NSU traveling classroom going strong after 42 years

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ABERDEEN, S.D. – Years ago on a bitterly cold night in Winnipeg, students of Northern State University sociology professor Dr. Jerry Rosonke rode along as human services professionals went out to bring homeless people into a shelter.

“They were pretty well amazed as to the kind of conditions those people were living in,” said Rosonke, who retired from NSU in 2002 after 28 years.

That kind of learning isn’t something students get in the classroom. Providing that type of experience for students is why Rosonke started the NSU Traveling Classroom in 1975.

“Once you’ve seen it, then the classroom makes even more sense,” he said.

The NSU Traveling Classroom is a unique program that involves a three-credit course and a field trip to criminal justice and human service-related facilities. Today, the program is still going strong, with this year’s group leaving campus Monday, May 8, and returning Thursday, May 11.

While the group no longer travels as far as Winnipeg, students tour facilities across eastern South Dakota, visiting the following locations: Our Home Inc. in Huron; South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre; Aurora Plains Academy in Plankinton; Abbott House in Mitchell; Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield; the South Dakota Minimum Security Unit, South Dakota Human Services Center and Federal Prison Camp in Yankton; and the South Dakota State Penitentiary, McCrossan Boys Ranch, Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center and Glory House in Sioux Falls.

About a dozen students – psychology, criminal justice and human services majors—are participating this year. The class is now led by Dr. Courtney Waid-Lindberg, NSU assistant professor of sociology.

“Dr. Rosonke built a wonderful experience for students with the traveling classroom, and after his retirement, others – most recently Professor Daryl Kosiak, who retired last academic year – continued to develop the program,” Waid-Lindberg said. “I am thrilled to now lead these students through this experience.”

Waid-Lindberg said another benefit of the traveling classroom is that a lot of administrators at the agencies students visit are Northern graduates themselves. Seeing how they’ve advanced in their careers can give current students more to think about in terms of career goals.

That includes Steve Riedel, a Northern alum who has worked for more than 31 years as associate director of Our Home Inc., which offers residential adolescent psychiatric treatment services. Riedel earned his B.S. in community services with a psychology minor in 1975 and his M.S.Ed. in guidance and counseling in 1977. He was a student in the very first NSU Traveling Classroom.

“It was an adventure,” he said.

The trip included stops at the Brown County Jail, Our Home, and the Unified Judicial System in Pierre, among several other locations. The experience showed him just how diverse the human services field is.

“I gained firsthand exposure to the actual work that I was studying to do,” he said.

Now, Riedel said being on the other side is also rewarding, noting that Our Home has employed NSU graduates as a result of the traveling classroom.

His advice to current students: “Ask questions. Observe closely. And, at the end of each tour, do a ‘gut-check.’” In other words: “When you walk out the door, ask yourself, ‘Would I enjoy working here?’”

Riedel credits NSU for a sound education that led to a deeply satisfying career, and he commended the university for its continued commitment to the traveling classroom.

“For me, the tour was a tremendous ‘visual learning opportunity’ and we all had an awesome time. Forty-two years later, the opportunity still exists! Such firsthand exposure is critical so that that students such as myself ‘know what we are getting into’ as we embark on careers.”

For more information about the NSU Traveling Classroom, contact Waid-Lindberg at C.WaidLindberg@northern.edu.

About Northern State University

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