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Nelson’s Legacy Writes the Next Chapter of SDSU Journalism

courtesy of the SDSU Foundation

Every Jackrabbit at South Dakota State University has a unique story to tell; nobody knew that better than Jeff Nelson.

Jeff Nelson, SDSU Foundation
Jeff Nelson

A passionate writer and storyteller himself, Nelson served the SDSU Foundation as director of gift planning for nearly 30 years. Though Nelson died in 2017, his legacy will elevate the story of SDSU through the Jeffrey B. Nelson Investigative Journalism Endowed Internship.

Thanks to an exclusive partnership between South Dakota News Watch and SDSU, Nelson’s talent for the written word and passion for Jackrabbits of all generations will boost opportunities within the School of Communication and Journalism. The first-ever endowed internship at SDSU honors Nelson. It was established by his brother, Barry, and sister-in-law, Heather.

The program will offer students firsthand workplace experience at News Watch, an independent nonprofit organization known for reporting stories with accuracy and integrity.

After graduating from SDSU in 1962 with his bachelor’s in journalism followed by a master’s degree in 1969, Nelson got his start as a reporter working for the Kearney (Nebraska) Hub. His career later spanned newspapers and communications outlets across the country, serving universities ranging from Montana to New York. Nelson eventually circled back to his alma mater, joining the SDSU Foundation and pioneering a new era of planned giving built on lasting donor relationships. In his role, Nelson relished the chance to share the stories of the people of SDSU, supporting donors and transcribing their impact on the university for nearly three decades before retiring in 2014.

“SDSU was a place he loved and loved working for,” said Trudy Billion, Nelson’s daughter. “My dad was a people person, which is part of the reason he loved his job so much.”

The endowed internship will provide extensive training and real-world skillsets for student journalists. Through a paid internship, recipients will gain valuable knowledge of high-impact journalism, preparing them for future careers in communication.

Andrew Rasmussen, Nelson Endowed Internship
Andrew Rasmussen

The first recipient is Brookings native Andrew Rasmussen, a journalism and political science major who was elected Students’ Association president this spring.

Adding to the prestige of the selection, the internship recipient will also receive a scholarship from Chuck Raasch and Sandy Johnson. Raasch and Johnson are two of the most accomplished professionals to have graduated from SDSU’s journalism program. Raasch was a longtime national political reporter, most notably for USA Today and Gannett News Service. Johnson was a veteran of The Associated Press, and served as chief of the Washington, D.C., news bureau.

“This new and unique endeavor with the Nelson family and South Dakota News Watch enhances our internship program,” said Lyle Olson, who retired in June as director of the School of Communication and Journalism. “It focuses on a critically important role in today’s society, that of high-quality, in-depth investigative reporting. The ability to add a scholarship provided by Chuck Raasch and Sandy Johnson makes this the most coveted journalism award offered by the school.”

Nelson was a lifelong advocate of accurate reporting in the public interest, and the internship inspired by that legacy has already begun to make a difference for students at SDSU. In addition to salary and potential academic credit, the opportunity offers aspiring writers an up-close look into the world of reporting and the many facets of working for a news organization.

What started as one breakout voice in journalism more than 50 years ago will lead to countless new voices sharing the story of the university and the state in perpetuity.