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Before the fall semester officially began Monday at Black Hills State University, faculty and staff gathered with Interim President Laurie Nichols as she shared her plans and goals for the university this academic year.

Nichols shared with the packed room of educators the following three priorities for BHSU:

  • enrollment stabilization and growth;
  • academic offerings with an eye on aligning programs to tomorrow’s regional workforce needs; and
  • community and regional engagement.

“This is an important year for Black Hills State,” said Nichols. “It is a perfect year to focus on our highest needs and priorities, and then pull out all the stops to make good progress.”

Since beginning her tenure at BHSU July 1, Nichols has conducted many conversations with campus and community members in Spearfish and Rapid City. She said she will continue to do so.

Sharing that she looks forward to being active on campus, Nichols said, “I love getting to know and supporting our students.”

Nichols honored several faculty and staff members who achieved a significant accomplishment or received special recognition through a community or professional organization.

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“It truly is the people who make Black Hills State University such a special place and these people/teams that have just been recognized exemplify the level of dedication that we see all around us,” Nichols said. “Again, thank you and congratulations for your outstanding efforts.”

Among those honored were:

  • Dr. Brianna Mount, assistant professor of physics, who received a three-year grant for an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates), from the National Science Foundation.
  • Dr. Cynthia Anderson, associate director of CCBR and associate professor of biology, lead researcher who submitted a successful renewal EPSCoR proposal that will bring approximately $625,000 to BHSU over the next five years to stimulate research, especially in the biosciences.
  • Dr. Breon Derby, assistant professor of physical education, was awarded the Community Patron of the Year by Northern Hills Training Center (NHTC) for her work with Adaptive PE classes for NHTC individuals,
  • Dr. Trenton Ellis, assistant professor of human services, worked collaboratively with scholars in Slovenia and was instrumental in BHSU recently being awarded a 2019-2020 Fulbright Scholar in Residence.
  • Gina Gibson, professor of digital communication, is Sanford Lab’s first-ever artist-in-residence. The Sanford Lab Artist-in-Residence is a one-year program that provides artists the chance to observe Sanford’s environment and create artistic works based on research and activities related to the lab. Gibson will create an exhibition for Sanford Lab’s annual Neutrino Day and Deep Talks lecture.
  • Kelly Kirk, instructor of history and director of the Honors Program, received a grant award of $160,500 for the Veterans Legacy Program. This is a collaboration between the National Cemetery Administration, BHSU, and the community to memorialize veterans interred in the five veterans’ cemeteries in the greater Black Hills region. The focus is to develop these cemeteries as sites of public history and public memory.
  • Scott Walkinshaw, head cross country coach, was recently inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics NAIA Hall of Fame. He was honored for his impressive resume coaching the Yellow Jackets over 11 years in the NAIA. The induction ceremony took place at the 2019 NAIA Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
  • BHSU Women’s Rodeo Team, under the leadership of Head Coach Glen Lammers, finished as Champions of the Great Plains Region for the fourth consecutive year. At the completion of the 2019 season BHSU was ranked first in the nation. In addition, BHSU student Tucker Chytka is serving as student President of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
  • Fred Nelson, director of Network and Computing Services, was elected American Legion State Commander at the statewide convention in June. The American Legion is the largest wartime veteran service organization in South Dakota, with over 18,000 members serving in 240 local American Legion Posts across the state. Fred Nelson Day was proclaimed in Spearfish on Saturday, June 29, to honor the new state commander at his homecoming celebration, which included legionnaires from across the state.
  • Randy Culver, associate vice president of Facilities and Sustainability, received the 2019 Unsung Hero Award from the Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA). The award recognizes Randy as someone who works tirelessly for his profession — behind the scenes and staying out of the spotlight. Randy currently serves as Membership Chairman for the Central Association of Physical Plant Administration (CAPPA) Board, is South Dakota’s membership representative, and serves on the national APPA membership committee.
  • Tracy Steinbach, senior computer support specialist, is the 2019 South Dakota Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year. This award is presented to the person who exhibits the best example of voluntary action to improve the quality of Special Olympics.

This year marks Nichols’ 41st year in education. She shared with the faculty and staff members that she completed her student teaching experience as a new educator at Douglas High School on the Ellsworth Air Force Base in 1978. She has taught in K-12 schools and in higher education throughout South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Ohio, Idaho, Iowa and Wyoming.

“I could not be happier than to be right back to where I started 41 years ago, in the beautiful Black Hills, West River, and right here on the campus of BHSU,” Nichols said.

Nichols closed her address by reiterating her priorities and thanking faculty and staff members for their work at BHSU. She said she is excited to be at a comprehensive, public, regional undergraduate university providing access to a higher education for the citizens of Western South Dakota.

“BHSU is an economic engine, focusing on workforce needs, for the region,” she said. “That is our mission, and one that we embrace and live each and every day.”

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