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California-native extends from lab to student health

This September marks the eight-month anniversary since the University of South Dakota became a smoke-free campus, and its first semester abiding by the new policy.

A few changes have been made around campus since the new policy took force, including the removal of ash trays. However, one USD faculty member remains unsettled and hopes to guide students and other faculty members on the right track to giving up smoking for good.

This year is Kevin O’Kelley’s debut as laboratory safety manager at USD’s Churchill-Haines Laboratory as well as environmental health and safety director, a responsibility he playfully adorns on his office door with pictures to fill in for phrases such as “Don’t Slip and Fall.”

A native of California’s Bay Area, O’Kelley holds a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental sciences from San Jose State University, specifically in the chemical field. He is currently enrolled at USD pursuing a Ph.D in a specialized psychology program called human factors, a program that meets O’Kelley’s general interest in the health and safety of people.

1. What sparked your interest in promoting a smoke-free campus?


“When I first came to USD I was shocked at the number of students I saw smoking,” O’Kelley said. “It’s an addictive poison that we allow. It bothers me to see young people doing it.”

In pursuit of a clean, smoke-free campus, O’Kelley has called upon South Dakota QuitLine to promote their services for smoking addiction. South Dakota QuitLine is an addiction center that offers talk therapy, nicotine patches, prescription medication, follow ups and support, among various other services available to any person who wishes to quit smoking.

South Dakota QuitLine is based in Pierre, S.D. and has provided O’Kelley with tools to help promote their business around campus. O’Kelley has strung up posters, handed out info cards, and mailed e-letters to USD faculty.

2. Did you ever check local services or centers first?

“I talked to Student Health over at Sanford Hospital here in Vermillion to see if they had a smoking addiction program,” O’Kelley said. “They referred me to South Dakota QuitLine, and they are very successful amongst other centers.”

O’Kelley states that different people have different triggers, things that spark a craving.

“It could be a number of things,” he said. “A smell, stressful everyday life, maybe a certain emotion, coffee.”

3. Coffee is oftentimes used as a replacement for cigarettes. Do you drink coffee?

“I do drink coffee,” O’Kelley said. “I love it.”

He has a coffee pot situated on his filing cabinet in his office and a very large bag of Guatemalan Fair Trade Coffee ground, which he described as “heavenly.”

“They have a store here in Vermillion,” he said. “It’s awesome coffee, definitely my favorite.”

4. Aside from your work, what do you do outside of USD?

“I love the outdoors,” O’Kelley said. “We’re outdoorsy people. Hiking, biking, anything that’s outside, really.”

He says the Missouri River is an excellent playground for Vermillion residents who enjoy more outdoor recreation, and fears that the river could be swamped with cigarette butts in the future if something isn’t changed at USD.

5. Is there a back story to your dedication to help make campus smoke-free? Did you ever smoke in your life?

“I did smoke just a few times when I was in college,” O’Kelley said. “I didn’t like it, it didn’t last long.”

“I can’t help but care for the health and safety for the students and faculty at USD,” he said. “They affect themselves and the environment, and those are two things I’m very concerned with.”