Communication Studies/Performing Arts

The Department of Communication Studies and Theatre is in transition as the theater major joins the School of Performing Arts.

Joshua Westwick and J.D. Ackman are both taking leadership roles in the restructuring of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre.

Joshua Westwick and J.D. Ackman are both taking leadership roles in the restructuring of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre. Photo by Rebecca Scoggins McEntee

The Department of Communication Studies and Theatre is undergoing a major change. The theater and dance programs will join the new School of Performing Arts and the department will change its name to communication studies. These changes are being driven by realignment and revitalization within the College of Arts and Sciences. These efforts are designed to improve student learning, revitalize academic programs and create opportunities for collaboration.
Joshua Westwick, Interim Department Head of Communication Studies

“The School of Performing Arts will go live July 1, 2017. The theater and dance programs housed within the department will be part of the School of Performing Arts. At that same time, the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre will become the Department of Communication Studies. The School of Communication and Journalism is aiming to go live in 2018.

“The change in academic structure to our programs in communication studies, theater and dance will have significant benefits to faculty and students across academic programs. Students pursuing academic degrees in theater and dance will have new opportunities for collaboration with students and faculty in music. Additionally, the expansion of the Performing Arts Center will provide expanded opportunities for cross-artistic collaboration for students and faculty in music, theater and dance.

“Moreover, communication studies students and faculty will have opportunities to collaborate with students and faculty in journalism and mass communication. I believe that these changes are an important component of our strategic plan—most importantly, this change will improve the student learning experience. This is an exciting time for our students, faculty and stakeholders.

“Faculty in the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre are supportive of the structure change and committed to the revitalization process. The department has a long and rich history at South Dakota State University. Our programs will continue to grow and thrive though innovation, collaboration and excellence despite our structural change.”

J.D. Ackman, director of theater

“The faculty and students of theater and dance benefit from combining similar performing arts disciplines and programs under a single academic structure. The effect of this restructuring will certainly be greater opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration in both programming and coursework. In the process of creating the School of Performing Arts, faculty from each discipline recognized there are far more similarities than differences among these disciplines.

“The Performing Arts Center expansion project will also present an environment for exciting possibilities for students, faculty, the institution and the public. While this process may result in some minor ‘growing pains,’ the net effect will be that South Dakota State University will be a regional leader in performing arts training and presentation.

“The theater and dance faculty were positive about these changes since they were initially proposed. While everyone realized there was, and continues to be, a great deal of work ahead, the faculty chose to focus on the positive outcomes from this restructuring. Faculty who have been part of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre for many years will miss our colleagues in communication studies and our long association with them. Still, we choose to look forward and recognize that these changes are in the best interests of our students and our institution.

“The history of theater and dance at SDSU parallels similar programs across the country. Theater programs were often connected to either English or speech departments. SDSU’s Department of Speech (as it was called then) began offering courses in theater in the 1930s. By the 1950s, a faculty member was designated as director of theater, and in the following decade the Department of Speech significantly expanded course offerings in theater. In the 1990s, the department name became Communication Studies and Theatre.

“Eventually, the dance program faculty joined CST. The evolution of the performing arts of theater and dance at SDSU are following a logical evolution that has led to the creation of the School of Performing Arts.”

Two students comment on CST restructuring

Alex Farber, communication studies and advertising major from Britton

“I think that this change is a positive one. It will most likely lead to the development of the theater degree as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, rather than a Bachelor of Science. As a speech communications and advertising double major, the continued conversations about a creation of a new School of Communication and Journalism makes me very, very excited. I see how my two majors work together to provide me a broad background of communication on interpersonal and mass levels.

“I think, overall, most communication studies students are positive about the change and that the department has to continue growing and changing to meet student and societal needs.”

Alex Garcia, theater major from Sioux Falls

“When it comes to the forming of the new School of Performing Arts, I am extremely excited for the opportunities this new school will provide for students. I think forming a school for the performers on campus and putting them all in one fantastic building will set the stage for interesting collaborations.

“It will be so easy for a kid to be a theater major then head down the hall to take a dance class, and after that go to the other side of the building to sing in a choir. It will set the stage for students who will be involved more and will leave school with a greater appreciation for all of the performing arts.

“Once the building is completed and the school is established, I can see SDSU becoming the premier school for performing arts in South Dakota. This would be a big draw for students. The School of Performing Arts has a better ring to it as well and is more recognizable to prospective students than our current title.


The plan to teach music education soon changed for Jerron Jorgenson when he decided voice performance was something he was passionate for and changed his major to that.

“I realized that I enjoyed performing equally, if not more, than teaching. That enjoyment is what led me to get a doctorate of musical art from the Hartt School of Music.

“I attended South Dakota State University from 2006 to 2010. The decision to get a master’s degree in voice performance was made when Laura Diddle, a music professor at SDSU, saw potential and suggested I continue my education. After much consideration, I decided on Arizona State University and moved there to work on my master’s.

“That was a pivotal decision in my life, not just from a career standpoint but personally as well. I met my wife while at Arizona State; she was studying music there as well. It was because of one of her mentors that I ended up in Connecticut. He transferred there, and I wanted to study under him, so we moved.

“What’s ironic is that I am now teaching music, not at a K-12 like originally planned, but instead at a higher-education institution, and that is what I would like to continue to do for the time being. I am currently conducting several choirs here in Hartford while also teaching voice, which is common in smaller schools.

“Even though teaching is my calling, performing solo really is my passion. I get to perform on a semi-regular basis doing freelance opera or solo choir performances. I always knew that music would be part of my career, and obtaining a doctorate in musical art was the next step for me.”

By Lindsay Utter, agricultural communications senior from Wheatland, Wyoming




Tyler Youngquist, a music education major from Lennox, serves as a drum major for The Pride of the Dakotas marching band.

“My favorite part about being a Jackrabbit has been all of the awesome people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. My involvement in The Pride of the Dakotas, Concert Choir, Navigators and other organizations on campus has allowed me to meet some incredible people!

“Each group you become involved in becomes a part of your SDSU family. I’m lucky enough to have a big family of people here at SDSU to support me as I pursue my degree.

“The Pride of the Dakotas is one of the families that I am a part of at SDSU. Under the leadership of some great faculty and students, we come together and support our university at every football game and at different festivals around the area.

“I think my absolute favorite moment during a performance is giving the downbeat to the ‘Pride Fanfare’ at the beginning of halftime. When standing on the podium and conducting that song, I know that I am a part of something much bigger than myself. I am a part of a tradition of excellence that is loved and appreciated by this university.

“I think the best advice I can give incoming students is to get involved and get outside your comfort zone. I have met my best friends in some of the groups I have joined, and I have learned a lot about myself as well.”

By Steph Hennen, agricultural communications senior from Morris, Minnesota

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