From turkey farmer to psychology professor

Department head Woldt retiring after 22 years at SDSU

Editor’s note: Graduation ceremonies at South Dakota State University May 6 won’t only mark the end of studies for nearly 1,300 students, it will also culminate the academic careers of three department heads. They have been profiled in a three-part series, concluding today with a look at Brad Woldt, a part of the psychology department for 22 years.

The final working day for for all three administrators in the College of Arts and Sciences – Mary Arnold, head of journalism and mass communications; Woldt; and Tim Steele, who heads the school of design – is June 21.


BROOKINGS – Somewhere along the road to school and work, Brad Woldt “ran into life” and it shaped who he would become – a psychology professor.

Woldt grew up in Watertown, but because of his father’s occupation, he has a connection to agriculture. Dwaine Woldt and his brother, Carroll, started Woldt Brothers Turkey Farm right outside Watertown in 1967. Brad Woldt graduated from Watertown High School in 1970 and enrolled at South Dakota State that fall.

He switched majors two or three times, but had taken an interest in immunology in his junior year in 1974, when his father asked him to return home to work on the farm.

Woldt did so, and in 1980 he and his brother purchased the farm from his father, who had previously bought out his brother and renamed the operation Pepper Farms Inc. The business also had interests in a feed mill and a cattle-feeding operation. He served as president and co-owner until selling out to his brother in 1987 to pursue psychology. It wasn’t the birds or the cattle that moved him to that field.

“I realized there were a lot of things that I didn’t understand about why people behaved the way they did,” Woldt explained.

In addition to experiencing the trials and tribulations of life, Woldt said he wanted to finish his degree. “I felt unfinished. I wanted to complete my undergraduate education so I commuted from Watertown.”


Hooked by psych 101

To fulfill a general education requirement, he took a psychology 101 class from Bob Burke “and I was hooked. From my life experiences, I wanted to explore psychology. I was interested in individual and family dysfunction,” Woldt said. “After I took the Burke class, I just said, ‘Oh this is it.’” He had found his chosen field.

In addition to Burke, Woldt said he was influenced by faculty members Al Branum and Ken Hillner.

“They were all great and were very encouraging to me. Those three guys were fantastic,” said Woldt, who graduated with honors and a degree in psychology in 1988.

He followed that right up with graduate school, earning his master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Montana in 1991 and 1993, respectively. It was there he got a taste of instruction, assisting in teaching a graduate-level psychology testing course and teaching a statistics class for behavioral sciences.


Returning to SDSU

Meanwhile back in Brookings, Branum and Hillner kept an eye on their former student.

By this time, Branum was assistant dean of the College of Arts and Science and Hillner was head of the psychology department. “They said, ‘When you’re done, we’re interested in having you come back.’”

In spring 1995, Woldt had just become licensed and was working as an adolescent program director at Sexually Abusive Behavior: Evaluation and Recovery in Missoula, Mont. Hillner let him know of a job opening at SDSU. Woldt was the successful applicant and began work at State Aug. 15, 1995.

He clearly recalls the start of his teaching career.

“I found out I didn’t really know how to teach. I just stuffed content down students. I gave them too much information. I didn’t allow them time to think. I had to work on toning down the intensity of delivery and giving students time to think and ask questions,” Woldt said. The adjustment worked wonders.

“Dr. Woldt taught the first course I ever took on psychological assessment and inspired me to become the clinical psychologist that I am today,” said Tara Krog, a 2001 graduate who is now a clinical psychologist at Maricopa Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Annex in Phoenix. “I was fascinated with psychological assessment and how Dr. Woldt used psychological tests to gain insight into people.

“Seeing the work that he was doing in his private practice, I knew I wanted to be him someday. Dr. Woldt was a driving force behind who I am and what I do today.”

In addition to teaching clinical courses, Woldt maintained a one-day-a-week private practice until becoming department head in 2009.

“Because I was a clinical psychologist … I was involved in the ‘scholarship of application’ … I did a lot of work for the court system in north central and northeast South Dakota. I conducted psychology evaluations of people convicted in criminal cases and also for people involved in civil cases,” Woldt said.


Program adds faculty, grad degree

As department head, he oversees 10 other faculty members and an administrative assistant. The department has 260 majors and 98 minors.

He notes the faculty size has grown significantly since 2010 (seven to 11). “We were understaffed for sure,” and Dennis Papini, who became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences July 2, 2012, recognized the need to boost faculty numbers, Woldt said.

“Dean Papini … has been a strong supporter and visionary for our department. Another major change since he came on board is we now have a master’s program in industrial/organizational psychology. It was Dean Papini’s vision and paving the way to get that done. This is the first year for the industrial/organizational program,” Woldt said.

While the program is active, it started late so there is only one participant. However, 18 have applied for next year for the two-year, 44-credit, master’s degree program in psychology of the workplace. The plan is to admit eight for this fall. Woldt noted industrial/organizational psychology “was a very successful program at Middle Tennessee State,” where Papini was before coming to SDSU.


Close student-faculty contact

Woldt said an advantage of having a program focused on undergraduates is that third- and fourth-year students get to know faculty, serve on research teams, get experiential learning and learn a lot about how faculty function.

“The faculty get to know their students very well. It’s a mutually enhancing relationship,” Woldt said.

Assistant professor Tyler Miller, who has been on staff five years, said, “Undergraduate assistants play a critically important role in the research process. Brad has been very supportive of faculty involving undergraduate students in the discovery process and, in some cases, facilitated finding research assistants.

Speaking on behalf of fellow faculty members, Miller said, “Brad’s record of service, teaching, and scholarship warranted his earning the distinction of emeritus status.”

South Dakota Board of Regents approved meritorious distinction at its March meeting.

Woldt, who turns 65 June 24, is thinking about a third career, possibly working for his son, Brian, who is a certified public accountant in Castle Rock, Colo., and has a need for a bookkeeper. Woldt also has a daughter, Kristi Laffen, who is a medical review examiner in Albuquerque, N.M. Brian and Kelly Woldt have four children. Kristi and Nick Laffen have one child.

Woldt’s retirement event is an informal luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in the Lewis and Clark Room in the University Student Union.

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