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Cave explorer prepares for grad program with classes at BHSU-Rapid City

Author: BHSU Communications/Monday, August 13, 2018/Categories: Students, Students in the News, College of Business and Natural Sciences, College of Liberal Arts

Can you escape for four days? Black Hills State University-Rapid City student Chris Pelczarski can.

Chris is a Jewel Cave explorer. When he’s not mapping new cave passages in Jewel Cave near Custer, you can find him taking classes at Black Hills State University-Rapid City.

“We go on long, focused expeditions where we are completely underground for four days. We travel 6-8 hours to a basecamp in Jewel Cave and up to four hours beyond that to where we’re still mapping the cave,” says Chris.

Originally from Chicago, Chris has a bachelor’s degree in geography. He’s now taking pre-requisites at BHSU-Rapid City to prepare for a master’s program in geology. Chris lives in Custer and says he doesn’t mind the short drive to Rapid City two times a week for class.

This summer, Chris took Physical Geology with Karel Bielstein. He says he “enjoyed every second of that class.”

“The professor was very approachable. She engaged us in discussion and created an environment where there were no silly questions,” says Chris. “It was an amazing class. I was very impressed.”

Chris was part of the history-making Southwest Splinter discovery in Jewel Cave in 2014. He and his team found a 300 ft. long narrow crack leading to more than 21 miles of unexplored cave.

Chris has been on every exploration trip that’s taken place since the breakthrough.

“That discovery was the coolest thing I could imagine, getting to be there from the start,” says Chris.

Jewel Cave had been in a period of 20 years or so where the “way on” had been lost, says Chris, as explorers searched for a branch of cave that would keep going. There are miles of unexplored passages at Jewel Cave, and estimates show perhaps 10 percent of cave volume has been mapped. 

Chris uses his geography degree each time he goes into the cave to continue mapping. And he’s already using the geology class he took at BHSU-RC to benefit his understanding of the Black Hills.

“That one class at BHSU-RC has helped me look at things in the cave differently and understand why things might be the way they are. It’s helped me start to ask questions,” says Chris.

Calculus I and II are on the docket for Chris as he prepares for his geology degree. He says he is math-minded but struggled with completing homework in high school due to depression and never revisited math since. He sees pursuing his master’s degree as “another opportunity to give math a go.”

“Black Hills State in Rapid City is convenient for me. I don’t have to live anywhere else,” says Chris. “I can live in Custer and prepare myself for my master’s program.”

About BHSU-Rapid City

BHSU-RC is located at 4300 Cheyenne Blvd. on the east side of Rapid City with easy access from I-90. The University has a large network of alumni living in the region and has a business program in the top five percent of business schools worldwide.

BHSU offers several associate degrees and certificates that can be completed without leaving Rapid City. Bachelor’s degrees at BHSU-RC include: business administration, corporate communications, elementary education, general studies, history, history education, human services, political science, psychology, social science teaching, and sociology.

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