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A look at USD's new 'Opportunity Center'

USD President Sheila Gestring
Kyle Ireland
USD President Sheila Gestring

The January 1st deadline for state universities to create “Opportunity Centers” has come and gone.

Each university had to come up with its own plan.

Due to the size and scope of its existing diversity office, the University of South Dakota had a difficult time creating a plan that would accommodate the concerns of students, faculty and the Vermillion community.

Over the winter break, USD removed all of the decorations and signage from its existing Center for Diversity and Community. The space has been renamed to the Office of Multicultural Affairs and converted to a general gathering area with offices that any student organization can sign up to use. An office space across the hall will act as the physical location for the Opportunity Center.

Sheila Gestring is the president of USD. She says the Opportunity Center won’t be just a physical space.

“It's also a web presence, where there are useful links for all the services that students are going to need. Could be anywhere from financial aid to registration, perhaps they need to connect with a tutor or find the math emporium or any of the support services that we provide for our students.”

Gestring hopes students will embrace the change.

“I think the biggest thing is to understand that the intentions here are to improve student services or services for students. And that's really the premise behind the Opportunity Center is that it should be easy for every student to find the help and support that they need.”

Gestring says the university will continue to seek open communication from the campus community about what direction they want to see the Opportunity Center go.

The Board of Regents ordered the creation of Opportunity Centers last year after receiving a letter from Governor Kristi Noem. In the letter, the governor asked the board to consider whether diversity offices were experiencing “mission creep.”