Susan Hackemer, associate director of the University of South Dakota’s Honors Program, goes beyond the usual role of an academic adviser.
Hackemer, who has worked in the Honors department since 1999, said she encourages students to challenge themselves to go beyond their limits to thrive in college.
“It’s nature to take the easy course,” she said.
Hackemer said the Honors Program offers more than a rigorous education — it also provides resources that help fulfill long-term goals.
“It exists to take students that have real academic-type focus, motivation and talent and provide them with opportunities that improve their existing skills,” Hackemer said.
Hackemer is dedicated to getting to know her students and help search for what’s best for their career path.
“Academic advisers help students decide what they’re going to take for classes next semester, and we really work hard to go beyond that. And we get to know our students so we can say ‘Alright here’s your classes. This is great, and we want to make sure you’re taking the right sets of things, but now what? What else can you do to make sure you’re really prepared for whatever comes after your undergraduate years?'”
When working with students, she offers multiple options for students to prepare for their career path by connecting them with the right resources.
Hackemer said it is common for students to struggle with an academic career path, but she often fixes that problem by suggesting ideas to students on where they could gain experience, like internship possibilities overseas.
Senior Mitchell Wagner had the opportunity to complete an internship in Germany during his junior year of college, studying computer science and electrical engineering. His knowledge of such a program didn’t exist until Hackemer pointed it out to him.
“If she hadn’t emailed me, I wouldn’t have known about the program and wouldn’t have gone,” Wagner said.
The program suited Wagner’s academic interests as well as his interest in German culture.
“In my sophomore year, I took German and I fell in love with the language. One day, I got an email from Susan telling me about an internship over there that I could apply for,” Wagner said.
Wagner isn’t the only Honors student who studied overseas. Sophomore Joshua Arns studied climate change in the United Kingdom last summer.
“I enjoyed myself — I met some great people and experienced new things,” Arns said.
He said it was never his plan to study abroad, but Hackemer sent him an application for the program, and his mind was changed.
“During the application process, I was confused about what to do with my future, but she helped guide me through the process and gave me what I wanted,” Arns said.
Both Wagner and Arns agreed their overseas experiences were life changing, and that it’s important for all students to consider studying or working abroad.
“Living abroad for a year gives you a new perspective on how you and other people live,” Wagner said.
Arns appreciated the experience because of how it gave him an outside perspective of the country.
“I hope to do it again next year,” Arns said.
Hackemer said Honors students working with and supporting one another are qualities that make the Honors Program stand out as a chance for everyone to succeed, rather than being an academic competition.
“The students push each other in healthy ways. There isn’t a lot of grade competition because there are no rankings in college, so the competition is quite healthy,” Hackemer said. “It’s observing one another, supporting one another.”
Hackemer said another standout quality of the program is how welcome it is to students who want to better their academic career from observing the success and opportunities of other students.
“When a student sees somebody who has earned a cool internship, or study abroad, they compare themselves to that person and they often think ‘I can do that. He’s not that much different than I am. Why am I not trying to do that,'” Hackemer said.
Helping students who are unhappy with their academic situation and desire the tools for a more promising future is a process that never gets old for Hackemer.
“Making students believe that anything’s possible might help them get there,” Hackemer said.
(Photo: Susan Hackemer is the associate director of the Honors Program at the University of South Dakota and has worked in the department since 1999. Miranda Letcher / The Volante)