Ombudsman: Who she is and what she does


Hannah Koeller - Reporter

A new office at South Dakota State University will serve students, faculty and staff as a private place to discuss and resolve any university-related problems.

The Office of the Ombuds is an independent problem-solving resource available to anyone with concerns or complaints against the university. Serving as SDSU’s first ombudsperson is Nicole Picconi.

“I’m hoping to provide a safe and comfortable environment for people with problems,” Picconi said. “and find nonconfrontational ways to solve the problems.”

Picconi’s office has four main principles: privacy, neutrality, informality and independence.

To protect the privacy of visitors, an ombudsperson does not keep records for the university. He or she also remains impartial and, rather than choosing sides in a conflict, will work to reach a fair outcome.

An ombudsperson listens and will offer information about university policies, procedures and resources in an informal setting. The office functions independently of all SDSU offices and reports directly to the president.

“[People] can always start here,” Picconi said. “It’s kind of a less official way to start the process.”

The university’s search for an ombudsperson began in the fall using open forums where students could speak directly to possible candidates.

While this process is beneficial for students, it also helps candidates make decisions about the position as well. Chair of the search committee and a professor of counseling and human development, Ruth Harper, said hiring an ombudsperson has been in the works for years.

“This hire is the result of years of research and advocacy on the part of members of the Academic Senate who looked in particular at the ombuds personnel and processes in place at Iowa State University,” Harper said.

Many competitive candidates applied for the position, but Picconi proved to be the best fit, Harper said.

“We are all pleased with the hiring of Nicole Picconi,” Harper said. “It remains to be seen how [she] and the position will benefit SDSU, but I am highly optimistic that having her mediation skills available to everyone in the SDSU community will be a strong asset.”

These mediation skills come from practicing law in Omaha for 10 years. Picconi also taught legal writing at the Creighton University School of Law.

Working with different kinds of people and solving their problems are skills that will benefit her in this new position, Picconi said.

As another outlet for students to receive help on campus, the Ombuds office sounds positive to students already, including senior architecture major Megan Welbig, who can see herself utilizing this office.

“I think it sounds like a great resource for students,” Welbig said.“It sounds like it can help with a variety of different issues they may be having. And it’s confidential, which is good.”

Picconi said she has a few main objectives in starting the Ombuds office from the ground up.

“The first goal is to familiarize myself with the campus and resources available,” Picconi said. “My second objective will be to tell people about the office for anyone with concerns in the system.”

Although it’s a brand new position on campus, Picconi said everybody has been helpful and friendly, which has really taken away a lot of the pressure.

“I can help [people] find answers to their problems,” Picconi said. “My door is open to any people with concerns.”

Picconi’s office is located in Berg Hall 114.