Familiar new hire chosen to lead College of Engineering

Landon Dierks

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The College of Engineering welcomed a familiar face as its newest dean after Lewis Brown retired this summer.

Bruce Berdanier, the man hired after a nationwide search to replace Brown, said he is excited to lead one of South Dakota State’s largest academic colleges and hopes to keep the College of Engineering moving in a positive direction.

Berdanier returned to SDSU in July after serving as the Dean of the School of Engineering at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Prior to his time at Fairfield, Berdanier spent five years at SDSU as the department head of civil and environmental engineering between 2008 and 2013.

Megan Fiala, a junior mechanical engineering major and president of the SDSU Joint Engineering Council, believes the leadership change mixed with Berdanier’s prior experiences presents the College of Engineering with a unique opportunity to find avenues for growth.

“[Berdanier] has been at SDSU before, so he understands the culture, why we do the things that we do and isn’t completely coming in from out of the blue,” Fiala said.  “He is also bringing in new ideas from a different place which can help refresh the College of Engineering and shed light on things we may not have noticed before.”

Berdanier understands the success of his predecessor means expectations for his own success are great, but he is confident in his plan to keep the program moving in the right direction.

“Lew [Brown] was really experienced,” Berdanier said. “He’d been here like 16 years as dean and typically deans are only around for five years or so. It’s really amazing he did it for that long.  The big thing I want to do is support what I call the high impact activities, and I learned a lot about doing that from things I learned from [Brown].”

Berdanier’s duty to support the engineering students and faculty is elevated by the standard set by his predecessor.

During his 16 years as dean at SDSU, Brown saw the construction of two new buildings for use by the College of Engineering as enrollment within the college increased from 1,300 students in 2001 to 2,000 students in 2016, an indication of Brown’s success.

Berdanier’s plan puts an emphasis on “high impact activities including engineering student competition teams supported by the College of Engineering and research activities performed by students and faculty.

According to Berdanier, the effect of emphasizing these activities has two functions.  Foremost, it serves to promote engagement for undergraduate students, but it is also meant to attract more students to the university.

The transition back to SDSU has not been too
difficult for Berdanier.  He credits the familiar faces he worked with during his first stint at SDSU for helping him
readjust to life at SDSU.

Before becoming an educator in 1996, Berdanier owned his own civil engineering firm in Ohio and spent time as a consultant in wastewater treatment.

Berdanier’s education career includes stops at the South Dakota School of Mines, Ohio Northern, and Fairfield University.

“My wife and I are both excited to be here again,” Berdanier said.