Tessa Dee

Tessa Dee

Development Associate, LifeScape Foundation
Sioux Falls, SD
B.S. Health Sciences, 2013, Master of Communication, 2016

"Be open to change. Life isn’t rigid, it is constantly changing. Be open to new opportunities, even if they seem too grand or daring at first. Facing your fear of failure head on might not always guarantee success, but it will guarantee growth and adventure!"

Q&A with Tessa:

Describe your current educational or professional pursuits.

After obtaining my undergraduate bachelor of science degree in health science and serving our state as Miss South Dakota 2013, I knew I wanted to transition my professional pursuits to focus on nonprofit development. Because of that new goal, I attended USD for my master of arts in communication studies and now work for the LifeScape Foundation in Sioux Falls as their development associate. My focus is on planning events for thousands of donors, volunteers, and staff members each year to reach and exceed budget goals to better serve our children and adults with disabilities in our multitude of programs.

How did your USD experience influence your career path?

Something I love about USD is that it gave me the ability to explore different career paths. I went into college with an idea of what my career would be and what my life would look like, only to be surprised when I found so many other interests thanks to my diverse class schedule. Without USD and the hands-on experience and opportunities, I know I wouldn't have the fulfilling career I have today. The University of South Dakota lifted me up during my time as Miss South Dakota and not only supported me on a national level on my way to Miss America, but also welcomed me back with open arms as I changed my pursuits and came back to graduate school to further my education in a field I never anticipated..

Tell us about your proudest achievement.

Growing up, I never thought I would be a contestant in a pageant, let alone a pageant titleholder and on the national stage. Thanks to my friends, peers, and professors at USD, I was not only first introduced to the opportunities Miss America provides, but also wholeheartedly supported on my journey to both Miss America in 2013 and Miss USA in 2017. Competing in these organizations became a large part of both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits at USD, and I know I would have never stepped foot on the pageant state for the first time in 2011 had it not been for my support system at USD. My proudest moments are representing our great state at both Miss America and Miss USA. What an honor!

What was your USD experience like? Were you involved in any campus organizations or activities?

I first decided to attend USD after I was awarded a scholarship to run for the Coyote track team. With my background and interests in both athletics and recovery, I had initially thought I would be a physical therapist. Thanks to my wide range of classes and life experiences due to my time at USD, I was able to transition my career path and aspirations to something completely different. Along with being on the track team, I was a member of Alpha Phi and volunteered in a first-grade classroom with children who needed help becoming proficient in literacy through USD's SERVE program. These different experiences, plus many more, allowed me to create my own organization, Project Bookworm. Project Bookworm started at the local Vermillion library, and over the course of the next few years became a statewide mission to better incorporate early childhood literacy in classrooms and homes around the state of South Dakota.

There was no doubt in my mind I wanted to return to USD for my graduate studies. One of my favorite USD experiences was during graduate school as a teaching assistant for Speech 101 while I was obtaining my master’s degree in communication studies. I had just served as Miss South Dakota 2013 and had publicly spoken at over 200 events, and I truly enjoyed passing on some of those lessons to my students in my classroom. I think I probably learned just as much from this experience as they did!

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