Perspective from the Perch: President Easton reflects on 2020 at DSU

Perspective from the Perch: President Easton reflects on 2020 at DSU

Written by Steve Easton, president of Dickinson State University (DSU)

In a letter to John Hay, American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, London, on June 7, 1897, Theodore Roosevelt penned a phrase embracing the virtues of a strenuous life, where one dares mighty things in the face of adversity.

The year 2020 was the beginning of a new decade. Thus, the year dawned with hope. Soon thereafter, this hope was challenged by a worldwide pandemic. As the year progressed, the word “unprecedented” was used commonly in the world as a whole and at DSU.

But DSU is indeed a place where we dare mightily in the face of adversity. It has been heartwarming to see the hard work of all involved with DSU in response to the challenges of 2020. Thank you to all, from alumni and other supporters to students, who made 2020 memorable in positive ways. Those of us who love DSU have a lot to be proud of, as our “college on the hill” has had many accomplishments this year, despite the pandemic. I’d like to share a few of them.

Increasing Enrollment

Despite nationwide college enrollment being down by 4%, Dickinson State University fall enrollment increased by more than 90 students to its head count this fall, compared to the fall of 2019. Full-time enrolled students increased 4%, while our head count enrollment increased more than 6%. All of these figures are the largest increases among the eleven North Dakota University System institutions.

Our recruiting team did a great job in a tough environment last spring where we were not able to meet many of our potential students in person. Other members of our staff, our coaches, our faculty, our students, and our alumni and other supporters also did great work. Thank you for your efforts and for your support of Dickinson State. We are pleased that there are so many students who will get the benefit of a DSU education.

Dual Mission

The dual mission committee worked with local and educational partners to bring new opportunities to Dickinson. Last year, DSU brought welding and CNA training to Dickinson. Building upon this, the first commercial truck driver training class was held this fall.

The University also expanded certificate, associate, and graduate program offerings. Beginning fall 2020, there are six new associate degree programs including elementary education, secondary education and substance abuse counseling, and five new certificate programs including banking, digital communication, digital marking, music and theatre. DSU also added a master’s degree with a focus on athletic educational leadership. The certificate, associate, and graduate offerings now available at DSU provide additional pathways for educational and professional preparation for those in our region.

Working with the Dickinson Public School system and other area schools, we also started an innovative early entry program that brought 40 students to the DSU campus this fall to start their college educations while still in high school.

We are also working with these partners on a proposed Career and Technical Education academy that will help train area high school and post-secondary students in fields like welding, truck driving, diesel mechanics, CNA and other health care careers, and possibly even robotics.

As you may have heard, the Dickinson Public School system has purchased, for $6 million, the $60+ million former Halliburton property, which will be the home of the CTE Center for southwest North Dakota. We are working with Dickinson Public Schools and other area schools and businesses to provide new educational opportunities. This will be a big boost to our Dual Mission efforts.

Classroom Innovation

This spring’s COVID-forced move to (almost) all remote delivery of classes happened quickly. Our students, faculty, and staff did a great job of converting, without any real notice, from face-to-face to remotely delivered courses. All who are associated with DSU should be proud that students continued to learn and faculty continued to teach, despite this change.

Over the summer and into the fall, the CARES Act provided funds for cameras and dual computer monitors in almost all of our classrooms. This allowed us to convert to a “hybrid-flex” modality this fall, where most classes were offered in three modes: face-to-face, synchronous remote delivery, and asynchronous remote delivery (for students who were not able to access classes during scheduled class times). Concerns related to COVID-19 required this change, as we needed to provide a way for students who were isolated or quarantined to keep up with their course work.

The new equipment in our classrooms and a semester of teaching in this modality provides exciting opportunities for the future. While DSU will almost certainly always be an institution that teaches the majority of its students on campus, we now are able to offer opportunities for those who cannot come to campus to pursue their college educations. As we sensed the shift to this modified teaching and learning environment, we worked with Learning Corps, LLC, a group of remote learning experts, to maximize the student learning experience in the new hybrid-flex environment. Nine of our faculty members earned Learning Corps’ Master Teacher in Resilient Teaching and Learning Certificate, by working on this distinction during the fall semester. Other faculty also benefitted from Learning Corps’ expertise in remote instruction.

As we look forward to the day when COVID-19 is behind us, we are excited about teaching those who cannot come to campus. We are also excited about the diversity of experiences they can bring to our traditional on-campus students. Imagine, for example, a remote adult learner who can say, in a class discussion, “That issue came up last month at my workplace.” The future is bright for both on-campus and remote access Blue Hawks!

Campus Life

While many colleges and universities continued all (or mostly) online classes this fall, Dickinson State provided face-to-face classes until Thanksgiving. In addition, we were able to provide many opportunities for our students to experience campus life that, while not “normal,” was closer to normal than pretty much any other college or university.

Our student life staff organized both online and in-person events, including a homecoming concert that reached nearly 2,000 people on the internet, two trips to the Medora Musical, a s’mores night at our recently completed Centennial Plaza, movies in a state-of-the-art theater purchased this year with student fees via a Student Senate initiative (making ours one of the few campuses with its own movie theater), barbecues and backyard sports, dueling pianos, and many others. Our theatre students presented four performances of the witty “Almost Maine,” using clear face shields and strategically placed microphones. Our music faculty and students presented several choral and instrumental concerts. Our varsity esports team continues to have a strong showing at the national level. Our students are enjoying the ability to connect with one another on these platforms. Our rodeo team had a strong season and hosted the Blue Hawk Stampede this fall.

On the intercollegiate athletic competition front, we had cross-country, volleyball, and football seasons. Through a combination of hard work by coaches and student-athletes, diligent attention to health safety measures, and a bit of good luck, we played a full season of nine football games. And we won all nine of them for Coach Pete Stanton’s sixth straight conference championship. Indeed, at various points in the season, DSU had the distinction of being the only 6-0, the only 7-0, the only 8-0, and the only 9-0 pro or college (at any level) football team in the country!

Bottom line: It was not a “normal” fall, as all events featured masks and social distancing, but it was a good one nonetheless.

High Rankings

It is important not to take college rankings too seriously, as it is not possible to factor the many features of a college or program into a ranking rubric. So take the following with the grain of salt that it deserves. But a high ranking, while never precisely correct because precision is impossible, is a sign that a program is among the best.

The past year saw various organizations noting DSU’s strength in various areas.

Rank Award Entity Year
One of America’s 10 Leading Online Colleges The Excelligent 2020
#1 Best Colleges in North Dakota College Consensus 2020
#1 Top Human Resources Certification Programs 2020
#2 Top Public Schools (Regional Colleges Midwest) U.S. News & World Report 2021
#2 Top Certificate Degree Programs 2020
#4 Top Public Schools U.S. News & World Report 2020
#5 Best Online Bachelor’s in Human Resources Online Course Report 2020
#7 Best Online Accounting Bachelor’s Degree Programs 2020
#8 Top Accounting Degree Programs 2020
#9 Best Online Bachelor’s in Accounting Online Course 2020
#14 Most Affordable Online Colleges 2020
#15 50 Best Business Degrees 2020
#17 Best Online Bachelor’s in Finance Degrees 2020
#19 Best Online Bachelor’s in Business Degree Programs 2020
#21 Best Online Human Resources (HR) Certificate Programs 2020
#44 Best Regional Colleges (Midwest) U.S. News & World Report 2021
#48 Regional Colleges Midwest U.S. News & World Report 2020
#60 Top Performers on Social Mobility U.S. News & World Report 2021
#64 Top Performers on Social Mobility U.S. News & World Report 2020


Paying Back

Tough times have a way of identifying those who are willing to help others in need. Our state, our region, and our city have always been big supporters of DSU. As always, but perhaps even a bit more than usual due to the pandemic, DSU paid back this year by helping our community.

In the early days of the pandemic, when PPE for health care workers was in very short supply, our nursing department was able to send some of its supply to the Southwestern District Heath Unit. Our students and staff helped with another critical health care need by sponsoring and organizing several blood drives. Our Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program scholars held a successful food drive this fall. Our Student Senate is organizing a program to deliver groceries and other needed supplies to those in isolation or quarantine.

With the annual Dickinson Community Thanksgiving Dinner event in jeopardy due to COVID-19 concerns, DSU’s students, staff, and faculty immediately stepped into the breach. With the help of the DSU student Campus Activities Board, the Dickinson Rotary Club, Blue 42 restaurant, Coca Cola bottling, and DSU’s dining contractor, Sodexo, we converted the dinner to a drive-thru pickup event. At five locations on our campus and one at Blue 42, our fully masked men’s baseball and softball teams, other DSU students, staff, and faculty, as well as volunteers from the community, distributed Thanksgiving meals in a COVID-safe manner.

There are many other examples of DSU students stepping up to help. To take but one example among many, this fall I received an email from someone who noticed one of our football players paying the tab for a bag of groceries bought by a young, distraught, and embarrassed mother who either misplaced her wallet or did not have the funds to pay. Emails like that make it a pleasure to be DSU’s president! Our students, staff, and faculty are great ambassadors for DSU.

Yes, it was a very “interesting” year. And yet, there was much for DSU and is many supporters to be proud of! Best wishes to all for a great 2021. Hawks are up!