Ten years ago, in April 2012, North Dakota State was fresh off its first-ever FCS National Championship. While success was nothing new for the Bison—the Herd had won eight national championships in Division II, three of those coming in the 1960s in what was called the college division—few people dared imagine they’d add nine FCS titles in the ensuing decade. In the process, the Bison elevated the profile of our university, community and state. The leadership of President Dean Bresciani was instrumental in this historic run. Without Bresciani, who was named NDSU’s 14th president in 2010, it’s likely this run never happens.
The last twelve years also witnessed the opening of Scheels Center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, the premier basketball facility in the Summit League. The Bison men’s basketball team has played in eight Summit League tournament championship games during Bresciani’s time, winning the league and qualifying for March Madness four times in that span. Other programs have had successes as well, with every team qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in their respective sport with the sole exception being women’s basketball. Several student-athletes have represented the United States and other countries at the Olympics during Bresciani’s tenure. Hundreds of NDSU student-athletes have received all-league and all-American status both on the field and in the classroom during his presidency.
If you were to ask Bresciani, he’d surely tell you the lion’s share of credit for this success goes to the administrators, coaches, players, and staff. Without support from Old Main and the President’s Office, though, sustaining the championship-level success Bison fans have come to expect isn’t possible. He’s truly a Bison’s Bison, and has cemented his legacy on the Mount Rushmore of all-time NDSU greats. Any time the Bison have won a conference or national title, one of the first people our coaches have thanked was Bresciani. Literally, the first thing Matt Entz did at the press conference after the Herd beat Montana State 38 – 10 for the school’s 17th national championship in January was thank, among others, Bresciani. “You know, all the credit goes to our coaching staff, to our administration, President Bresciani, Matt Larson.” NDSU would do well, and right, by immediately enshrining Bresciani in the Bison Athletics Hall of Fame this fall, waiving any waiting period.
Bresciani’s impact, quite obviously, isn’t limited to sports. Although this magazine’s mission is dedicated to telling the story of NDSU athletics, Bison athletics takes second chair to the academic mission of our great university. This February, under Bresciani’s leadership, NDSU announced that its “In Our Hands” fundraising campaign raised more than $586 million, the largest higher education fundraising campaign in North Dakota history. At the announcement, Bresciani cited the work by the Bison Family in making the unprecedented campaign possible.
“Twelve years ago, I was on a campus poised to accomplish more and contribute more than any college or university in the state ever had,” said Bresciani. “We all shared that vision— our students shared it, our faculty and staff shared it, our alumni shared it, our corporate partners shared it, people across the country have shared that belief. What we’ve accomplished here is the biggest fundraising effort in the history of the state of North Dakota. We have done that collectively as the Bison Family.”
I know he’s sincere when he says that. I’ve seen in firsthand. My mom, Ma Swany, is, to put it mildly, a crazy, rabid, sometimes-over-the-top-but-ina-good-way-most-of-the-time Bison fan. She’s also one of the kindest and sweetest people I know. She will give someone the shirt off her back if they need it, no questions asked. But her passion and zest for NDSU and the Bison is, again, to put it mildly, quite intense. She’s not the biggest booster, though, and she certainly isn’t writing checks for millions of dollars. Notwithstanding, Bresciani has always treated her with kindness and respect, and always had time to visit with her, whether at the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls or at Bison tailgating. It’s that kind of stewardship and those little moments outside of the public eye that has endeared him to thousands in the region that care for NDSU. I will always respect him for that. He truly cares about the Bison Family and fought for our university with an unmatched and tireless passion and determination.
With respect to the university as a whole, under Bresciani’s leadership, NDSU received the coveted R1 research institution status by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Multiple schools in several disciplines across campus are doing cutting-edge, nationally renowned work in their fields that could be the subject of an entire issue of this magazine. Whether it’s Barry Hall, Klai Hall, Renaissance Hall, Aldevron Tower, the Peltier Complex, the Challey School of Music and Challey Institute, the A. Glenn Hill Center, the Dalrymple Research Greenhouse, Sugihara Hall, Wallman Wellness Center, Scheels Center, the Nodak Insurance Football Performance Complex, or one of the scores of new residence halls on campus, NDSU is both literally and figuratively a different place with higher sights and bigger goals than when Bresciani assumed the presidency in 2010.
No other person has improved this university like Bresciani has. His legacy and mark on NDSU will be felt for generations. His leadership has been transformative—not just for our university, but for this state and region. He dared to dream what NDSU could be when he first stepped onto campus back in 2010, then went to work making that dream a reality. One of the credos of our great university is, “The Strength of the Herd is the Bison, and the Strength of the Bison is the Herd.” Today, the Herd is stronger because Dean Bresciani was our president.