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Behind the scenes with Kevin Neuharth

Known as the "face" of MSU Summer Theatre, associate professor Kevin Neuharth has been a fixture on campus for decades. Surprisingly, he is more a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

Neuharth started at MSU in 1970 with designs on becoming a teacher.

"There were a lot fewer options back then, so when I came to college it was a matter of deciding what kind of teacher I wanted to be," he said.

He considered many options, but nothing stuck. After landing a part in a play, he learned under Tom Turner that theater was something he wouldn't mind doing for more than five weeks of rehearsal. But he worried about finding a job doing it.

"There aren't a lot of jobs in North Dakota teaching theater, so I always kept thinking I had to do something else as well. I probably had nine majors in two years," he said.

In 1974, he graduated with a degree in speech and drama and began teaching at Minot High School. In 1976, he was laid off due to an enrollment decline, and once again, Neuharth pondered his future.

"I kept thinking the perfect job was at UPS; you get free glasses, and I don't mind the color brown," he quipped.

Shortly after, Harold Aleshire called Neuharth to discuss an opening at MSU - an uncommon request for someone without a graduate degree.

"He made it known that if I were hired I would have to get my master's degree," Neuharth said. "I walked away feeling good that I had made some impact as an undergraduate student to get their attention, and that I could be trusted to move something in a direction."

At MSU, he taught five classes, designed sets and directed two shows a year. The difference between college and high school, though, was that at MSU, some of Neuharth's students were older than him.

"At the time, that was pretty intimidating," he said. "I learned more about humility in the early years of teaching than anything else, and that part of being a teacher is being a collaborator."

He believes that exploring collaboration with students teaches them responsibility and accountability, and he proudly rattles off a long list of theater students who have gone on to graduate school.

Throughout his career, Neuharth studied for his master's degree in Denver and attended doctoral classes at the University of Oregon - both experiences he credits as opportunities that exposed him to diverse thought and culture. But he always returned to MSU.

"I felt obligated to stay and give back to the institution that helped me," he said. "I've always had great teachers, students, supporters, colleagues and bosses. They all understand that theater is an important part of a liberal arts education," he said.

Neuharth also counts his family as his biggest fans.

"Thanks to the love and support of my wife, Cindy, and children, Jared and Cassie, I was given the freedom to perform in this position to the best of my ability."

In Sept., Neuharth was named 2013 Outstanding Teacher by the Communication, Speech and Theatre Association of North Dakota. Recipients have demonstrated excellence in teaching, developed instructional materials or designed novel approaches to teaching.