Mike Ray

Media Relations Manager Communications SDSTA Staff Appointed Date:

Mike Ray’s long career in journalism and public relations began with KTEQ, an underground punk rock radio station at the South Dakota Mines, where he was a geology student.

“At the time, college radio was like the hip bits of the internet today,” Ray said. “It was the cool way to connect with young people who like to listen to weird music. It was the ‘ne’re-do-wells, the kids who didn’t quite fit in elsewhere. It was a beautiful community of young, radical intellectuals, many of whom are now leaders in their fields. And I was one of the kids who didn’t fit in.”

And yet, with no formal education in journalism, Ray began to make his mark in the world of radio news. It was 1992 when Ray became acquainted with a South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) reporter, who he met while “rollerblading around Rapid City—and hanging out at the Sixth Street Deli.” When the reporter decided to leave SDPB, she submitted Ray’s resume.

“I didn’t know the first thing about journalism—I was a 19-year-old kid! But they took me under their wing and taught me how to be a journalist. I started having so much fun doing it because I  was a curious kid. And I found that, as a journalist, I could just interview so many amazing experts in their fields. So, I fell in love with journalism.”

Over a 24-year career with SDPB, Ray interviewed South Dakota Gov. Mickelson (who didn’t like Ray’s long hair); Dr. Jane Goodall, who Ray said, “Was so incredible gracious and decent”; and he shot some questions during a Rapid City press conference at Carl Sagan, which was “pretty cool.”

Ray, who grew up in the Black Hills, received his bachelor’s degree in Geology in 1997 then headed to the Czech Republic, where, as a freelance journalist, he covered major stories in Central Europe for about a year.

“I was able to work with some really great people who taught me a lot about journalism at NPR, the BBC and other outlets.”

Ray returned home after a year overseas to continue his work at SDPB-Radio. In 2005, Ray participated in NPR- and BBC-funded journalism training at MIT, where he learned more about science writing.  In 2009, he was selected as a Logan Science Journalist Fellow, a fellowship that was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Marine Biological Laboratory. He spent three weeks as an “embedded journalist” above the Arctic Circle at a scientific research station reporting on the impacts of climate change.

“My background in geology really helped me when writing science stories because I could come in with at least a little bit of understanding,” he said.

And that background came in quite handy when, after nearly 25 years with SDPB, Ray returned to his alma mater as the communications manager. There, he wrote about and promoted the research Mines professors do at SURF and around the world.

Over a long career, Ray has been recognized numerous times, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards and a National Scripps Howard News Service award. He was a finalist in the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and has won 20 regional Murrow Awards and more than 40 awards from the Associated Press. 

Now, Ray is bringing his expertise to SURF.

“I feel like the entire arc of my career has led me to SURF,” Ray said. “I’m excited to be here to help promote the science and the STEM programs—and to work with this fantastic team. There are so many great things that have been done and I hope I can continue that I want to see more recognition for the awesome science, more recognition for the awesome education, and more recognition for SURF as America's underground science laboratory. That's, that's my hope.”

Ray acknowledged that he’s setting high expectations for himself.  But the “curious kid” who grew up in Black Hills of South Dakota on the banks of Boxelder Creek, just downstream from the town of Nemo, has always set big goals.

“For me, it’s good to make goals that are way out there. It’s good to have a compass and know the direction that will take you there.”

Ray and his wife Andrea live in Rapid City. He's a beekeeper and tree farmer on his family place near Nemo, and enjoys ice hockey, mountain unicycling, backpacking, and several other outdoor activities.   

a Photo of Mike Ray outside at SURF