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Sociology History

The Rural Sociology Department was formally established in 1925 in the Agricultural College. Prior to that date, and as early as 1897, basic courses in Sociology were offered in other departments on campus. Federal legislation in 1925 provided for research in Sociology and Economics. Since that time, federal incentives for research together with local needs for continuing education and on-campus instruction have provided the department with a set of missions consistent with those of SDSU as a land-grant institution. Thus, from its inception, department missions have included teaching, research, and service.

In its early years, the department curriculum focused on providing service courses to support other established department majors on campus. Under the leadership of Dr. W.F. Kumlien (1926-1954), the department played a major role in research related to rural life. In addition, numerous extension education programs focused on providing workshops for rural ministers and school teachers across the state.

In the 1930s, new research thrusts focusing on rural relief and population migration were evident. The Works Programs Administration (WPA) provided up to twenty additional employees who were assigned to numerous community research studies conducted by the department. Increased demand for continuing education at that time also resulted in the establishing of a masters’ degree program in Sociology in 1932.

The 1940s brought a major emphasis on rural education and school district organization and reorganization. The end of World War II also brought increased enrollments and an opportunity for the department to expand its research foci as well as instructional offerings.

Enrollments dropped again during the Korean War of the 1950s, but rebounded with the coming of the “Sputnik” era. Research and extension programs expanded to new horizons, including attention to American Indian cultures and rural mental health issues. These were added to the continuing emphases on rural education and population research. Under the leadership of H.M. Sauer (1954-1972), the department continued to provide the basic service courses at the undergraduate level and expanded graduate course offerings for its own majors as well as others.

A Ph.D. program in the social sciences was begun in the early 1960s, but shifted to a more specific Ph.D. in Sociology in 1963. Research during this time period expanded to include focuses on Hutterites and rural poverty. Demographic analyses also were in great demand by local and state officials requesting population information. Undergraduate enrollment continued to grow and more than doubled during this decade.

The 1970s brought major shifts in all three department missions. H.M. Sauer retired and Dr. James L. Satterlee was appointed department head (1973-1999). The research program continued with redirection toward increased demographic and American Indian emphasis. Funding was provided to the department during this period for extension education programs and publications in the area of Community Resource Development. Student interests shifted during this time from more general liberal arts to more specialized, career focused programs. As a result, a series of career-related options were created in the department in the mid-1970s. Academic advising was also re-oriented to these specializations. Thus, the curriculum in Sociology was expanded to address the career areas of human services, social work, teaching, and criminal justice. The graduate program continued to experience growth in both the masters and doctoral programs through this decade. Also reflecting a career focus, the M.S. – Planning Option was added. A graduate program coordinator was formally appointed at this time to provide for long-range planning in the graduate program.

The 1980s brought major scrutiny of the research and extension programs at SDSU by the state legislature. All American Indian, Hutterite, and agriculture-related research in the department was deleted at this time on the basis that funds needed to be redirected to support research in agricultural production areas. The general economic condition of the state in the early 1980s also had serious, negative impacts on the department with staff cuts (faculty generally moved from twelve-month to nine-month contracts), travel restrictions, and close scrutiny of any proposed expansions. As a result, the only Agricultural Experiment Station project left in the department was the Census Data Center with a ¼ professional FTE assigned to it. Meanwhile, enrollments held stable in the department, and an additional undergraduate option in Personnel Management (not Human Resources) was made available to students. A non-thesis option at the M.S. level was also initiated at this time.

The late 1980s and early 1990s brought an increase in the number of staff positions (to ten) as a result of increased enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Criminal Justice program and minor, which had been a cooperative program with the University of South Dakota, became an SDSU program with the minor now open to all majors on campus. Accompanying this shift was a significant increase in the number of Sociology majors between 1993 and 1997. Through the remaining years of the 1990s, the number of Sociology majors declined, as did enrollments in courses taught through the department. The B.S. program in Rural Sociology was eliminated in 1995 owing to cost-cutting system wide to drop programs from which few students graduated. The graduate program, on the other hand, held relatively stable with an average of 47 graduate students enrolled in our M.S. and Ph.D. programs between 1990 and 1999. During this time period, the number of faculty positions also decreased to eight. At the same time, an Applied Option was added to the masters program; it has specializations in Applied Social Research, Community Development, Criminal Justice, Demography, and Family Studies. In relation to outreach, some Cooperative Extension Service funding was reinstated in 1992 to the department to disseminate research from the Census Data Center to communities and groups across the state.

J.L. Satterlee retired as department head in 1999, and Dr. Donna Hess became the acting department head. Subsequently, Dr. Satterlee was granted professor emeritus status, and Dr. Hess was appointed department head in May 2000. In Fall 2000, Dr. Meredith Redlin joined the faculty to fill the void in Rural Sociology instruction. With the addition of Dr. Redlin to the faculty, an undergraduate course (Sociology of Rural America) and a graduate course are again being offered on a regular basis. The Sociology of Rural America course, in particular, draws large enrollments since many students use it to complete one or two of the system (Regents) or institutional (SDSU) core requirements in social sciences and/or cultural diversity. In particular, the course draws many students from the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. The number of undergraduate Sociology majors showed some signs of rebounding in Fall 2001 as did the number of students enrolling in undergraduate Sociology courses in Fall 2000 through Spring 2002. During this same time period, the number of graduate students in the Sociology M.S. and Ph.D. programs held steady at 48.

The scope of work of the Data Center has expanded to provide a wider array of services and resources to constituents across the state. As a result, the Census Data Center is now known as the Rural Life/Census Data Center. Much of its services are delivered via internet, hence it is most appropriate to think of it as a “virtual” center. It is currently staffed by an extension sociologist and a 0.5 FTE doctoral graduate assistant. The graduate assistant is funded by a combination of funds from AES and CES.

Most recently, the delivery of courses has expanded in Sioux Falls as the University Center has grown, an applied master’s program in Community Development is now offered through the GPIDEA consortium, and the faculty now stands at eleven full-time and seven affiliated, joint, part-time, and emeritus faculty.

Since 2000, several faculty in the department have also become more engaged in collaborative research on topics and issues in agriculture and rural life. Grant activity has resulted in two awards in recent years. One of these is a $3.7 million consortium grant from USDA/IFAFS addressing “Social, Economic, and Ethical Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnology.” Another recent grant is a collaborative, five-year Information Technology Training grant from the National Science Foundation addressing the potential for human resource development in rural communities through training in information technology. Still another collaborative project carried out by Dr. Diane Kayongo-Male of the Sociology Department with other educators was the Kellogg-funded Visions for Change Three-State (Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota) project. This project focuses on communities working together to strengthen our food and fiber system. More recently, four faculty worked with the American Sociological Association to integrate quantitative data analysis (IDA) into lower-level sociology courses. This cooperative effort has enhanced the statistical literacy of our undergraduate students. An NRI subcontract to create a community database for which the social context of poor families’ characteristics and decision-making could be better understood contributed to several NC-1011 research projects. Diane Kayongo-Male and four graduate students have contributed to the National Children’s Study. Peter Froelich has been added to this project. The goal of the National Children’s Study is to track the long-term effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the US. Dr. Ron Stover also participated in development a large grant to look at the impact of conservation efforts. Many additional projects by Meredith Redlin, Michael McCurry and others were started; the projects have dealt with distance education, generational transfer of farms, attitudes toward dairy farms, tourism, local foods and cultural development, skills mismatch analysis, marketing rural communities, and attitudes toward water quality.

In 2009 Dr. Hess retired. Dr. Kayongo-Male was acting Head for a time followed by Dr. Arwood. In 2011, the Department hired Dr. Mary Emery as Head of the Department. At the same time, the Census Data Center became the official state Census site and Dr. Michael McCurry was named state demographer. Dr. McCurry remained state demographer until his retirement in 2014. Dr. Ron Stover also retired in 2014 after many years of service to our students.

As a result of the changes enumerated above, one might say that the Rural Sociology Department has come full circle in addressing the needs of the state and region through its teaching, research, and service. In spite of diminished funding to support research and out-reach over the century encompassed in this historical overview, the department has continued to pursue the three–part mission of a land-grant institution. Moreover, the preceding also suggests a return to greater engagement in and focus on rural life and issues.

In the fall of 2013, Dr. Julie Yingling joined the department of Sociology, concentrating in the field of Criminal Justice.

Dr. Guangqing Chi followed Dr. McCurry as state demographer in 2014, but he left the state the next spring. He was replaced as South Dakota State Demographer by Dr. Weiwei Zhang who has remained in the position since June of 2015.

During the 2015-2016 school year the Sociology department recognized its 90th year on campus. That fall (2015) the department also welcomed Dr. Jessica Ulrich-Schad to our ranks. In April of 2016, the Sociology & Rural Studies Department 90th year celebrations climaxed with a Research Symposium held on campus. All Sociology faculty, as well as several undergraduate and graduate students, participated. It was deemed so successful, it was determined that the department would hold future symposium events each spring.

Dr. Pat Ahmed had been teaching for us at the University Center for a few years, but in the fall of 2016 she took a new position with us on the main campus in Brookings. Dr. Cheryl Hartman then officially became "the face of Sociology" at the University Center in Sioux Falls in the summer of 2016, after having taught some courses for us prior to that. Also in August of 2016, the department welcomed Dr. Candace May to the Brookings campus.

In the spring of 2017 professors Diane Kayongo-Male and Donald Arwood retired, as the department was moved to a temporary location in Hansen Hall.  Beginning fall, 2017, Dr. Maaz Gardezi joined the department.