Science

Mines honors program helps community and teaches leadership

Posted January 8

— Jim Bussell couldn't say enough about the help provided by a pair of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students in the Rushmore Little League's quest to improve its baseball fields and the east Rapid City neighborhood that it has called home for decades.

Two civil engineering seniors, Cameron Luna and Nicholas Kasanke, provided help with improving safety for the low- to middle-income central Rapid City neighborhood that has seen more than its share of crime issues, including drug use, vandalism, vagrancy and even prostitution, in and around the Roosevelt Park baseball field.

Luna and Kasanke looked at drainage and building material issues with the aging baseball field and provided information that proved vital to the league's getting city Vision Funds for a new lighting system.

The $25,000 to improve lighting in and around the Rushmore Little League complex was one of 10 Vision Fund requests approved along with grants for nine other projects by the Rapid City Common Council at its meeting on Dec. 5.

"They wrote a comprehensive document outlining the steps that needed to be taken, and we provided that information to the Vision Fund committee to help them make a decision," said Bussell, a Rapid City firefighter and volunteer league leader.

"It's fair to say that without their help, we wouldn't have come this far in the Vision Fund request," Bussell said.

The Rushmore Little League project is one of many community improvement projects performed by School of Mines senior engineering and science students over the years, but now a new undergraduate honors program will provide younger students with learning and leadership experience, while helping to solve community problems.

The new SDSM&T Honors Program, announced by the university on Dec. 5, will accept about 30 students, or roughly 5 percent of each incoming freshman class, along with a few sophomore students, each year, starting in the fall of 2017, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/2hjxxCF ) reported.

Students accepted into the Mines program starting next fall will tackle one or more community projects during the course of studying for their degrees.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for young engineers and scientists to engage with each other and solve problems that matter to someone else," said Mines president Heather Wilson.

Mines senior students from the gamut of engineering and science disciplines have long tackled community projects, among them developing adaptive equipment for people with disabilities; assessing and fixing the drainage around the Black Hills Playhouse; and designing and building a greenhouse.

"It's very common for us to do projects like this," Wilson said. "We wanted to build on this and get more students engaged, starting from their freshman year on."

Wilson said the Mines honors program is unique in engaging the community to provide projects to be completed and problems to be addressed and connecting those projects with students who show potential for leadership.

"It's easier to do an honors program that just has a harder freshman seminar course or something," Wilson said. "We're doing something very different that requires very close participation with the community to identify problems that young engineers and scientists might be able to help solve."

Among projects senior students have recently helped or are currently helping with are design facilities and developing a site plan that focuses on problem areas such as drainage issues, road/trail access and maintenance of a fruit tree orchard for Youth and Family Services Fullerton Farm in Box Elder.

Mines graduate student Kristen O'Connor of Gillette, Wyoming, took on the YFS farm project as part of her senior-year project. O'Connor worked on assessing water quality for a fruit tree orchard project at the YFS facility in Box Elder.

O'Connor helped identify water quality issues, such as high iron content in water obtained from a well, and suggested possible solutions.

"I actually really enjoyed the project and thought it was really well associated with my major," O'Connor said.

Luna, a scholarship athlete with the Hardrockers' football team, said he and Kasanke became caught up in helping the league improve not only its facilities but also the overall atmosphere of the neighborhood northwest of the campus.

"It's been a very engaging thing and something that has enhanced my education, because you have to get in touch with groups outside of engineering for that engineering purpose, whether it be environmental groups or safety groups," Luna said. "This project really has all of that tied into it."

Honors program graduates will be required to complete four semesters of community-based project experiences and participate in four honors experiences intended to help student understand difficult current problems.

The graduates must also serve at least two semesters in an elected or appointed leadership position in a campus club, team, organization, professional society, fraternity or sorority, or hold a more significant leadership position as determined by the dean of students.

Wilson said the university has established a community advisory board, which will meet for the first time on Dec. 20, to help identify suitable problems for Mines students to tackle.

"We have to have enough of those projects to engage students year after year," she said.

All students applying as freshmen for the fall semester in 2017 will have an opportunity to apply for the honors program.

Those students will have the option of living in the honors section of the university dormitories and will also receive a preference for on-campus housing as upperclassmen.

Wilson said selection to the honors program will be competitive and based on academic excellence, commitment to service and leadership potential.

"It has a lot to do with their potential for leadership, their passion for service and their desire to be with other students who are like-minded who care about the world around them," she said. "We're not just looking for bookworms."

Bussell said the nonprofit Rushmore Little League could not have budgeted for the professional engineering help provided by the School of Mines, along with off-season and spring training camps hosted by Mines baseball players.

"I don't know where we would be without their help and the help of the Mines organization," Bussell said.

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