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Chiesman Center for Democracy
Department of Political Science
Dakota Hall
414 E. Clark St.
Vermillion, SD 57069
Office Hours
Monday - Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Fostering an Actively Aware, Passionately Engaged Citizenry

The Chiesman Center for Democracy supports research and civic education activities addressing on-going challenges to American democracy. It is dedicated to facilitating public dialogue, active civic engagement and the promotion of civic values. Housed in the USD Department of Political Science, the center brings the expertise of USD faculty to the broader South Dakota public, from the private citizen to the state's elected leaders.

The Chiesman Center strives to support research and civic education activities addressing the issues of democracy, democratic principles, and active civic engagement and to foster activities that encourage citizens to be actively engaged in the democratic process as educated, informed participants. The center promotes civic competence and responsibility among South Dakota’s citizens and leaders. We fund research and studies on the on-going problems of American democracy including but not limited to citizen participation; civic engagement; civic values and education; public dialogue; and policy analysis and also fund the study of issues concerning democracy in South Dakota in particular and the United States in general. Other organizations promoting these same goals and objectives may also receive support from the center.

Our Partners

The Chiesman Center for Democracy collaborates with organizations and centers in the USD Department of Political Science. 

Chiesman Grant Proposals

The Chiesman Fund supports research and civic education activities addressing the issues of democracy, democratic principles and active civic engagement. We also support activities encouraging active and informed engagement in the democratic process or promoting civic competence and responsibility among South Dakota’s citizens and leaders. Proposals for grants should clearly and specifically address one or more of these purposes. Expected awards will range from $500 to $2000. We hope to fund 10-15 proposals.

Our History, Vision and Values

The estate of philanthropist Allene Chiesman, who graduated from USD in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in history, created the Chiesman Foundation for Democracy in 1996. In 2018, the center moved to the University of South Dakota. Learn about Chiesman and her civic-engagement movement that continues today.

Allene Chiesman was born in Spearfish, South Dakota to Leverett R. and Nellie Pike Chiesman on July 12, 1914. Her family ranched in the Newell-Belle Fourche, South Dakota area for more than sixty years. Her mother graduated from Black Hills Normal School (Black Hills State University) and taught in a Newell rural school for a few years. Her father was very active in many Belle Fourche community organizations and served on a local bank board until his retirement. After completing elementary school in South Dakota, Allene attended and graduated from the Brownell-Talbot Preparatory School in Omaha, Nebraska in 1932. She went on to major in history at the University of South Dakota at Vermillion. After graduation in 1936, she worked in Chicago, Illinois until the beginning of World War II. During the war, Allene worked with the American Red Cross in the South Pacific.

After World War II, Allene worked at different jobs in Greeley, Colorado and on the West Coast. She retired in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1969. For the next twenty years, she was very active in many regional organizations. She volunteered as a Grey Lady at the Rapid City Regional Hospital and as an assistant librarian for Black Hills State University. She was known to be of help in any humanitarian or community cause when called upon. One of Allene's favorite activities was traveling throughout the world. Allene especially enjoyed her yearly fall trip to England to enjoy the cultural events of the season. Her travels took her to South America, Africa, Asia and Europe on a regular basis. Her most memorable experiences were her trips through North America which she shared with accompanying travel companions. Always self-reliant, Allene traveled to many countries alone and enjoyed the adventure of discovery and learning about new cultures.

Allene's philanthropic endeavors are among her major accomplishments. Besides founding the Chiesman Foundation For Democracy and establishing an endowment to meet its mission and goals, she established scholarships and endowments at Black Hills State University and the University of South Dakota. These scholarships have helped many students meet their educational goals and the endowments Allene created prepare individuals to become active citizens and leaders. Other beneficiaries of her generosity included: American Red Cross - Black Hills Chapter, Black Hills Children's Home, Smithsonian Institution, American Association of University Women Foundation, Rapid City Regional Hospital, American Institute of Cancer Research, South Dakota Public Radio, The Rapid City Club for Boys, Girls Incorporated, United Way of the Black Hills, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Black Hills, The Mount Rushmore Society and many more organizations.

Some may call her a pioneer of sort; a single woman growing up during the roaring 20's, attending college during the depression years of the 30's, helping the war effort in the South Pacific and a consummate world traveler. During her lifetime, Allene played a part in or observed many of America's defining moments of the 20th century. These experiences solidified her belief in our country, our freedoms and more importantly our individual and collective obligation to be active members in our democracy. The Chiesman Center is a fitting legacy for a member of what truly was “the greatest generation” this nation has ever seen.

Our vision is to have a citizenry that is actively aware, passionately engaged, and involved in the democratic process that is respectful of the variety of opinion that makes our democracy great.
  • We respect differences of viewpoint and a commitment to openness and tolerance in public discourse;
  • We believe that all citizens have the right and responsibility to be active participants in the decisions that impact the civic life of our state and country;
  • We value lifelong education in the democratic process that builds a commitment to ongoing active civic participation;
  • We understand that social responsibility, courage, patriotism, honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of our democracy;
  • We encourage strong communities across South Dakota and our nation that have active, skilled and engaged advocates seeking full participation in their communities’ well-being.

Departments & Facilities

Learn more about the departments and facilities that support the Chiesman Center for Democracy.
Tom Brokaw Robert Legvold Aalfs Auditorium speaking event

Political Science

Whether you are interested in a career in government and politics, law, the criminal justice system, international relations or a related field, the real-world experiences and connections you find in the Department of Political Science will help you get there.

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South Dakota News Watch Statewide Survey

The Chiesman Center for Democracy and South Dakota News Watch collaborated to develop a survey designed to assess the perspectives of residents of South Dakota on issues related to democracy and economic outcomes.


SD News Watch Survey
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South Dakota Public Broadcasting Statewide Survey

The Chiesman Center for Democracy partnered with the South Dakota Public Broadcasting to conduct a statewide public survey to gather information on public experiences and perspectives to ensure South Dakota Public Broadcasting is meeting the news and information needs of rural communities in South Dakota.


SDPB Statewide Survey