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'Last Lecture' will be fun, just like Bean's career

April 4, 2017

“I believe in fun,” said Ethelle Bean, former director of the Dakota State University Library.

Bean, who retired in October 2016, has been chosen by the General Beadle Honor students to be the first Last Lecturer at DSU on Monday, April 10.

“The Last Lecture series is an opportunity for retiring faculty to offer parting advice…based on literally a lifetime of service to higher education,” said Dr. Kurt Kemper, professor of history and director of the General Beadle Honors Program. The honors program is sponsoring the lecture.

“Many campuses offer something resembling Last Lectures,” Kemper added, “and both the students and the community generally find them very engaging.”

A professor from Carnegie-Mellon University, Randy Pausch, made this type of lecture famous when he gave a 2007 Last Lecture shortly after he learned his pancreatic cancer was terminal. His talk has also been made into a book titled “The Last Lecture.”  

“Some lectures can be provocative,” Kemper said, “others are deeply emotional as they reflect on a lifetime of successes or failures, while still others can be downright hilarious as some faculty abandon tradition altogether.”

“You never know what you’re going to get.” 

Bean is not sure what she’s going to say in her speech, titled “Paddle your Own Canoe,” but “boring is not one of the options.”

“If it’s not fun and you can’t make it fun, I don’t do it. Why should you make it a misery?”

She approached her library career with the same attitude. “I always tried to have fun,” she said, but there was a serious side to her work, to “bring computing to the masses.” 

Bean came to Madison in 1986 from Huron College, shortly after the mission change that set DSU on the path to technology. “The computerization drew me.”

She noted a good partnership with fellow librarian Risë Smith (now retired), and Computer Services (now ITS), which resulted in DSU’s library being the first in the state to have electronic databases, appropriate for the fully networked campus.

She was also an early promoter of distance education. As an officer with the South Dakota Library Association she worked to bring an American Library Association accredited master of library science program to South Dakota through a partnership with the University of Arizona graduate school.

“I loved being a librarian,” she said, “but DSU also gave me opportunities to do other things,” such as special projects. The first was a self-study for the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

She kept humor in this process as well. When the drafts were sent out to the deans for proof-reading, she embedded inappropriate words into the documents, and offered a prize to the one who found the most. Besides keeping it fun, it kept the deans informed about the process, and the content of the report. This unique process led to a paper, and presentation at a conference.

It was “a great experience,” Bean said, and “it started me down the path of special projects.”

The great experience of Bean’s “Last Lecture” will be Monday, April 10 at 7 p.m., in the Tunheim Classroom Building. A reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. The event will be live-streamed.