Dr. Holly Downing, professor of biology at Black Hills State University, was named the 2020-21 Distinguished Faculty Member. Downing was recognized by her peers for excellence in teaching, research, and service.
Dr. Holly Downing, professor of biology, was named the 2020-21 Distinguished Faculty Member at Black Hills State University. The honor recognizes one faculty member per year for excellence in teaching, research, and service.
BHSU President Laurie Nichols thanked Downing for her dedication to the university and students.
“Your nomination by your peers for this award talked about your vast knowledge of your discipline and your care and concern for students,” said Nichols, during a video call to congratulate Downing. “We congratulate you on this highest recognition of your teaching, research, and service to BHSU.”
Dr. Greg Farley, dean of the College of Business and Natural Sciences, noted the demand for Downing’s courses and her successful efforts in advising the applied health sciences program.
“In addition to advising our zoology and biology students, you’ve made remarkable and dedicated contributions advising our large number of applied health sciences students,” Farley said.
Downing arrived at BHSU more than two decades ago, first serving as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. A scientist by trade, Downing’s contributions to the arts are also remarkable. She served as administrative director for the Johanna Meier Opera Theater Institute at BHSU and served on Boards of the South Dakota Humanities Council and the Matthews Opera House. During her time as Dean, Downing also ensured the fine arts and photography programs were supported and sought additional funds for equipment and lighting.
After serving as Dean for 13 years, Downing chose to return to teaching.
“It’s been such a joy to teach and work at BHSU. The students and my colleagues have been wonderful to work with,” said Downing.
Downing started her career in zoology and inspired by the work Jane Goodall did with chimpanzees. As an undergraduate student, she applied for a small research grant from the Smithsonian to study animal behavior over the summer in Panama at their research station.
“The summer was not enough time to study monkeys in a meaningful way and my advisor suggested I study an interesting ant species that he knew about at the Smithsonian Research Station. I spent two and a half months studying an incredibly fascinating ant that forages on termites and got hooked on social insects,” Downing said.
Downing earned her Ph.D. in Entomology, the study of insects, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She taught at The College of Wooster and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater before coming to BHSU.
Most recently, Downing’s research has focused on examining nest construction and long-term population changes in paper wasp species.
“Animal behavior and what regulates the behavior we see has always fascinated me. How does a wasp build its nest? How are the raiding parties of ants coordinated? What pheromones coordinate a social group? I find questions like these intriguing. I like puzzles and trying to solve them,” says Downing.
Downing will retire from BHSU this month, and recognition as the 2020-21 Distinguished Faculty Member recognizes her successful career in research and education.
“It’s a wonderful honor to be nominated and selected for this honor,” says Downing. “I’ve enjoyed the advising, teaching, and research I’ve done at BHSU, and this recognition culminates the experience.”