New Faces on Campus Interviews With New Faculty

Black Hills State University is glad to welcome many new faculty members this semester. Dr. Trenton Ellis is one new instructor on campus, and he answered a few questions for the Jacket Journal.

What is your teaching emphasis?

I teach human services courses, but human services is a very interdisciplinary major. We have students who take courses in psychology, students who take courses in sociology, and students who take human services courses alone. I’m a sociologist, so my degrees are all in sociology. So I teach sociology courses and also human services courses. I teach both on the main campus, so here in Spearfish, and also a course at the University Center in Rapid City. This will be my second academic year teaching for Black Hills. I started last fall as an adjunct, and then I taught both in the fall and the spring, and I love it. I’ve had some really good opportunities as an adjunct. I was able to teach an upper-division class. I was able to bring a class that I had developed at South Dakota State University — that’s Sociology of Rural America — I was able to bring that here and offer that as an elective last spring. So as an adjunct, that was a really great opportunity.

How has your experience at your department been so far?

It’s been a great experience. I think that being a first year full-time faculty member can be somewhat demanding at times, can be a somewhat overwhelming experience. But I have been fortunate enough — my colleagues are fantastic. They’re always available to answer questions. If I email them with a question, they’re always quick to turn around and respond. Usually if they don’t know an answer, they can get me to someone very quickly who does. So I feel like, as a first year full-time faculty member, that it’s been less of an overwhelming experience for me because I have such great colleagues. Our department head, Jim Hess, he’s a really supportive guy. He’s always stopping by to see how things are going. He’s a real open-door policy kind of guy. And the students are great, too.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I think that it’s tough to kind of pigeonhole my teaching style into one particular definition because every class is a little bit different. I’d say it really depends on the class. I like to be open with my students. I like to get constant feedback from them. A lot of times in class I’ll ask if anyone has questions because I think sometimes people — especially first and second year students — are a little bit nervous to ask questions. So I like to give plenty of opportunities where students can ask questions. If I could sum it up in a word, I would say I have a very fluid teaching style. I like to follow tangents. If someone has an interesting story they bring up, I like to follow that and connect it to what we’re talking about.

What drew you to BH?

It helped that I had been here last year and that I had interacted with faculty here. I’d say that’s what made BH a very attractive option for me. I had already been introduced and already had conversations, had lunch with, interacted with faculty on campus. They were so approachable and open. You get a sense of community; it’s a very open door. That’s a good feeling — that your colleagues are very approachable. I’d say the friendliness and openness of the faculty in this particular school of behavioral sciences really drew me in. I feel that here everyone feels like part of the same organism.

Where are you from?
I am originally from a rural town in central Illinois called Canton. When people ask me “Where is Canton, Illinois?” I usually say, “It’s not near Chicago. It’s about 40 miles west of Peoria, Illinois. About 50,000 people in the town. I guess that’s another thing that drew me to this area. I’m from a rural town, my PhD work was in the department of sociology in rural studies in Brookings, and Spearfish is obviously a very rural setting. I feel comfortable in rural areas.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy hiking. My wife, she works for the University Center in Rapid City. We like to go camping. Probably one of my favorite things to do is mountain biking. That’s probably my favorite non-work activity. Other than that, I really love my area of emphasis — sociology of food and agriculture. So I really like to take an academic book and sit at the campsite, wherever we are, and just read more and more about my field.

What’s on your bucket list?

Toward the top is to visit Nepal in the next couple of years. I have a really good friend who is a PhD student at SDSU and he is from Katmandu, Nepal. I’ve been wanting to go there for a long time, and I think that’s probably one of those things that’s on my bucket list for the next few years. I really like traveling. Hopefully my wife and I will be able to travel to Yellowstone here before too long. We’d like to head up there and go to Glacier National Park, check that out.

Who/what influence?

Really, we’re influenced by everybody that we have some kind of meaningful interaction with. The people that have had major influences on me have probably been my close friends and family. The discipline of sociology has influenced my life greatly. It has impacted strongly the way I view the world. I am a white male, so I have a lot of privilege in being a white male.

Do you root for any sports teams?

I root for the Yellowjackets! I don’t have cable so I don’t follow a lot of team sports, but I think once things settle down a little bit, I think I’ll probably follow mountain biking a little more closer, like the World Cup.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I used to be a night owl, when I was doing my coursework in my PhD program. But I’m a morning person now, I guess.

If you weren’t a professor, what would you do?

If I weren’t a professor, I would be a high school biology teacher, I think. I know that’s very different from sociology — it’s a natural science not a social science. But I could see myself being a high school biology teacher and maybe a chef.

Do you have any tips for students?

Take advantage of this experience, of higher education. I’m the only person in my family to go out and get any kind of degree. So I feel very fortunate to have gone into higher education because it’s changed my life, it’s changed the way I look at the world. Take advantage of the time you have hear, to engage yourself. I think sometimes we lose curiosity. I think university is a place where we can reconnect with curiosity.


Dr. Ellis is an associate professor of human services at BH. You can check him out on Twitter at Six Second Sociology (@SixSecSoc). His office is located in the Jonas Skywalk, Room 208.