Distinguished alumnus dedicated life to students


Heather Mangen

Some students can’t wait to leave SDSU in the past, but for one man, SDSU has been his past and present for the last 50 years.

Dr. James O. Pedersen is one of seven graduates of SDSU to receive the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is based on his service to education.

In his years at SDSU, he helped mold the school into what it is today.

Pedersen got his bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from SDSU in 1955.

He came to SDSU because a friend encouraged him to and it was close.

However, he found something in SDSU no other school could offer.

“(It gave) the chance to be involved in activities and organization and learning by doing,” he said. “It genders loyalty among its students more than any other in-state school.”

During college, he was involved in the ROTC program and earned the rank of 2nd Lt. He also played in the ROTC band, was a member of the Ag club, and acted in a couple plays.

Pedersen said that he learned a lot about himself during college.

“(The best part of school was) discovering that I had potential to do things that I hadn’t realized,” he said.

After graduation, Pedersen served two years in the U.S. Army in Germany. He came back to Brookings and became the Assistant Director of Admissions, recruiting for SDSU.

In 1962, he received his Master’s in Counseling and Guidance.

He earned his doctorate in Counseling and Guidance from Purdue University in 1968.

While he was working on his doctorate, he worked part-time as the Graduate Assistant Dean of Men’s Office, advising Purdue students until 1965. He then went to work as the Director of Admissions, although he was still finishing up his doctorate. He also helped improve the registration process.

Two years after he completed his doctorate, Pedersen became the Dean of Student Services and a professor of education.

He made several changes to give students new freedoms and responsibilities. They could govern their own residence halls, be a part of all student affairs committees, and have co-ed dorms.

His last 12 years at SDSU, he worked as the Dean of General Registration and Director of Career and Academic Planning. He set up internships for students with small business and advised undecided students.

Pedersen found it really important to help students who didn’t know what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.

He said he knows how students feel because he has been there.

“I found myself while I was here and I know how it is to have people respond to your needs, find direction and find what you want to do.”

During his 26 years at SDSU, he helped enrollment double.

Pedersen retired in 1996 but still is involved with SDSU. In 2000 he co-edited, with his daughter Jana Peterson, and published Vivian Volstorff’s autobiography.

He and his wife, Lyn, sponsor two Jackrabbit Guarantee students. They also attend many events and meetings on campus.

Pedersen, along with other alumni, will be receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award Oct. 31 at the Brookings Inn.

Pedersen said that being chosen for the award is humbling.

“It is truly an honor,” he said.