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Q&A: Barry Dunn, President South Dakota State University

South Dakota State University’s new president tackles restructuring with web-based tool and aims to extend the land-grant mission.

Orders to cut 10% of South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences budget emerged when Barry Dunn became dean in 2010. The resulting restructuring in Extension eventually led to, an innovative web-based tool that relays information and technology to South Dakota farmers. Described as iTunes for agriculture, iGrow has moved at a gallop, reaching 600,000 users for 1 million pages by 2014.

Named SDSU president in 2016, the former rancher discusses how restructuring led to iGrow and how SDSU is moving to welcome new populations.

SF: Why was iGrow started?  

BD: There are states that have been able to maintain the Extension program in a traditional way with offices in every county. Is this an effective model? Absolutely. But collectively, the citizens of South Dakota and their policymakers made a decision not to do that. There was not enough money. So, we modernized the system with programs like iGrow, which is enormously successful and, I think, the most appropriate way to deliver information to our stakeholders.

SF: What are your main goals as SDSU president?

BD: We are getting ready for the population demographics that we see. Native Americans are approximately 10% of our state’s population and its fastest growing demographic. In Sioux Falls (South Dakota’s largest city), about one third of its students are minorities who speak over 80 languages.

Justin Morrill (sponsor of the 1862 law that created land-grant universities) and Abraham Lincoln didn’t pass the Morrill Act for just one race. It opened up education to the sons and daughters of toil. We still will offer those opportunities to the descendants of those sons and daughters of toil, just as we have always done. These days, though, the sons and daughters of toil look different than they used to. If we don’t serve them, we will have failed our land-grant mission.

SF: Many of these potential first-generation students come from families with scant financial resources. How can they afford it?

BD: This will be a tough sell for the parents. We need to work hard at needs-based support for this generation of young people. Over the next 10 years, our university will commit $6 million, funded by our annual revenues from our land-grant land managed by the Office of South Dakota School and Public Lands. This will be matched by private gifts to provide $12 million in a sincere effort to ensure that we’ve left no one behind.

SF: How did ranching prepare you for being the SDSU president?

BD: Ranching through the 1980s farm crisis had an enormous impact on me. It made me sensitive to the fragility of our communities and it awoke me to the megatrends that were in place in the markets. What I learned was pivotal for me as a land-grant faculty member and now as president.

SF Bio

Name: Barry Dunn
Home: Brookings, South Dakota
Title: President of South Dakota State University
Background: Earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from SDSU. Managed L7 Ranch near Mission, South Dakota, for 17 years before returning to SDSU and teaching in its animal and range sciences department. Headed King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management in Kingsville, Texas, from 2004 to 2010 before becoming endowed dean and Extension director at SDSU’s College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. Named SDSU president in May 2016.

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