14
The South Dakotan
Dr. Vance Thompson ’82, ‘86 is internationally known as an
eye surgeon, but his career began with his degrees from USD’s
College of Arts & Sciences and the USD School of Medicine. He
led early in his life, growing up in Gregory, S.D., and continued
to develop the tenets of leadership in Vermillion. “Many things
came to play in my career, from my upbringing on the plains, to
the impeccable dedication I found in my professors,” Thompson
said. “At USD, it went beyond the classroom to the Sigma Alpha
Epsilon house, to Inter-fraternity Council, places that ended
up being good experiences. What I learned, maybe more than
anything, was persistence. I learned to not only lead, but to
follow. I find I do best when I’m driven not for the power, but for
the cause, whether I lead, follow or just play a role. That’s what
drives me.”
While she had already led many classrooms when she came to
USD, Cincinnati, Ohio native Geralyn Jacobs ’91, ’93, entered
the graduate program at the School of Education and came away
knowing there was more to learn. “As I entered doctoral study, I
was able to help on big projects with our leadership,” Jacobs said.
“Those opportunities truly challenge and stretch you.” Jacobs said
her job—teaching teachers—grew into many other opportunities.
“I was asked to write pre-school standards for South Dakota,
and while I was busy, I said yes,” she said. “That moment was so
crucial. It was a door opening and since then, many others have
opened as well.” Opportunities and education at USD led to her
being named the president of the National Association for the
Education of Young Children, a post she currently holds.
Retired Col. Mike McDermott’s skills as a leader were
sharpened at USD and served him well as a U.S. Army airborne
combat officer in Vietnam. The Highmore, S.D. native graduated
with a degree in political science in 1966 after serving as a
battalion commander in the ROTC, then left USD and took
part in the battle at An Loc in 1972. There he earned two
Distinguished Service Crosses. In order to lead in battle, he
needed to hone his craft. “My training and the opportunities I
had to lead large groups of men at USD was crucial to success
I had in combat,” McDermott said. “I had critical lessons
in Vermillion. It’s just not possible to be an effective leader
without really having candid, trust-based relationships with your
subordinates.” McDermott returned to complete a master’s degree
in 1975.
Current USD Student Government Association President
Alissa VanMeeteren of Yankton, S.D. understands that like
alumni before her, learning from professionals can enhance
one’s acumen to lead. Professors like Mary Pat Bierle in political
science, David Carr in economics and Shane Semmler in speech
communications challenged VanMeeteren to improve. “So many
lessons, from each of them, and most revolved around listening
carefully, of gauging others’ points of view before just ‘throwing
up words’ in response,” VanMeeteren said. “In the Theta house,
lessons there, about how to live, more than just leadership, to be
an effective member of a community no matter what it is, the
house, a class, the university.”
The friends and peers of those who developed as leaders at
USD also played key roles, ones that Pine Ridge, S.D. native
Chuck Trimble ’57 noted when reflecting upon his time in
Vermillion. He gives much credit to his brothers in the Theta
Xi fraternity for helping him navigate difficult college years.
Contemporaries like Dean Belbas ’56, Philip Odeen ’56 and
June (Woodward) Wagner ’57 helped form his perspective.
“They gave me self-confidence, and matriculating with them,
in their midst, was an honor, one that helped shape my career,”
Trimble said. “I was an advertising art student, but had friends
in many other disciplines; those were important building the
confidence I needed.” After graduating, he started the American
Indian Press Association, a precursor to the Native American
Journalism Institute. He also served as the executive director
of the National Congress of American Indians, where he was
unanimously elected a total of six times. “To develop consensus
among the diversity of so many tribes, to lead them all, it required
confidence,” he said. “I really attribute much of that self-assurance
from what I got at USD.”
Former South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Judith
Meierhenry ’66, ’68, ’77, a native of Gregory, S.D., said that
while peers like her friend, the late Gov. William Janklow ’64,
’66, helped her understand how leaders take charge, USD’s
atmosphere also affected her. “From my undergraduate years
through my time in the School of Law, I saw the beauty of higher
Dr. Vance Thompson
Gera Jacobs, Ph.D.
Alissa VanMeeteren
Chuck Trimble
Judith Meierhenry
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