It is certainly not an understatement to say the past year has been unprecedented in higher education. We continue to encounter a global pandemic that has impacted everyone, and as a society we have had to live through civil and political unrest unlike anything seen in decades.
Our role in higher education has been challenged, but our commitment to fulfilling our educational mission has not altered. In fact, I believe our university will be better and stronger for having endured these challenges.
For almost a year we have asked our students, faculty and staff to do things differently. We have explored the impact the world is having on our daily lives and engaged in conversations to try and find context and answers. We changed almost everything on our campuses to ensure our employees and students were given the chance to be successful in an environment that is as safe as possible.
The challenge brought the best out of many of us at South Dakota State University. We pivoted quickly last spring when COVID-19 began to invade our country and state. We moved all of our classes online in two weeks and finished a semester in a virtual setting that allowed our students to complete their academic requirements for the year.
We conferred more than 2,600 degrees in May 2020 with our graduates becoming teachers, counselors, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, ag producers and many more other professions that are the result of the majors and programs offered at SDSU. We did fulfill our academic mission.
The 2020-21 academic year brought on new challenges with a commitment to provide the best on-campus experience possible. We altered our course delivery, providing a hybrid model while having in-person and online instruction available. We changed the setup of our classrooms, restructured our residence halls, dining facilities, wellness center and many other areas.
Our faculty researchers in the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory added additional testing capacity for COVID-19 and our Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services opened a testing center for students. We managed COVID-19 and kept our faculty and staff employed and our students on campus.
This spring we will have another commencement exercise and graduate the next class of 2,500-plus Jackrabbits who will enter the workforce prepared to have a positive impact on society. They will have an important role in our state and country’s post-pandemic recovery.
As the years pass, we will look back at this time and realize how challenging this period has been, but also how critical it was to maintain our educational system and not disrupt the flow of learning, the creation of new knowledge and the outreach to help others.
The following report details several stories about SDSU’s role in navigating, as well as helping our communities, through COVID-19 while still delivering on our mission to serve the people of South Dakota. Many heroes have emerged at our university during this time, more than we can tell in this report. They have been selfless, innovative and inspiring. They have also been impactful in fulfilling our land-grant mission.
But we know success is short-lived. We will once again turn our attention to the next academic year and address any challenges that may still exist from COVID-19 or elsewhere. It is the resolve of our university and its people that make being a Jackrabbit so great. It is the desire to transform lives and impact others in ways they did not know existed. It is our obligation to provide those pathways and opportunities so others may pursue their passions and their dreams.
Barry H. Dunn