SPEARFISH — Laurie Stenberg Nichols was officially named the president of Black Hills State University this morning.
Nichols had served as the interim president since July 1 following the resignation of Tom Jackson, Jr., who departed to become president of Humboldt State University in California, and today’s announcement removes interim from her title.
“I was delighted to return to my home state of South Dakota last July and have enjoyed these six months as interim president of Black Hills State University,” Nichols said. “During this time, I have come to appreciate the vital role that BHSU plays in western South Dakota in providing access to higher education and serving as an economic engine for the region.”
The BHSU Presidential Search Committee advanced its recommendation Wednesday that the Board of Regents appoint Nichols to the permanent position of BHSU president. With that recommendation, the Board of Regents extended an offer to Dr. Nichols and she accepted, expressing her great excitement and commitment to the university.
The search for a new president was expected to last until this spring had a full search been conducted. However, that search was terminated Wednesday upon the offer to Nichols.
“President Nichols has been a strong and steady hand at Black Hills State since we asked her to take an interim appointment last July,” said Regent Joan Wink, of Howes, who has chaired the search process. “It became apparent to search committee members that our best candidate was right here, living in Spearfish and working at Black Hills State University. Laurie Nichols is highly respected by her peers and brings with her many years of prior experience in the South Dakota public higher education system. She has been doing a tremendous job as the interim president.”
A native of Colman, S.D., Nichols received her undergraduate degree in home economics education from South Dakota State University. She holds a master’s degree in vocational and adult education from Colorado State University and a doctorate in family and consumer sciences education/family studies from Ohio State University.
Nichols was a student teacher at Douglas High School in the fall semester before her college graduation. She graduated that December and landed the long-term substitute position in the spring.
“I fell in love with teaching. I fell in love with Rapid. I fell in love with the Hills,” she told the Pioneer shortly after being named interim president. “I just really, really loved it out here.”
Nichols had also been a candidate for the presidency of the University of North Dakota and for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s executive vice chancellor of academic affairs position.
Her first full-time teaching position was in Hill City. She taught in several states before becoming the dean of family and consumer sciences at South Dakota State University in 1994 until 2009. She held that position and was named in 2008 as interim president of at Northern State University, and then as provost and vice president for academic affairs at South Dakota State University from 2009 to 2016.
From 2016 to earlier this year, she was the president at the University of Wyoming.
Ultimately her contract was not renewed at the university that drew the ire of the Wyoming governor as the reason for her termination was not made public.
But it is her experience of increasing enrollment at the University of Wyoming that she believes is something that she knows she can apply to BHSU.
“That is the first thing that caught my eye. And honestly I’m excited about that because it is an area that I’ve worked and worked at,” she said previously. “I do have a lot of enrollment experience. It’s true that it has gone downhill. I think it is very doable to stabilize enrollment and get it turned around.”
Currently, she said, there are a little less than 4,000 students at BHSU. Nichols said there is no reason the university cannot increase by 500 students.
Nichols said her number one goal is to gain better recruitment of students.
She said the university needs to focus on its “bread and butter” school in the Black Hills, and that includes Spearfish High School, whose students do not attend BHSU at the rate Nichols would like to see.
“It is a great regional university,” she said. “A great four-year, public university that provides access to higher education to people in this part of the state and provides a great education. It is affordable and accessible. It’s a gem. I think we need to do a lot more to promote it.”
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