Alumni return to teach and impact students, just like they once were


Even though students graduate from South Dakota State University, they don’t always leave it behind.


Multiple professors at SDSU earned their undergraduate degrees here, and decided to come back to impact students in the same way they were affected during their undergraduate career.


Three professors made their way back to SDSU with a passion for the school and a desire to help students achieve their goals.


Kevin Kessler

Kevin Kessler, an SDSU music professor, spent a fair amount of time working outside of SDSU after completing his undergraduate degree. But he couldn’t resist the desire to come back to SDSU after 14 years teaching high school and obtaining a master’s degree and Ph.D.


Kessler received his bachelor’s degree in music education from SDSU. He then went on to get his master’s degree from Southern Oregon University while teaching band at Brandon Valley High School in Brandon Valley, South Dakota. He later earned a Ph.D. in musical arts at Iowa State University.


His original goal was not to teach in higher education, but to be a high school band director, which he did for 14 years. During his time at Brandon Valley High School, he felt called to teach at a college level.


“I’m enjoying it because I’m having such a good time working with college students,” Kessler said. “And I have terrific colleagues.”


Kessler works with two professors he had as an undergraduate student, Don Crowe and Anthony Lis.


“(They made me) immediately feel welcome, and made me feel not as though I was a former student, but as a colleague,” Kessler said.


Kessler said working with college-aged students is his favorite aspect of his job.


Cody Wright

While Dr. Cody Wright’s education took him to North Carolina, Wright’s love for teaching and a connection to South Dakota State University inspired him to “come home” as Wright puts it.


Wright started his education at SDSU and received a bachelor’s degree in animal science, moving on to get his master’s in animal science at Kansas State University and Ph.D. in animal science from North Carolina State University.


According to Wright, he wasn’t always sure of his desire to work in higher education. He started out at SDSU majoring in mechanical engineering. After Wright switched his major to animal science, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. It was only after talking to a professor, who was also a family friend, that he decided to explore teaching.


The most challenging aspect of being an educator during his early teaching days was “trying to get things in perspective … being able to teach what I learned in graduate school and trying to distill it down to stuff that is understandable for a second-year student,” Wright said.


While Wright has an advanced degree, he still remembers being a college student and trying to obtain the balance that is often so hard to achieve.


“Thinking about the same types of challenges that students are going through … it just brought back the same types of challenges and memories that I went through as a student,” Wright said.


With a desire to “come home” to SDSU, a job at SDSU compliments Wright’s love of teaching and value of his students. It’s most important to him that his students are comfortable with him as a professor.


“What I’m really trying to do as a faculty member is let people know that I’m human,” Wright said, “… trying to be real and letting students know that we make mistakes too, and we were college students once.”


Jason McEntee

Jason McEntee can remember taking a literature course at SDSU as a general education credit for his pre-medice degree and was “hooked.”


The course “unlocked what was already a lifelong love of reading,” and put him on the trajectory to become what he is today, an English professor and the English department head at SDSU.


After graduating in 1994, McEntee taught high school for one year in Weiser, Idaho. During that time, while running a slew of extracurricular activities, McEntee fell in love with teaching and decided to pursue it at the collegiate level. So, he came back to SDSU to pursue a master’s degree in English.


After achieving his M.A. in English in the spring of 1998, McEntee attended the University of Kentucky the following fall, where he earned a Ph.D in English; his specialties being 20th century American literature and film studies.

After returning to Brookings to teach, McEntee said “it wasn’t weird” taking on the role of professor, but it was jarring to have colleagues that were once his professors. He described taking on the role of department head as even more of a turnaround because he is now the supervisor of people who were his professors in his undergraduate career.

McEntee believes that he, and other professors, returned to SDSU due to their love of the university.

“It’s because we just love the university,” McEntee said. “… for the most part our faculty really believe and practice that we are here for the students, we want you to succeed … I’ve always loved that about SDSU and that’s why I came back.”