NSU Highlights for 2020

Students and teacher walking through gym

While 2020 has been a year of challenges, there have also been many points of pride this year.

That includes enrollment growth, e-learning increases, and various times where members of our campus community stepped up to help others during this difficult year. These highlights were bright spots during an uncertain time, and we’re proud to share them.

Below are Northern’s top 12 highlights from 2020:


  1. Wolves Made a Difference: Several NSU alums made a difference this pandemic year, including: Andrew Rehder, manager of 3M Co. in Aberdeen; Dr. Carin Martinson of HealthPartners Olivia Hospital; David Berg, Senior Administrator of Mayo Clinic Health System; Joe Gomez, Intensive Care Nurse at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls; Rich Adcock, CEO of Verity Health Systems; and Katie Cramer, a registered nurse who organized Hearts in the Park to assist homeless individuals in Wisconsin. 


  1. Enrollment Growth: Northern saw growth in overall headcount this fall, particularly in graduate students – the only South Dakota Board of Regents institution to see a growth in headcount during this pandemic year. NSU also experienced its fifth consecutive year with a retention rate above 73 percent.


  1. E-Learning Increases: Currently, 2,400 high school students from 104 school districts are served by the E-learning Center an increase of about 22 percent over the entire 2019-20 school year, with spring semester registrations still coming in. Gov. Noem approved a $468,850 grant from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to help the center handle larger enrollments due to COVID-19.


  1. Emergency Personnel Housing: This spring, Northern helped the community and region during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing housing to emergency medical professionals fighting the virus. With students shifting to online learning, NSU opened a residence hall, Wolves Memorial Suites, to staff of Aberdeen’s hospitals as well as Brown County emergency responder personnel.


  1. Expanded SDSBVI Partnership: The new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired opened early this year. Starting fall 2021, Northern will offer a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) in Special Education, which includes a specialization for teaching students with visual impairments. This new program will expand Northern’s longtime partnership with SDSBVI and also help fill a critical workforce need for special education teachers, especially those who educate students with visual impairments.


  1. Faculty Awards: In May, two faculty members were honored with Outstanding Faculty Awards. Dr. Kristi Brownfield, assistant professor of sociology, received the 2020 Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award, and Dr. Jon Mitchell, associate professor of biology, received the 2020 Foundation Faculty Excellence Award. The Early Career Faculty Award is presented to an early career, full-time faculty member who demonstrates a strong record and commitment to excellence in teaching, research and service. The Foundation Faculty Excellence Award recognizes faculty for excellence in teaching and learning, a sustained commitment to faculty service, and achievements in research and creativity within their discipline.


  1. Longtime Coach Honored: Longtime NSU coach and athletic director Bob Olson was honored with the naming of the fitness space on the top floor of the Barnett Center. That space is now known as the Bob Olson Strength and Conditioning Center, an honor made possible thanks to a generous gift from Avera. Olson, who retired in 2012 after a 37-year career at Northern, previously served on Avera’s Board of Directors.


  1. HyFlex Learning Success: Faculty and students adjusted wonderfully to the hybrid learning model called “HyFlex,” or “Hybrid Flexible,” which includes face-to-face instruction supplemented with synchronous and asynchronous online components. This method allows students to participate in class the way that works best for them, providing crucial flexibility this year.


  1. Student-Athlete GPA: Northern student-athletes finished up the 2019-20 academic year with a 3.36 cumulative GPA. The more than 370 student-athletes posted a department term GPA of 3.42, marking the 12th semester in a row above a 3.30 and the highest semester mark on record.


  1. Coach’s Family on House Hunters: A Northern coach and his family were featured on an HGTV program episode in March. Wolves Men’s Basketball Coach Saul Phillips, his wife, Nicole, and their children appeared on HGTV’s “House Hunters.” The episode followed the family as they searched for a home when moving to Aberdeen, with some footage shot on the NSU campus.


  1. COPLAC Membership: This fall, Northern was unanimously selected as a provisional member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC). Membership in COPLAC affirms the university’s commitment to a public, liberal arts education  and further confirms Northern, nationally, as a premier university recognized for excellence in the liberal arts. The liberal arts provide students with 21st Century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and communication. Now more than ever, employers are seeing the demand for those skills in the workforce and often seeking out liberal arts majors as employees.


  1. New Institutional Logo: This fall, Northern officially unveiled a new institutional logo, which includes a capital “N” and boldfaced “NORTHERN.” In addition, Northern now officially owns the trademark for its widely known wolf mark and is actively pursuing the trademark for the new institutional mark (N-Northern). The new logo commemorates the university’s long history while boldly showcasing who we are: Northern.