New dean wants college to be model

Barnes targets improvements in education, research and services to build national reputation


Gracie Terrall, Managing Editor (She/Her)

Paul Barnes has been named the new dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences at South Dakota State University.

Barnes comes to SDSU from the University of Nebraska Omaha where he served for 20 years. At UNO, Barnes was a member of the counseling faculty, the counseling department chairperson, assistant vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and, as of six years ago, the associate dean for UNO’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

“There are a lot of things that come up in the administrative office that you just have to take care of to keep the college going, and the goal for me is to keep that stuff off the faculty’s desks,” Barnes said about his administrative roles. “This really is a servant role. You’re serving the college and serving the faculty and students and just trying to make things run smoothly.”

As a first-generation college student, Barnes said he gained a unique perspective on secondary education that helped prepare him for the role of dean. When Barnes was heading to college in 1984, he did not know what FAFSA or a credit hour was, and he tries to not assume that students do either.

“I didn’t know those things, so I try to be absolutely helpful,” he said. “Universities can be a pretty tough place sometimes if they just say, ‘go there’ or ‘call this place.’ I think a little more guiding them and following up would be important.”

One of Barnes’ goals is for the EHS programs to become a model in education, research and services for other institutions to follow, he said.

“If we can offer high-quality programs that are recognized nationally, our students find employment and do well and produce articles and research grants, it starts to create a national reputation,” Barnes said.

In his new role, Barnes will be responsible for the faculty members and undergraduate students enrolled for the 2021-2022 academic year. The college has 16 major options, 19 minor options and 13 graduate degree options.

“The students, faculty and staff that comprise (EHS) are our strength,” he said. “Consistently, they have the heart to serve others and build their communities. … I want students to know they truly matter at SDSU and in the EHS.”

During his two decades of service to the field of counseling and education, Barnes has been awarded accolades like the UNO Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award in 2005 and the Julie Hefflinger Professorship in Counseling in 2019.

“He [Barnes] is just somebody that engages well with all the faculty and students and community,” said Kristine Swain, associate dean of UNO’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences and Barnes’ former colleague. “We miss having him here. South Dakota State really got a great person that will be a good leader for many years there.”

Barnes took over for the founding dean of the college, Jill Thorngren, after she announced her departure from SDSU last fall. Thorngren said she plans to move back to Bozeman, Montana, to restart her counseling practice.

“I think Dr. Barnes will be a great new dean,” Thorngren said. “He has a really strong background in education and he cares a lot about people and building relationships.”

Barnes said athletics played a large role in his awareness of SDSU. During the Summit League basketball tournament three years ago in Sioux Falls, Barnes attended because UNO was playing.

“It’s somewhat of a proximity thing, but when South Dakota State played, the place just filled with blue,” he said. “I was really impressed that people were really behind their team. … I love the size of the community and the closeness of the community.”

As an Omaha native, Barnes attended Benson High School–their mascot is the Benson Bunnies.

“It seems funny to think that I was born a bunny and have grown into a proud Jackrabbit,” he said.