordingly and student support programs were developed for the demographically changing student population. Our name changed several times to reflect the evolving role and mission from Dakota Normal/Spearfish Normal to Black Hills Teachers College to Black Hills State College to Black Hills State University. Today, we are the largest university in western South Dakota and the third largest in the state.
Those of us who were in higher education back in the 70’s and 80’s remember criticism from those outside of the academy that we were slow to change. We often heard that it was easier to move a cemetery than change the curriculum. I am not sure such comments were accurate then, but I can guarantee they are far from true now. Today, we are facing change that may be unrivaled in our history. We are well embedded in the shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the Global Economy. Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat captured the attention and imagination of the nation last year. Business leaders, legislators, policy makers, and the public are looking to higher education for leadership. In a speech at the Midwestern Education to Workforce Policy Summit in 2005, Roberts T. Jones noted education is the "civil rights issue of the 21st century calling education not just an opportunity but a right provided to all young people to enable them to not only survive, but also to thrive in society" (Proceedings, p. 6). Students who are freshmen today will be exposed to more new information during their four years at BHSU than their great grandparents had seen in their entire lifetime. In 2003, the Business-Higher Education Forum noted, "as we face an uncertain world, the strength of our nation—intellectually, economically, militarily—will be based on a highly motivated, well-educated workforce. That strength will only be as great as our commitment to learning and excellence in education." At Black Hills State University we are committed to preparing our students to be competitive in the Global Economy. The faculty and staff recognize the necessity to be innovative and are responding. Let me assure those of you who are not members of the Black Hills State University faculty and staff that I have found this institution to be deeply committed to our students’ learning as well as excellence in all we do. We also recognize we are part of a larger entity; the South Dakota Higher Education System. In South Dakota, changing demographics and a declining population contribute to an environment that requires collaboration and innovation from all sectors. By joining forces, we will meet the state’s 2010E goals to increase participation in higher education, recruit and retain high quality faculty and staff, and develop programs designed to enhance the state’s economy. The need to have a highly educated citizenry able to compete in the knowledge economy is increasingly important. At Black Hills State University we are committed to learning and excellence. We are responding to unprecedented change and continually look ahead to envision the future. We are flexible and responsive to the dynamic needs of a global economy. We provide access for low income, first generation, minority, and non-traditional age students. We are accountable to our students, parents, and the public. Most importantly, we transform the lives of our students.
During the past 123 years, South Dakotans have invested in Black Hills State University. The university has returned that investment thousands of times over. As we strive to respond to the evolving demands of the Information Age, the same characteristics possessed by our founders must be demonstrated by each of us. We have to be risk takers, we need to be visionaries, and we must be deeply committed to the value of education for our students. In an era when the newest colors by Crayola are Razzmatazz and Wild Blue Yonder, we must be equally creative. We must never forget the reason for our existence—to provide a high quality educational experience for our students. Whether our students are first time college students who just completed high school or adults who are returning to complete a degree, the experience they have will transform their lives. Students prepare for their careers in the classroom, they prepare for their lives through extracurricular activities. Their interaction with staff in our offices teaches them customer service. Their experience in student organizations teaches them teamwork. Their service activities teach them citizenship. The appearance of the campus teaches them pride of ownership. Each member of the Black Hills State University learning community plays an integral role in the transformational process. If we don’t believe we make a difference in some way, allow me to read a letter I received last week written by a former student leader from Emporia State University. This young man had a great deal of potential. I remember taking him to meetings in an effort to provide role models for this aspiring leader. This is what he wrote: "Let me begin by congratulating you on your new position. So much has changed since I left Emporia State University in 2002. Virtually all of it has been good, which is why I feel compelled to write this letter. You had a great deal of influence on me and I consider myself fortunate to have studied and worked under your guidance. Through your leadership, President Schallenkamp, you not only developed my appreciation for academia, but also furthered my ability to function in a work environment where compromise and understanding are paramount. Put bluntly, you opened your world to me and I am a better person as a result. Schooling provided me the B.F.A., M.A., and J.D.—but the education—I owe that to you" Sincerely, Greg Watt. Such letters serve as a reminder that we make a difference. To me, I was just doing my job. To Greg, I was doing something more. We all have such stories. Sometimes students tell us. More often, they tell someone else. But make no mistake, everyone on this campus has a role in the education of our students. During my General Assembly address this fall, I offered my vision for Black Hills State University. We will be recognized as an innovative, high quality university throughout the state, the Greater Black Hills region, the nation, and the world. We will no longer be known as a "best kept secret" or a "hidden treasure".
As I embark on this journey, I thank the Board of Regents and the faculty, staff, and students of Black Hills State University for giving me this opportunity to serve you. I also express appreciation to the Inauguration Committee chaired by Dr. Dean Meyers for your work in planning this event. Your intent was to showcase the accomplishments of this fine university. You have exceeded expectations.
Ken and I express appreciation to the community of Spearfish for your warm welcome. We look forward to becoming integral members of the city and region. We also thank Tom and Judy Flickema for their assistance and friendship over the past two decades but most importantly during the past few months of transition. The opportunity to follow in your footsteps and continue the course you set for Black Hills State University is a privilege that I never envisioned.
I thank my colleagues and friends who have traveled to celebrate this day with us. It is delightful to have you here representing our years in Aberdeen, Chadron, Whitewater, and Emporia. Your friendship and support has been very important to us over the years and we appreciate your efforts to be here.
In many instances, behind a successful person are a supportive and loving spouse and family. Our daughters, Heather and Jenni, often described themselves as academic brats as they moved from South Dakota to Nebraska to Wisconsin to Kansas. Hopefully, now that we have closed the circle and returned to your native state, you will re-connect with your roots. You have matured into impressive adults and are a source of pride for your dad and me. We are pleased to have Shad and Danny as part of our family and thank you for your love and support. Many of you have heard about our precious grandchildren, Alyssa and Tyler, who bring immense joy to our lives. They were only an hour away when we lived in Kansas. Now, we are watching them grow through our chats on the web cam. Technology is an important tool for grandparents to connect with our grandchildren.
It is a pleasure to share this day with 3 of my siblings; Joyce, Bob, and Jan as well as their spouses and families. Two of Ken’s sisters are here, Janet and Linda with their spouses. I am so grateful that my mother’s brother, Lornie is here. Mom never missed an event for her children or grandchildren. Although she has been gone for four years, we still miss her dearly. Having you here tonight is a special gift.
It is said that behind every successful person is a supportive spouse. It might be also said that behind a successful person are surprised in-laws! I remember 37 years ago when Ken and I decided we would be married prior to our junior year in college. Needless to say, our parents thought it would be wise to wait until we completed our degrees. We now have 6 degrees between us and know we owe our parents great appreciation for their love and support as we pursued our dreams. As first generation college students graduating from a high school class of 23, our experiences were quite limited. Yet, each step of the journey was made possible with the support of our parents. We appreciate Ken’s dad and his wife Shirley for being here to help us celebrate. Governor, as a first generation college student raised on a farm in southeastern South Dakota, my parents would never have envisioned that I would share a stage with the Governor of South Dakota! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here.
Ken, words can not capture the appreciation I have for your love and support. If there has ever been someone who epitomizes the supportive spouse, you are it. I thank you for the personal sacrifices you have made throughout this journey and hope you know how much I love and respect you.
To the faculty, staff, and students of Black Hills State University, we are embarking on an adventure. Together, we will continue to be innovative as we transform the lives of our students. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to be part of your history.