Brookings, S.D. – Every year, a committee of students in the South Dakota State University College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) is tasked with selecting an outstanding teacher they feel has gone above and beyond in their role as an educator. Students and clubs within the college have the opportunity to nominate a CAFES teacher to receive the title of CAFES Teacher of the Year. This year’s recipient is Dr. Robert Thaler, Distinguished Professor and interim head of the Department of Animal Science. This will be Thaler’s third time being recognized as Teacher of the Year, as he was given the honor in 2000 and again in 2006.
Thaler has been an influential leader in swine education at SDSU, coming to campus to work as an SDSU Extension Swine Specialist in 1988, and later adding a teaching role in 1996. Over the years, he has helped strengthen the swine education, extension, and research initiatives across the state and university and continues to remain active within the swine industry at both the state and national levels.
While at SDSU, Thaler has coordinated study abroad experiences and has brought numerous student groups to China and Vietnam to learn about international agriculture. He also served as a past Little International advisor for six years in the early 2000s.
Most students have come to know Thaler through his undergraduate courses and he has become a strong supporter of students’ successes in both their professional and personal lives. Whether it is sharing internship and job opportunities or writing a letter of recommendation for scholarships, Thaler is always willing to offer support to students both inside and outside of the classroom.
“Dr. Thaler tries to get to know all of his students on a personal level by finding out what their interests and career goals are and then doing whatever he can to help us reach those goals,” said agricultural communications and agricultural leadership student Karmen Sperr. “He’s always pushing his students to reach their highest potential and he’s willing to do whatever he can to help us along the way.”
Attributes that set Thaler apart from others is his understanding that not all students learn the same way. Whether it’s setting aside time at the end of class for questions, holding review sessions before exams or meeting with students to go over lessons outside of the classroom, Thaler works with students in a way that works best for them.
“I was very fortunate to have some of the giants like Drs. Rick Wahlstrom and Dan Gee as teachers when I was an undergrad over 40 years ago, and I know what a difference they made in my life, and I just try to do the same in my classes,” said Thaler. “It’s especially humbling because it’s the students who decide on this award, so hopefully that means I’ve had a positive influence on their lives and future.”