Northern State University

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Northern State University
Seal of Northern State University.png
MottoUnleash your potential, join the pack
Established1901 (1901)
PresidentTimothy Downs
ProvostAlan LaFave
Academic staff
Location, ,
United States

45°27′05″N 98°29′01″W / 45.451461°N 98.483634°W / 45.451461; -98.483634Coordinates: 45°27′05″N 98°29′01″W / 45.451461°N 98.483634°W / 45.451461; -98.483634
ColorsMaroon and Gold[1]
Sporting affiliations
MascotThunder the Wolf
Northern State University logo.png

Northern State University (NSU) is a public university in Aberdeen, South Dakota. NSU is governed by the South Dakota Board of Regents and offers 38 majors and 42 minors, as well as six associate, eight pre-professional and nine graduate degrees.


Founded on the intersection of the southern and eastern branches of the Milwaukee Railroad, Aberdeen, South Dakota saw a rapid growth in its population during the late 19th century; this rapid growth led the citizens of northern South Dakota to push for a government-funded institute of higher learning. During the 1885 legislative session a Bill was passed creating what was known at that time as the University of Central Dakota, to be located in the small town of Ordway, South Dakota. However, funds were not approved for the school until the 1887 legislative session.[2] Even though the funds had been approved the bill had been vetoed by Governor Louis K. Church for financial considerations and the statewide lack of support; it would take a few more decades before the school became a reality.

In 1900 Aberdeen had the fastest growing population in northern South Dakota and supporters for the school began to organize in greater numbers. On January 7, 1899, Senator Lawson, often thought to be the father of the Northern Normal and Industrial School, proposed a bill for the creation of the school in Aberdeen; the bill went through many revisions and it would not be until March 2, 1899 that the new school would exist on paper; however both a site and funding were still needed.[3]

Wealthy Aberdonians quickly responded and started to donate their land for the school; responding to the demand to pick a site, the Aberdeen City Council created a committee of twenty-five individuals responsible for choosing the location. The committee was composed of the well-to-do individuals of Aberdeen, including Ira Barnes, W.F.T Bushnell, C.F. Easton, F.W. Brooks, Ed Askew, B.C. Lamont, William Tennant, W.G Bickellhaupt, James Lawson, and Andrew Melgaard.[2] The committee met through most of the early months of 1899 and adjourned in late spring before any decision was made. By late 1899 Governor Andrew E. Lee made the decision to use the land, just south of city limits, donated by Andrew Melgaard; however, the northern border of Melgaard's land did not extend all the way to Twelfth Avenue as Governor Lee had wanted; the land between Melgaard's northern border and Twelfth Avenue was owned by D.C and W.R Thomas of Watertown. In order for the state to receive the land as a donation, the committee had to pay Melgaard and the Thomases for their land. On November 10, the Thomases sold the two half-blocks in question to the state of South Dakota for one dollar and Andrew Melgaard received thirteen hundred for his 20-acre (8.1 ha) plot of land.[2] Now the state was left with the task of funding the construction of the new school.

Approved by Governor Herreid on March 6, 1901, $28,000 was allotted for the construction of the school and an additional $2000 allowed for the building of a heating plant. Under the supervision of the Board of Regents the construction was to be completed and ready for students by September 1, 1902.[2] Additional funding was allotted in yet another legislative bill for expenses such as salaries, lights, fuel, furniture and maintenance; now everything was in place for the creation of Northern Normal and Industrial School.[2]

The first president of the Northern Normal and Industrial School, Charles F. Koehler, opened the school with the purpose of providing students with an education in academic studies. The initial admission requirements were simple: the applicant must be at least fourteen years of age and have a desire to teach. Students entering the school with a high school diploma placed them into a one-year "High School Course" that prepared them to teach, students that had completed at least eighth grade entered into either a four-year "English Course" or "Latin Course", and there was great flexibility in the rules so that students could receive credit for the high school they completed even if a diploma was not obtained.[2] In addition to the Normal programs and Industrial programs, there was also a Model School; it included children in grades one through four and gave potential teachers the opportunity to learn practical teaching methods and attitudes.

The Northern Normal and Industrial School would spend the next decade and a half modifying and defining the mission of the school. The school saw changes in both policies and practices, as well as changes around the campus, with the addition and destruction of buildings. The school also experienced many unique events in its early years. A proud moment for the school came on October 23, 1911, when the president of the United States, William Howard Taft, gave a speech, combining foreign policy issues with the role of the Normal school, in the newly completed auditorium of the Administration Building.[3]

Good times for the school and country came to an abrupt halt in April 1917 when the United States declared war with Germany and entered World War I. Students at the school responded immediately to the war effort and celebrated "Loyalty Day" on April 19, 1917. School was closed for the day as students marched down the streets singing patriotic songs and waving flags. The faculty also showed its patriotic side by instituting a rule stating that any young man that had requested a "school release" to fight overseas would be graduated; faculty members such as football Coach Strum, Professor Gillis and Professor Stech joined the military ranks.[2] The school newspaper, The Exponent, began publishing letters from former students that had been sent to the war front and gave the first glimpse into the hardships of war; the first letter to arrive at NNIS came from junior T. Otway Thomas:

While bombs are to be dodged, shrapnel to be watched, and rifle bullets guarded against, the war-weary warrior thinks of home ... There is more discussion of home than anything else when two pals get together ... It is food for their friendship and if you could open a soldier's heart, you would find the pictures of his sweetheart, mother, father, sister, or brothers and children. His is the pride of love and affection, the feeling of deep and unexpressed worry over the loved ones at home and the hope for a safe and triumphant return to where he feels his heart would dwell in peace ... How his very nature becomes imbued with the idea of one more being in the society of his loved ones! ... He doesn't talk of it in any quick and slighting way, but becomes a devout convert to the Godly essence in human-kind Love. As love is far away, his thoughts are expressed on paper ... And then when life becomes darkened and gets dim, like a drowning man he clings to what he trusts, and that is Love, a longing to see his home before Death overtakes him. And how he tenaciously holds on to the last thread of life, only to life and experience those joyous sensations on the point of being snatched from him! ... But alas! The poor fellow who has no such luck, but on whose face creeps slowly and surely the paleness of Death, the gradual knowledge that the Light of Life is fast waning and soon shall dawn a new light; but e'er it shines, a faint prayer is whispered: "God bless those at home!"[2]

The end of the war brought a great relief to the country and students at NNIS; classes returned to normal, students were no longer sewing, knitting, or making bandages, students sent overseas were slowly returning and the flow of letters was dwindling; however, of the four hundred and forty-two students, alumni, and instructors who were sent overseas, thirteen never returned; their names have been engraved on a plaque, "Lest we forget' the sacrifice made by these men that liberty and equality might not perish from the earth."[4]

The end of the war also brought a drastic decline in the number of teachers in rural South Dakota, the state responded by creating Normal departments in four-year high schools. This new policy proved to be troublesome for NNIS, because now it was not necessary to attend the school in order to teach in South Dakota, therefore enrollment declined. In response to the decline in enrollment, president at the time, Dr. Harold Foght, pushed to professionalize the teaching occupation, making it necessary to be certified to teach. The headline for the April 1920 issue of the Exponent read, "NNIS To Become Teacher's College," making Dr. Foght's effort successful. The school was then reorganized into three divisions: the pre-normal division, junior-normal division and senior-normal division; each division would have their own dean. NNIS was now able to award baccalaureate degrees; however, it would not be until 1939 that the State Legislature would change the school's name from Northern Normal and Industrial School to Northern State Teachers College.[5]

The school had survived through the Great Depression and was now under a new title with new responsibilities; carrying out these responsibilities however would be no easy task: the Great Depression had left the school in debt, enrollment numbers were dropping and the world was entering into yet another war. Luckily, for Northern State Teachers College, Dr. Noah E. Steele was the school president and he presided over the school from his induction in 1939 until 1951;[2] he increased enrollment numbers, constructed new additions to the campus, and helped the school get through World War II. The school had experienced many changes in WWII: it now offered a flight and ground pilot program to train future military pilots, established a defense school, and also began to offer basic engineering programs.[2] In response to NSTC's changing size and programs South Dakota State Legislature changed the name in 1964 to Northern State College. For the next two decades Northern State College would continue to improve the quality of education and make drastic changes to their campus. In 1987 Northern State College received the second highest classification, from the Carnegie Commission, granted to any South Dakota college or University: Comprehensive I Institution. Then, two years later, on February 6, 1989, the state recognized this achievement and changed the name for the final time from Northern State College to Northern State University.[4]


The Northern State Wolves compete in 13 inter-collegiate sports. The athletic program began in 1902 with men's basketball, track and American football followed in 1903, and baseball in 1904. Northern State has had two national championships in women's basketball which occurred in 1992 and 1994. Today, Northern offers men's and women's cross country, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's indoor and outdoor track, women's soccer, women's fastpitch softball, volleyball, American football, wrestling, baseball, and women's swimming.[6]

Northern State is a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC), which consists of sixteen universities in five states: Bemidji State University (MN); Concordia University St. Paul (MN); University of Minnesota-Crookston; Minnesota State University Moorhead; University of Mary (ND); Northern State University (SD); Southwest Minnesota State University; Upper Iowa University; Wayne State College (NE); Winona State University (MN); University of Minnesota-Duluth; Augustana University; Minnesota State University, Mankato; St. Cloud State University (MN); Minot State University (ND); and University of Sioux Falls (SD). Northern State has been a member of the conference since 1978, and has the second smallest enrollment of the 16 member schools. In the 1990s, all members of the NSIC became members of NCAA Division II, after spending many years with dual membership with the NAIA.


Northern State's campus occupies 72 acres (29 ha) on the south side of Aberdeen. The oldest buildings on campus were built on the green, and the campus has expanded outward since. The buildings where the majority of classes meet are the H.P. Gerber building, which houses the offices and classrooms for the School of Education, the Johnson Fine Arts Center, which is home of the fine arts department and also holds many level classes, and the Mewaldt Jensen building, which has 16 classrooms, 13 laboratories, and 60 offices which house the mathematics, science, and business departments.[7]

The oldest buildings on Northern's campus are Lincoln, Krikac, and Spafford. Spafford had the first gymnasium and the campus' only psych ward, which was located on the fourth floor. Many people don't know about the fourth floor because it was closed off after various reports of paranormal activity. Lincoln was the first residence hall but is now known as the office of business.

The campus has six dormitories: Great Plains West, Great Plains East, Briscoe Hall, Kramer Hall, Wolves Memorial Hall, and McArthur-Welsh Hall. All of the dorms are co-ed, with McArthur-Welsh being the largest with 190 students. Accommodations include single rooms, double rooms, and suites which include a bathroom and a living room.[8]

The Student Center opened in 1960 and houses the dining hall, the Campus Bookstore, the campus post office, and all student related services, as well as several meeting rooms. The Beulah Williams Library has undergone a recent expansion to triple its size. It can now hold 400 students, and has several group study rooms, multimedia stations, and an extensive collection of books.[7]

The 128,000-square-foot (11,900 m2) athletic complex, the Joseph H. Barnett Physical Education and Convocation Center, was completed in 1987 and houses all of the coaches offices as well as several classrooms. Wachs Arena is named after 30 year Wolves basketball coach Bob Wachs, who won 532 games in his career which spanned from 1955 to 1985.[7] The Basketball Court in named the Don Meyer Court, after Coach Don Meyer.

Notable alumni[edit]



  1. ^ Official NSU Colors. NSU University Relations. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bartusis, Mark C. Northern State University: The First Century 1901-2000. Aberdeen, SD: Northern State University Press, 2001.
  3. ^ a b Northern State University, South Dakota Secretary of State. December 1, 2006.
  4. ^ a b A Brief History of NSU. Northern State University. Archived 2006-12-13 at the Wayback Machine November 25, 2006.
  5. ^ History. Northern State University Archived 2006-06-18 at the Wayback Machine November 29, 2006.
  6. ^ "Athletics". Northern State University. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c The Campus. Northern State University. Archived 2006-12-13 at the Wayback Machine December 6, 2006.
  8. ^ "Residence Life". Northern State University. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  9. ^ Smiley, Lauren (September 6, 2018). "Two White Moms. Six Black Kids. One Unthinkable Tragedy. A Look Inside the 'Perfect' Hart Family". Glamour.


External links[edit]