Four-year degrees build character as well as job opportunities


NSU offers affordability, personal attention from dedicated faculty                                                                                                

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Earning a four-year degree will equip students with the skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce.

But faculty members at Northern State University say there are also many other benefits for students pursuing a liberal arts education, including learning important lessons about perseverance and empathy.

At Northern, specifically, students have the advantage of affordability; personal attention from caring, dedicated faculty; and hands-on experience.

Getting Into the Classroom

Education students at Northern have numerous opportunities to get into the classroom well before their field experiences – sometimes, as early as freshman year, said Dr. Andria Moon, associate professor of elementary education/early childhood.

“We try to go into the schools above and beyond the typical undergraduate experience,” Moon said.

One way they do that is through a partnership with Mike Miller Elementary. Moon and fellow faculty member Dr. Greg Francom teach Northern students at the Aberdeen elementary school – then those students go into an elementary classroom to try out what they’ve learned. For example, they might conduct a read-aloud or a vocabulary lesson. Students also go on “learning walks” with the principal to observe high-quality classroom teaching.

Millicent Atkins School of Education faculty also take students into other local schools for embedded experiences, including May Overby and O.M. Tiffany elementary schools, and the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Students learn from their own instructors, then they get to create their own lesson plans and try them out. Moon said these opportunities provide a low-pressure setting for students to build confidence.

“All of that experience is amazing and not something you’re going to experience necessarily at other schools,” Moon said. “It’s because our district is really open to these activities. Having this partnership – you don’t get that in other districts. We’re really blessed.”

At Northern, education faculty members are always looking out for their students, she said, trying to help them succeed.

“It’s like a family,” Moon said. “We’re taking care of them. We get to know them.”

As a result, area principals and superintendents seek out NSU teacher candidates.

“I feel like if you want a job, especially in South Dakota, and you want to be a teacher, you should come here because they’re already seeking you out,” Moon said.

Learning from Incredible Teachers

Music majors, too, land jobs after four years of study – especially with teaching, said Dr. Tim Woods, associate professor of music, director of choral activities/music history. Woods said all the music graduates he knows are employed.

“A degree in music is a good degree, and it gives you skills that, believe it or not, employers want,” Woods said.

The first and foremost reason to choose Northern, Woods said, are his colleagues.

“They are incredible teachers and they are incredible people,” he said. “It starts freshman year with Bill Wieland, who could probably teach anywhere in the world and we are lucky enough to have him here. He’s an absolutely brilliant and wonderful man.”

Woods said he knows of no one who teaches theory the way Wieland does, so kindly and intelligently. The School of Fine Arts has an amazing faculty overall, he said, in terms of talents – and it shows, based on student success.

“People are playing in professional bands. We have singers out singing professionally,” he said. “We have people in grad schools that are knocking out people who went to Juilliard.”

Woods said he considers every college to be a pond.

“This is a very comfortable pond which will give everybody experiences that usually you have to wait in line to get,” he said. “Here you can have them all four years.”

The Importance of Scholarship

Northern students also get more research and scholarship opportunities than at other universities, said Dr. Alyssa Kiesow, professor of biology/department chair and College of Arts and Sciences interim associate dean. Every department does it, though the scholarship is different – art requires a culminating event as a senior, for example, while science tends to focus on undergraduate research.

Kiesow said scholarship helps students develop critical thinking skills and character.

“There are a lot of failures before you get your successes, and it teaches students to be independent and address those failures and really keep forging ahead and achieve success,” Kiesow said. “In the classroom experience you don’t really get that. It builds perseverance.”

More faculty and students alike are recognizing the importance of scholarship, she said, and students have more opportunities at Northern because of the size of the school.

“Our goal is to be good educators. Our focus is really the student,” Kiesow said. “Those students then drive their own research, and we help mentor them. So it’s truly their research.”

That’s a benefit compared to bigger institutions.

“Our biggest resource is our faculty’s ability to mentor students,” Kiesow said.

When considering a college, she recommends students should look at the faculty they’ll be working with rather than the institution’s reputation.

“Here, thanks to those smaller sizes, students might have multiple undergraduate scholarship experiences,” Kiesow said. “That’s one of the things that really sets Northern above the market is we have that capability with the more one-on-one learning relationships. And we know every student.”

Gaining Analytics Skills

Another thing that sets Northern apart: its offerings of analytics courses and programs. The university has added an emphasis in supply chain analytics to its management major and is pursuing a Master of Accounting Analytics program.

“We know that there’s been a tremendous push and we’ve even updated our School of Business curriculum on data analytics,” said Dr. Amber Mathern, assistant professor of marketing/management. “That’s an exciting piece because there’s so many job opportunities. There’s such a high level of demand right now for individuals who are able to quantitatively analyze.”

Market research analyst positions are expected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, roughly three times faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field has already grown tremendously over the past decade, Mathern said – an increase that can be attributed to the growth in businesses’ ability to gather data. Ten years ago, only large companies had the means.

“Now, we have small businesses that can gather such a large amount of data themselves in a short amount of time using less money than ever before,” Mathern said. “But then it’s like: ‘What do I do with it now?’ There’s where that gap is happening.”

Mathern said Northern’s new programs seek to bridge that gap in what employers need and what their current employee base doesn’t have.

Obtaining a four-year degree is vital, Mathern said, because while a person could watch a video or learn to use analytics software, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Those abilities must be paired with critical thinking skills and confidence for an individual to be truly valuable to a company.

“You have to bring in the whole distinct big picture to really be a great analyst,” Mathern said.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills are important in all areas of life and especially the workplace, said Dr. Jon Schaff, professor of political science.

Schaff said a liberal arts education introduces students to different kinds of knowledge and different ways of looking at the world.

“It benefits someone no matter what field they go into to have a scientific perspective, and a historical perspective and a literary perspective,” Schaff said, “and to bring those to bear on all sorts of problems that might come up.”

Another crucial aspect of a liberal arts education: communication skills.

“I don’t care if you’re writing a legal brief or a scientific paper, you have to be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in the written word,” Schaff said. “So we try to give students experience of doing that in many contexts so they can be better communicators.”

Northern’s general education program is designed to encourage students to take classes in various fields to give them a well-rounded perspective, he said. Also, its smaller size allows that education to be delivered in a very personal way, with interaction and discussion.

The brain learns through associating new information with previous knowledge, and Schaff said the wide range of knowledge learned through a liberal arts education will help students be better at almost any career they choose.

But benefits extend beyond the workplace – a liberal arts education can also make you a better person and community member, he said. It’s been found that, while reading a novel, a person’s brain translates the story the same way it would an actual experience. Immersing yourself in literature or a good work of history can change how you view the world.

“You can really develop more empathy,” he said. 

That’s crucial, because life is about more than earning a paycheck.

“You’re more than a worker,” Schaff said. “You’re a human being, you’re a citizen, you’re a family member.”

To learn more about academic opportunities at Northern, visit the NSU Academic Programs page or contact NSU Admissions at 605-626-2544 or

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $55 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.