In Marshall Damgaard’s South Dakota Politics course, there are no tests, quizzes or lectures.
Class meets just once a week, and students aren’t required to attend. But the classroom is always full with students ready to learn something new.
Damgaard said that’s because students have been learning in classrooms since they were very young, and are often more skilled in education than he is. He also believes students should be able to learn in a way that suits them, and only they know what that way is.
“This class is not only for the students, but of and by the students,” Damgaard said.
Students are also in charge of making announcements, introducing guest speakers and deciding what their final grade will be.
The class includes more than 40 guest speakers, ranging from former students to Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether.
Damgaard said he brings in a variety of speakers, many of which have things to say that students won’t agree with.
“I believe that at a liberal arts university, they should hear a diversity of thought,” he said. “I want to give students access to many different kinds of philosophies and then they can decide what they like and don’t like.”
Political Science Department Chair Bill Richardson said he has sat in on several different class sessions since the class began and loves the way it’s run.
“He feeds the students, he feeds the speakers with his own coolers full of food for each class session,” Richardson said. “It’s very much a platonic buffet of knowledge and a feast for the body.”
Richardson said the response to the class has been “extraordinarily positive,” and there have been so many students who want to take the course that the department cannot accommodate all of them.
Senior Sarah Barthel, who is majoring in marketing, said she originally signed up for South Dakota Politics as a way to fulfill an upper-level class requirement, but had also heard good things about the course from friends.
Barthel said even though she doesn’t know a lot about politics, she enjoys the class because of the way it’s presented.
“Students aren’t under pressure to learn a lot of things and then regurgitate the information for a test in his class,” Barthel said. “Students are there because they want to learn, not because they have to.”
Damgaard originally started teaching South Dakota Politics in 2010 with political science professor Mary Pat Bierle, but said the class is not entirely new.
“The class that I am teaching today is based upon the blueprint that Ted Muenster and his colleagues established many years ago,” Damgaard said. “It’s a traditional class steeped within the traditions of this university.”
Damgaard also began teaching a class last semester that allows students to travel around the state to meet with public officials. It will be offered again this spring.
The class takes several trips to Pierre to talk to state representatives and to meet with local officials. Last semester, students had the opportunity to tour state museums and the penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
Damgaard said the class offers students a chance to learn about South Dakota in a different way.
“We either have to bring the world to Vermillion, or take Vermillion to the rest of the world. And we are trying to do both in this department,” he said.