Otterson named VP of Institutional Advancement at Dakota State

Sara Bertsch Editor-in-Chief

When David Chicoine announced his plans to step away from his presidency at South Dakota State last December, Bob Otterson knew it wouldn’t be long before his exit, too.


After serving as the executive assistant to the president since fall 2007, Otterson had his last day at SDSU on March 21.


He now works at Dakota State University in Madison as the vice president for institutional advancement where his focus is fundraising, alumni relations and marketing and communications.


“I’ve told people that vice president for institutional advancement has been my next job for many years, I just didn’t know where or when,” Otterson said.


His move was also about timing. It was important for Otterson to be at Dakota State while school was still in session this spring. He wanted to become acclimated with faculty and students as well as learn about how the university operates before school starts again in the fall.


“President Chicoine announced his intention in December to step away from his current position and the timing in many regards is right,” Otterson said. “The next president of this great university should have the opportunity to pick his or her own person in my job.”


Many have asked Otterson what exactly his role is as the executive assistant to the president. The president describes the role like a chief of staff, Otterson said.


“I’ve told people over the years that the best part of my job is that no two days are the same, and the worst part about my job is that no two days are the same,” Otterson said.


Following the announcement of Otterson’s career change to Dakota State, President Chicoine sent his own announcement to SDSU.


This is the next logical career step for Bob and a terrific opportunity,” Chicoine said. “His experiences and interests are a strong fit for Dakota State’s needs, and I know my colleague, President José-Marie Griffiths, looks forward to his contributions to her team.”


During his tenure, Otterson has worked closely with several “external relations functions” as he describes it. These include the SDSU Foundation, the Alumni Association and the Marketing and Communications office.  


Otterson’s relationship with the university goes back further than just 2007—back to fall 1995, when he was a graduate teaching assistant in the Journalism and Mass Communication Department.


As Otterson reflects on his time at SDSU, he thinks about how the simple things are some of his favorite parts of his time on campus.


Otterson’s office was on the second floor of Morrill Hall, close to the president’s office. The view was one of his favorite parts.


“I enjoy watching people, glancing out the window at people walking across the historic college green,” he said. “I relish everything that this university has to offer in terms of the performing arts, in terms of the broad academic mix and the types of students who are in those programs to the successful Division I athletics and to the way that this university fits within Brookings.”


In Otterson’s eight years here, a lot has changed. Otterson refers to them as positive changes within the university instead.


The SDSU Foundation has completed a successful fundraising campaign, Otterson said. And the relationship between the university and the fundraising associates is strong.


Otterson has worked closely with the Alumni Association on campus. He attributes the success there to strong leadership from the volunteer board and “a very good sense of direction from the staff.”


Andi Fouberg, president and CEO of the SDSU Alumni Association, worked with Otterson in the past two years she’s held her position.


She describes Otterson as a great resource and as the best at connecting pieces on campus.


“The Alumni Association is about connections and communications. That’s his whole background,” Fouberg said. “[The university] is a big utility place, lots of moving parts going all of the time. The next person to fill that space, they’ll have to figure out their own way of doing it.”


Other areas Otterson has seen change include the marketing and communications function on campus. Part of this is the change in university recognized images and a different branding campaign.


Possibly the biggest change Otterson has noticed is the physical appearance of campus which is “drastically different” than it was in 2007 when Otterson first joined.


His favorite part of working at SDSU is being close to his wife, Lisa. Twenty years ago, they had a dream that they would someday work at the same university, with him in administration and her in the classroom. That was a reality they achieved in 2008.


Lisa taught history and philosophy on campus, and in August 2014, moved to SDSU Foundation, where she became director of development for university programs. Together, they have three children.


Otterson’s last day on campus was in March, but that won’t stop him from returning now and then until the school year ends. He will act as a resource as SDSU works through transitional needs.


“I would like students to know that South Dakota State is in a great place. The University is run well. It has strong programs,” Otterson said. “The strong programs has benefitted from the leadership of President David Chicoine and many others throughout the university.  And I’m quite thankful to be a part of that.”