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Q&A with Moneik Stephens, program coordinator for SDSU West River  

Moneik Stephens is the program coordinator for South Dakota State University West River. She works with the Department of Continuing and Distance Education while also advising West River SDSU students attending online and at Black Hills State University – Rapid City. She also works with the Department of Counseling and Human Development coordinating the Rapid City counseling and human resource development schedule and assists those students and faculty.

Moneik Stephens
Moneik Stephens is the program coordinator for SDSU West River.

How has the fall semester been going so far?
Moneik Stephens: Great, I mean, we have awesome students, and our enrollment out here is up. It's wonderful to be able to help those students get acclimated to the new semester. One of the keys is we're getting a lot more SDSU merchandise in the bookstore, and it's fun to see that because we don't always have those opportunities to get Jackrabbit gear and to make that connection. We've been doing some fun activities with the SDSU Alumni Association, where we have watch parties so students can go and watch the football games. We're having a fun run, walk with the USD Alumni Association on Oct. 8 for the football game, and we're going to have a watch party with the alumni associations, again, building that spirit of being an SDSU student while they're here in Rapid City. For me, it's fun. I have that Jackrabbit spirit but helping my students to get that Jackrabbit spirit here is fun as well.
Is there anything new for SDSU West River this semester?
The biggest new thing we have right now is our agricultural science associate degree that's completely online. However, students can take their gen ed classes through BHSU-RC, and then take the agricultural science classes through SDSU online. So, while they're working out here on the ranch, they can take classes either online or locally for their gen eds, and then complete those agricultural science classes online, which gives them kind of the best of both worlds. The other thing that's really growing in popularity is our Bachelor of General Studies program, which is the degree completion through SDSU. So, students who are away from campus but maybe went to campus when they were more traditional age can now finish their degrees online. They could take classes through the BHSU-RC site, they could take classes through the online format, but they're able to then complete their degrees online, where they're at. A lot of times it's for job advancement or to continue on to a master's program. Oftentimes, it's because life got in the way, and this is an opportunity for them to get a bachelor's degree and get that job promotion.
Can you kind of explain the importance of an off-campus center and online options for higher education students in this day and age?
The importance of being off campus is that students have the ability to take classes where they're at, on their time. So, with our online classes, they have the flexibility to do that and still live West River. They have the opportunity to study in a higher education setting with the strong support from campus, but also, they can live here—many are unable to move because of spouses’ jobs or their own jobs, and yet, they still want the opportunity to go to school. They want to be SDSU alumni, they want that opportunity to study and get a good degree from a great university, without leaving where they're at. The flexibility of being able to meet with somebody in person here in Rapid City and have their questions answered is a great asset to their education, because then they don't feel so alone. Students here can reach out to me and get their questions answered.

What's your favorite part of living and working in Rapid City?
I love the small-town atmosphere. I grew up in the country, so Rapid City is small but has large-city amenities. We live right next to the beautiful Black Hills so you can go out, hike and go explore. I love that. The students out here, they're passionate, they want to learn. But for a lot of them, this is home, this is family, this is the community that they were raised in and to go six hours away (to Brookings) is sometimes a little too much for students, especially those 17-year-old students who may have just graduated. So going away from home is going to be just a little too much for their first year, so they start out here. I advise them for the first year, they take their general education classes through BHSU-RC, and then we transition to on campus. I advise them on the classes that they need to be on campus for so that they don't miss anything. They don't take any extra classes they don't need, but they still have that small-campus feel. They still get to live at home, and then make that transition to the college campus.