An Educational Step Ahead

Yankton Area Sees 15 Receive Build Dakota Scholarships

With record numbers of area students and employers having taken advantage of Dakota Build Scholarships this year, Yankton Thrive marked the occasion with a recognition event Tuesday.

Scholarship recipients, their families, industry partners, technical college advisors and high-school career advisors came together to celebrate this year’s cohort of Dakota Build scholars at the River Rocks Events Center in Yankton Tuesday.

This year’s winners include 15 students from the Yankton area, Rita Nelson, workforce development director for Yankton Thrive, sponsor of the event, told the Press & Dakotan. The numbers broke down to: seven from Yankton, one from the Gayville-Volin School District, three from the Irene-Wakonda School District and four from Menno High School. Not all were present at Tuesday’s event.

Student advisors and administrators from Lake Area Technical College, Mitchell Technical College, Southeast Technical College and the Department of Labor were on hand to present student certificates and talk about the Build Dakota Program, which offers students a free two-year degree in a technical field in exchange for a three-year work commitment in South Dakota working for their sponsoring industry partner. Upon completion of the three-year commitment, program expenses — as well as the cost of tuition, fees, books, uniforms, equipment and other items — are paid for by the state and the sponsor.

“It’s a highly competitive, full-ride scholarship available to new and incoming students that are going to South Dakota technical colleges,” said Melissa Waldner, business partner specialist for Lake Area Technical College. “It was made possible in by a 2015 donation from T. Denny Sanford, as well as a commitment from Gov. Kristi Noem and support from outstanding industry partners.”

Lake Area Technical College welcomed one student from Menno, who was not at Tuesday’s gathering.

Clayton Deuter, vice president of Enrollment Services for Mitchell Technical College, told attendees about some of the other, less obvious benefits of the program.

“You’re going to leave with a job in hand today and the knowledge that after you finish your work commitment, your full-ride scholarship goes to a free-ride scholarship,” said Deuter, who has been with the program since its inception. “The things that we have learned over the years is, (with) those students that have graduated, we’ve seen them go out and they have a little bit of a step ahead. They work maybe (the summer) between that first and second year; they do their internship with the employers and they move quickly into things that we didn’t think about before: home ownership, supervisory roles, maybe starting their own business down the road.”

To many young people, five years seems like a long time, he said.

“You will learn a lot in five years, and you’ll be totally debt free,” Deuter said. “You’ll have work experience; you’ll have been promoted through different stages in your job and your career; and your counterparts will just be graduating from their four-year schools, if that’s what they chose.”

As the program ushers in its ninth cohort of students, Southeast Technical College is also seeing record numbers of Build Dakota students this year — 150 to be precise, said Kelli Rogotzke, student success advisor for Southeast Technical College.

“Once you sign that contract for Build Dakota, you’re going to have a support team that’s going to help you be successful while you’re a student,” she said to those students headed to Southeast Tech. “You’re going to have your industry partner; you’re also going to have a specific student success advisor. You’ll have academic advisors; there’ll be tutoring available. We will do everything to make sure that we can help you as a student to be successful.”

Industry partners represented at Tuesday’s event included Avera, John’s Service, Classic Collision & Frame, Kalins Indoor Comfort, List Electric, CHS Farmers Alliance, Masaba, C&B Operations, Koletsky Implement, Broadway Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Hora Repair.

Also attending Tuesday’s event were Yankton High School teachers Justin Olson and Brady Muth, who help students participating in the high school internship program and World of Work program, respectively.

“I cannot tell you, both the industry partners and the people from the technical schools, how amazing this whole process has been,” Muth said. “This is what education is supposed to be. It’s supposed to look like you’re finding a place where you have interests and passions and you can turn those passions into success. I think everybody (here) needs a round of applause for that.”