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Longtime Early Childhood Professor and Nationally Known Educator Dies

Image Gera Jacobs Gera Jacobs, 1952-2016.

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Gera Jacobs, who taught early childhood education at the University of South Dakota for more than 20 years and was recognized internationally as a leader on the subject, died of cancer Wednesday, June 22, at age 64.

Visitation will be Monday, June 27, at 2 p.m. with the funeral Mass following at 3:30 p.m. St. Agnes Catholic Church in Vermillion. Hansen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Read her obituary here.

Jacobs, Ed.D., was a professor in the USD School of Education Department of Curriculum & Instruction since 1995. She came to the university in 1993 as an early childhood specialist at the USD Center for Disabilities. Prior to that, she taught preschool, kindergarten and elementary school for many years. She also taught numerous workshops and led other training while at USD.

Jacobs was past-president and had served in other roles at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is the largest and most in influential organization of early childhood educators and others dedicated to improving the quality of programs for children from birth through age 8. NAEYC has nearly 90,000 members and a national network of more than 300 local, state and regional affiliates.

She co-authored three nationally recognized books on how to help children meet standards in developmentally appropriate ways. Jacobs was chairperson for the South Dakota Early Learning Guidelines Panel, which was responsible for writing South Dakota preschool standards. And she was named a 2008 Champion for Children by South Dakota Voices for Children.

Most recently, she worked with schools in Vermillion, Sioux Falls and Beresford, South Dakota, to implement the Sanford Harmony program intended to help students learn to cooperate, communicate and find empathy and common ground.

“Dr. Gera Jacobs was very well known nationally and internationally in the field of early childhood education,” said Donald Easton-Brooks, Ph.D., dean of the USD School of Education. “Not only did Dr. Jacobs put USD and the state of South Dakota on the map in this area, she contributed greatly to the field. Also, Gera was a compassionate soul. Everyone she worked with or interacted with felt her warm presence.”

“It was a privilege to serve the University of South Dakota alongside Gera Jacobs,” said Nick Shudak, Ph.D., chair of the curriculum and instruction division. “She loved people as hard as she worked, which was nonstop. She literally worked up until her last days. She was a wonderful mentor and role model. I will forever cherish her.”

Jacobs’ husband, Gerard Jacobs, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at USD and director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute.

Download a high-resolution image here.


USD's School of Education is transformative in preparing students both inside and outside the classroom. Its research- and practitioner-based programs train future educators, counselors, leaders, fitness and sport-related professionals for successful careers. The school focuses on a comprehensive learning experience, lifelong learning and developing professionals grounded in best practice. The school’s divisions include counseling and psychology, curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, kinesiology and sport management, and teacher residency and education.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News