A lifetime of dedication in education

Sarah Passick

Sarah Passick

For almost 25 years, Richard W. Lee, South Dakota State’s journalism department head, has devoted his professional life to the success and accomplishments of so many.

On Jan. 7 in London, Lee, known by many as Dick, will be awarded the Freedom Forum’s Administrator of the Year award to celebrate those accomplishments.

The award recognizes outstanding leadership in the advancement of journalism education. Lee was nominated by Will Norton, Jr., dean at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, and was selected by a panel of educators as well as professionals.

Trevor R. Brown, dean of the school of journalism at Indiana University at Bloomington received the award last year.

Previous winners of this award include journalism administrators from the University of Nebraska, University of Maryland, University of Florida, Ohio State University and Arizona State University.

In February of 2000, the accreditation team wrote that the, “department is led by a dynamic head who has held that position since 1978 and whose energy and enthusiasm remain high.”

The accreditation team also described Lee as a shepherd, having guided the department through a $1.8 million fund-raising effort and facility remodeling.

“He is held in high regard by his department members, fellow heads across the campus, senior administrators, students, alumni and media professionals across the state,” Norton said. “Dick Lee is indeed a shepherd.”

Two words described Lee’s reaction upon receiving notice of his award: “Wow and me?”

“I am very humble,” he said. “I know all the people who have been selected previously and they are all wonderful people who have wonderful journalism programs. I am just in awe.”

“It’s (the award) is not all about me, most of it is because of our faculty, our program, our students and our alumni.”

Under his shepherd’s staff at SDSU, Lee has guided the department through accreditation four times. He’s overseen the remodeling and renovation of the current journalism building, Yeager Hall.

During the remodeling, Lee had a vision to set one room aside to promote diversity and multiculturalism, not only in the journalism department but also throughout campus. The room that he envisioned was the Lakota-Dakota Conference Room.

“His appreciation of Indian culture is evident in the room he dedicated as the Lakota-Dakota Conference Room to honor Native Americans,” Doris Giago, journalism professor said. “He wants the journalism students to be aware of and appreciate the Indian culture as well. This room lets SDSU know that Indians count.”

Lee co-chaired the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Native American task force and is a founding organizer of the annual Native American Newspaper Career Conference held at Crazy Horse Memorial.

“Dick is an advocate for Native American journalists,” Giago said. “He values tribal voices and he has created an atmosphere in the journalism department that encourages and supports Native American students.”

Lee has received many awards for his contributions to journalism education, both academically and professionally. He is respected nationally and locally by scholars throughout the United States. But for those who see him daily, he is respected more.

Few students have walked through the journalism building and not felt his sense of value and trust he has towards his faculty and his students.

“Dr. Lee shaped my education by letting me know that he respected me not only as a students but as a person,” Sasha Ulvestad, a senior news-editorial journalism major, said. “He treats you like a peer and I believe that that kind of relationship results in much more respect than a normal teacher/student relationship.”

Lee has established an enjoyable learning environment, Lyle Olson, journalism professor, said.

“Dick trusts the students and the students reciprocates by treating the facilities well,” he said. “His ability to treat people with dignity and to make everyone feel as if they are part of a team. He makes people feel important. He takes time for people.”

Lee is one of the first journalism faculty members high school students visit when making a college decision. He discusses the programs and designs a schedule. He also helps calm their fears about their first year of college.

“My first memory of him was at freshman orientation four years ago when he helped me register for classes,” Michelle Selchert, a senior new-editorial journalism major, said. “He was very thoughtful and helped ease my nervousness about starting college. He assured me that I’d do fine and have a good time in the process.”

John Andrews, a senior broadcast journalism major, had a similar experience.

“Dr. Lee was the first professor I ever met,” he said. “The summer before my freshman year, when I was still trying to pick a major, I sat with Dr. Lee at a orientation session. He helped me put my first schedule together and helped decide that journalism was the right major for me.”

Students do not hesitate to bring their problems or concerns to him. They trust him as much as he trusts the students.

“There are very few students who hesitate to bring a problem to Dr. Lee,” Ulvestad said. “He is trusted by the students and he will be greatly missed by everyone involved in the department when he retires. Dr. Lee is a person who truly enjoys and takes pleasure in his work. You can see it in his face and his attitude.”

Many faculty members admire Lee for his contribution to the department and to the students. They said his has compassion and loyalty towards his employees. Many see him as a great friend and others see him as a great leader.

“I think so highly of him,” Roxanne Lucchesi, journalism professor said. “He is a wonderful leader. He welcomes these talents and celebrates them He is a humble leader and leads you in the right direction, quietly.”

“What I admire most is his unstinting loyalty to his faculty,” Jack Getz, journalism professor said. “He has always back everyone of his employees. He has encouraged them, supported them, counseled them, advised them and welcomed them into his home. He has been a friend.”

During his award ceremony in London, Lee will receive a medal and a cash prize, which will be split between him and the department.

Lee says his wife, Mary Jo, plays an important part of this award.

“Mary Jo plays a large role in what goes on here. She has been willing to let me spend a lot of my time here. She is always in search of good ideas that I can claim or steal as my own,” he said, chuckling.

Earlier this semester, Lee announced that he plans to retire after the summer semester.

“It’s a terrific way to end his career,” Olson said. “He’s going out with a bang.”

#1.888388:567641293.jpg:lee.jpg:Richard Lee shows Melissa Perra, Des Moines, the broadcasting booths in Yeager Hall. Perra is interested in the broadcast sequence. Lee is the first professor prospective students visit with when deciding a major.:Sue A. Pulse/Collegian