New director hired for South Dakota Humanities Council

BROOKINGS — The South Dakota Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit that provides humanities programs for South Dakotans, has hired a new executive director. 

South Dakota Humanities Council Board Chair Vonnie Shields is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Ann Volin. 

Volin, former director of the Aylward-Dunn Learning Center at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., returns home to Brookings to take the helm of the literature-oriented non-profit, which was founded in 1972. She succeeds retiring executive director Sherry DeBoer, who has worked for SDHC since 1987 and served as director since 2007. 

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and organizations and individuals throughout the state, the Brookings-based organization “celebrates literature, promotes civil conversation, and tells the stories that define our state.”

Volin grew up in Brookings, attending Brookings schools through high school and earning an undergraduate degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings. She met her husband, Rick, at SDSU. 

Volin returns to her hometown after many years living in Kansas and other states. 

“I feel really fortunate,” she said. “I didn’t see that our life would circle back to South Dakota. It’s a gift that our life is back here.” 

Volin attended the University of Kansas, where she earned a master’s degree in education, teaching English as a second language (TESL); a master’s degree in English and a doctorate in English. She studied poetry for her doctoral project; she has endeavored to include the humanities in the work she has done, whether in teaching English classes that combined museum visits with written projects or developing poetry panels to support student classroom learning.

She spent the past 11 years at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, where she created and managed academic support programs to mesh student needs with faculty goals as director of the Aylward-Dunn Learning Center, a student tutoring and supplemental instruction institution. In addition to overseeing operations and helping students polish their academic skills, Volin managed and taught peer tutors, facilitating their relationships with fellow students who sought supplemental education. Volin also taught English classes. 

“The work was really heartening,” she said. “No matter how often students came in, I felt like the peer tutors were a core strength and made a positive difference for students.”

A lifelong reader and poetry enthusiast who cites favorites such as romantic poet John Keats and writer/philosopher Voltaire, Volin welcomes the opportunity to direct a statewide literary organization in her hometown. SDHC offers a variety of grants and public programs promoting reading and education and is perhaps best known for its annual South Dakota Festival of Books. 

Volin remembers reading every day as a child, both at home and at her country school. Her parents filled her home with books and encouraged her to read. 

“I read a lot growing up,” she said. “Literature was just a constant.”

At SDHC, she’ll serve as the chief administrative officer responsible for staff performance, annual planning, financial management, marketing, and community and liaison relations, including establishing strong partnerships with state and federal humanities organizations and support from local and state governments. She’ll be directly accountable to the Chair and Executive Committee of the South Dakota Humanities Council’s 18-member Board of Directors.

“She will take the lead role in organizational fundraising, strategic planning, government relations and institutional advancement,” Shields said. “We are pleased to have her on board.” 

The move is also a homecoming of sorts for Volin’s husband, Rick, who grew up in nearby Sioux Falls. The couple’s daughter Katie lives in Chicago and their son Danny in Kansas City. Both are writers, while daughter Andree is a social worker in Oregon. Volin’s mother, Rita Barnett, still lives in the Brookings area. 

With a staff of four full-time employees, the South Dakota Humanities Council supports local humanities initiatives throughout the state. The Council’s Speakers Bureau helps communities host engaging and informative humanities events. On an annual basis, the Council also facilitates and encourages civil conversations on tough but important topics ranging from racial reconciliation to the crisis of trust in journalism. 

For more details, visit the SDHC online at sdhumanities.org and sdbookfestival.com or call (605) 688-6113.

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