BHSU photography professor Steve Babbitt reflects on career after receiving Art Education Award

Steve Babbitt, professor of photography at Black Hills State University, accepts the Outstanding Service in Arts Education Award from Governor Dennis Daugaard and Arts South Dakota.

Photography by Black Hills State University professor Steve Babbitt demonstrates Babbitt's motto that "great teachers translate passion for their subject matter into an incredible learning experience students will remember the rest of their lives." Babbitt was recently honored by S.D. Governor Dennis Daugaard and Arts South Dakota for Outstanding Service in Arts Education.   

As a student's first photograph rises from the developer, Steve Babbitt once again gets to witness the student's face light up with excitement. Steve says that expression of wonder is still one of his greatest rewards after teaching 25 years.

Steve Babbitt, professor of photography at Black Hills State University, was recently honored by Arts South Dakota and Governor Dennis Daugaard with the Outstanding Service in Arts Education Award. The award recognizes lifetime achievement by individuals who have made significant contributions to arts education as teachers, mentors, or catalysts.

When accepting his award in Pierre earlier this year, Steve said he is proud to be counted among so many hardworking, dedicated, and inspiring teachers in South Dakota.

"I have, without a doubt, the best job in the world. My job as a teacher gives me the great opportunity to walk students to the edge of creativity and discover something about themselves that they previously didn't know," said Steve.

Steve started teaching at BHSU in 1994. At the time, there were two photography classes at the University. He has since developed the photography program into a major in the mass communication and art departments. He's helped expand BHSU facilities from a small office and darkroom into two large darkrooms, a matting-framing area, a digital lab, an alternative, historic photography processes lab, a large studio, and a classroom and a photography gallery specifically for exhibiting student's work.

In the beginning, Steve had 30 photo students a year. Now he and associate photography professor Jerry Rawlings teach 200 students a year. Steve has created 13 new photography courses and a new bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in photography degree, considered the gold standard in arts education.

Steve's current and former students, many of whom chose to make the trip to Pierre to see their professor accept his award, say Steve stands out as the teacher who has most impacted their lives and learning.

One example is Julieanne Morse. Julieanne was deployed to Afghanistan during her third year of college at BHSU. When she told her family and friends of her impending deployment, she also shared the news with her mentor and photography professor-Steve Babbitt.

Steve suggested she take self-portraits while preparing for deployment to build a portfolio for a senior-level class in Contemporary Issues. Julieanne heard from Steve throughout her time overseas and he encouraged her to continue capturing images for the portfolio.

Julieanne says using photography during deployment and looking back on those photos now, helped her with reintegrating back into life in the states.

Steve received his bachelor and master's degrees in fine art, with specialization in photography, from the San Francisco Art Institute. When he thinks about those who have helped him find his way as an artist and as an educator, he says he remembers those who've helped him teach and think in creative ways.

From Steve's fourth grade math teacher, Mr. Ambrosi, who taught his class math by making ice cream, to the genius and creative mind of Mr. Neu of the erosion control company Steve worked for when he was 20, to studio photographer Marshall Berman, first Steve's teacher and then his employer who mentored Steve as a creative person, Steve affirms he was taught by many creative and inspiring individuals.

"An art educator helps all of us to see and think from a different point of view. I hope I've helped my students think in new and creative ways, to not always look for the easy path to a solution, but to search within themselves for ways to tap into their own potential," said Babbitt.

Steve says photography has become an extension of his existence in the world. In addition to teaching, Steve produces his own photographic art and regularly participates in national and international juried exhibitions. His images can be found in the collections of The Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France The Getty Museum Library, Malibu, California The Dahl Fine Art Center, Rapid City, South Dakota and the San Francisco Art Institute.

For his entire career, Steve has served on boards and committees promoting local artists and expanding art in communities and schools. He received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Spearfish Arts Center for spearheading and building a successful art gallery in the community.

"Regardless of the day, the lesson or the student, my goal when I walk into a classroom is to be the best teacher that I can be and make my students want to be the best they can be as well," said Steve. "Great teachers translate passion for their subject matter into an incredible learning experience that students will remember the rest of their lives."

To learn more about the new bachelor of fine art (BFA) degree at BHSU or the photography program, visit