Richard Gowen: A Legacy of Excellence

Richard Gowen, Ph.D., one of the most impactful leaders in the history of South Dakota Mines, passed away on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the age of 86. Read his full obituary. Gowen came to Mines first in 1977 to serve as the dean of graduate education, following a highly successful career both as a teacher and researcher in the fields of biomedical and electrical engineering. The Board of Regents appointed him president of Dakota State University in 1984. Later, he returned to Mines to serve as president from 1987-2003.    

“Dr. Gowen was among the most passionate supporters of Mines, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He inspired many and he dedicated much of his life to the advancement of the institution. He was instrumental in shaping the university we all know today. He will be greatly missed,” says current Mines President Jim Rankin, Ph.D., P.E.

Gowen led the university’s first capital campaign, raising over $20 million for new programs, faculty development, research, and buildings that continue to benefit thousands of students. He helped found the award-winning, nationally recognized Center of Excellence for Advanced Multidisciplinary Projects. He also spearheaded the development of programs to increase the number of Native American engineering and science graduates. He created an era of progress and improvement at Mines, and his impact reverberates today as students and faculty continue to benefit from his work.

“I know of no president that gave more or had a greater compassion for South Dakota Mines than Dr. Gowen. His dedication to Mines was unprecedented,” says Scott Kenner, Ph.D., P.E., professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Mines.  


Gowen remained a very active community leader and philanthropist into his retirement and engaged in a wide range of projects. He played a pivotal role in bringing the Sanford Underground Research Facility to the Homestake Gold Mine.

“Dr. Gowen leaves numerous legacies. I was particularly impressed with his vision, energy, and passion while working with others to pave the way for the conversion of the Homestake Gold Mine as an underground scientific laboratory,” says Patricia Mahon, Ph.D., who served as dean of students at Mines for over 20 years. “I am forever grateful that Dr. Gowen hired me in 2000 as the vice president for student development and dean of students. He was an inspiring boss and mentor due to his care, concern, and professional development of aspiring scientists and engineers. He and his wife Nancy took special interest in the life of students and were highly visible, tirelessly attended events, and opened their home for casual and special gatherings.”


For his lifelong pursuit of excellence, he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2012. In 2014, he was part of the group that brought the Dignity statue to the banks of the Missouri River near Chamberlain.

In 2017, he and Nancy established the organization Excellence in Computer Programming and brought together numerous volunteers to help the Black Hills region host the International Collegiate Programming Contest, which brought together college students from around the world.

“He led an exemplary life and in everything he did, he approached with tireless commitment to excellence. He addressed projects as he did life: head-on and at full speed, giving it all he had and then some, and expecting those around him to do the same,” said Steve Allender, mayor of Rapid City.

Gowen’s legacy of giving back to Mines continues today with the establishment of the Dr. Richard and Nancy Gowen Scholarship. The Gowen family invites contributions in an effort to reach a $30,000 fundraising goal, which will endow the scholarship to exist in perpetuity with an annual award made. Donations can be made here by entering "Gowen Memorial" in the space provided for the designation.