KT Connections Blog

Western Dakota Tech Wins National Science Foundation Community College Innovation Challenge

Western Dakota Tech wins award

As part of the nation’s focus on jobs for the future, most elementary and high schools have been emphasizing STEM, (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as a means to provide students with the skills needed to compete in a brave new world. As technology-based employment is destined to become even more dominant than ever, communities in the know are preparing their students for the jobs of tomorrow.

However, the hope for a meaningful career requires more than a high school diploma these days. With increased competition for quality jobs, the trail to success often leads to higher education. However, there are realities many families have to face, primarily of how they are going to pay for it.

With the average cost to complete a degree varying from $15,120 for two-year community college, Public colleges for residents at $56,840 and finally Private non-profit colleges a whopping $104,400, making the most out of your education dollars is critical. It’s easy to see how many families can find themselves priced out of school, despite their student’s ability to succeed, but only if they are provided the opportunity.

Community colleges can provide such opportunities by allowing students, including older and non-traditional students, the chance to gain the skills needed to compete in today’s global economy. Moreover, with today’s increasing cost of higher education, community colleges are more than proving their value. Not only do they offer a realistic ROI, they provide students with the practical technical skills most in demand for the jobs of the future.

Not Your Parents’ Community College

Previously, community colleges were viewed as either a stepping stone to a ‘better’ school or the place whose students were treated as lesser. Fortunately those outdated ideas of community based education are becoming less the norm, as society realizes how much value community colleges bring to our communities and our local students.

An example of how community colleges can help prepare students for the future is that of Western Dakota Tech located right here in Rapid City. On June 14th, 2018, students from Western Dakota Tech won first place in the National Science Foundation Community College Innovation Challenge.

Students showing their aquaponics projectCredit: Bill Petros Photography

The Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC) is a prestigious and award-winning competition where community college teams bring their science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) know-how to find solutions to real-world problems. Selected teams compete for cash awards, earning full travel support (students and faculty) to attend an Innovation Boot Camp in Washington, D.C.

The CCIC is an annual event and this is its fourth year. It is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The CCIC provides opportunities for students, such as those at Western Dakota Tech, to contribute to the greater community while proving that community college and vocational education is a viable and valuable alternative to four-year liberal arts institutions and the accompanying debt.

Western Dakota Tech’s project, Electrical Automation to Solve Hunger, seeks to find a ‘set it and forget it’ solution to hunger. The students’ innovative approach to reducing U.S. hunger is achieved by using aquaponics. Aquaponics is a method of ‘farming’ which combines aquatic animals such as freshwater fish, (tilapia is the most popular) with plants such as spinach and other green leafy vegetables in a sustainable environment. Depending on resources available, you can incorporate other types of fish and plants.

These plants and fish are connected in a symbiotic relationship in which the fish produce waste for the worms & microbes to convert into fertilizer, which in turn feeds the plants, and finally, the plants filter water back to the fish tank. The reusing of water effectively eliminates the need for water consumption and the runoff of waste (contaminated) water used in traditional farming techniques.

What is exciting about the students’ project is that it has the potential to create an all in one solution to hunger by creating not only vegetables to eat but also protein in the form of fish, both of which is sustainable. Further, unlike other methods of farming such as earth and hydroponics, there is little to no waste as the entire process forms a self-contained ecosystem.

According to the students, one in six people in America is hungry. Globally, poor nutrition causes nearly 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five each year. Their project proves that with much fewer resources than traditionally expected, communities can have the opportunity to develop methods to reduce hunger not only in their personal lives but their communities as well.

We at KT Connections are proud of our local students and look forward to what other ideas they have to help not only their local communities, but the world. Congratulations again to Western Dakota Tech, job well done!