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SDSU bachelor's degree in theatre earns accreditation

South Dakota State University officials announced the university’s bachelor’s degree program (B.A./B.S) in theatre has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre.

The degree program is in SDSU’s School of Performing Arts, which is in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

NAST is an organization of schools, conservatories, colleges and universities with approximately 190 accredited institutional members. It establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials for theatre and theatre-related disciplines and provides assistance to institutions and individuals engaged in artistic, scholarly, educational and other theatre-related endeavors.

South Dakota State now has 51 accredited programs, putting the university on pace to reach the goal of 61 set in the university’s strategic plan.

“Accreditation affirms the things we do and that we meet national standards in the discipline,” said J.D. Ackman, a professor and director of theatre. A 1978 SDSU graduate, Ackman earned his degree in speech with a theatre option. Theatre did not become a standalone degree until 2010.

While Ackman did much of the work producing the self-study and other documents, he credits his colleagues for their assistance and the leadership and direction provided by Larry Stein, Distinguished Professor Emeritus James L. Johnson, Professor Emeritus C.E. Denton and Professor Emeritus Raymond Peterson for getting the program to its current status. He noted their efforts were critical in shaping the theatre program.

“For example, we have been working for years to specifically bring our program into alignment with the NAST standards,” Ackman said. “On all of our class syllabi, we list which NAST competency this class addresses and at what level. It’s been a lot of work but it’s not so much that we change what we do or how we do it. It’s more along the lines of giving things a sharper focus or a more defined intent for each class and each experience a student has.

“It puts us in awfully good company. It puts us in the same category as Penn State or Florida State, big schools with longstanding reputations in theatre education,” he continued.

NAST accreditation involves more than a periodic accreditation review that includes self-study, an on-site visit, commission action and public notice of accredited institutional membership.

“Becoming NAST-accredited is a significant historic milestone that reflects the high level of professionalism of SDSU’s theatre program,” said Lynn Sargeant, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “It took years of work to create a program at this level and to prepare for the review. I commend the excellent work of the faculty and the leadership of J.D. Ackman.”

Accreditation also indicates a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the work of individual institutions and the work of the entire community of institutions that prepare theatre professionals at the collegiate level.

“This day has been a long time in coming. We celebrate not only our current faculty and staff, but all the generations of dedicated faculty that paved the way,” said David Reynolds, head of the School of Performing Arts. “We are fortunate to not only have world-class faculty challenging and leading our students but also have a world-class facility in the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center to work in each and every day.”