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Science facility expansions being planned at BHSU

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BHSU is looking forward to a proposed $8-million expansion of its science facilities as part of the Board of Regents research initiative. Growing enrollment overall and increased interest in science programs (biology is one of the top three most popular majors at BHSU) has lead to overcrowding in the labs and created a need to expand the facilities.

Plans are underway to enhance the science facilities at Black Hills State University.

The South Dakota Board of Regents announced a comprehensive plan calling for new construction or upgrades to science facilities and laboratories across the public university system including an $8-million expansion at BHSU. Making the announcement this week, Regents President Harvey C. Jewett noted that science laboratories at state universities are in need of updating and expansion.

“If we are to properly grow research here in South Dakota, improving the quality of science facilities and labs has to be a priority,” Regents President Harvey C. Jewett  said. The Regents are asking for state funds for these improvements in their budget request to Gov. Mike Rounds which would be bonded over time through the South Dakota Building Authority.

“I applaud the Board of Regents for this proposal to continue to enhance the science facilities on our campus,” BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp says. “This investment in our future has the potential to transform our science facilities, which are instrumental in recruiting top science students and faculty and will keep BHSU on the cutting-edge of research. The expansion of our science facilities fits perfectly with our long-term planning objectives and our institutional goals to enhance research opportunities for students and increase the number of graduates qualified to teach science.”

In the last decade, BHSU has steadily added and updated their science equipment through aggressive grants efforts. However, growing enrollment overall and increased interest in science programs (biology is one of the top three most popular majors at BHSU) has lead to overcrowding in the labs and created a need to expand facilities. BHSU, which recorded a second all-time high enrollment this fall, currently has more than 4,000 students.

BHSU offers bachelor of science degrees in Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Physical Science. The University also offers minors in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics. Teaching degrees are also available in these areas. BHSU just last year established a master’s degree in Integrative Genomics, a new area of biological research that seeks to place the functional significance of an organism's many genes into an ecological and evolutionary context. In recent years, BHSU has also seen increased interest in students pursuing a pre-professional degree.

Schallenkamp noted that this past year when the state universities were asked to upgrade priorities, increasing the number of math and science teachers was set as a major initiative for BHSU. Nationwide there is a growing need for math and science teachers and BHSU is in a unique position to provide relief for that growing need, because it also has a premier teacher preparation program. BHSU hosts the Center for Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE) and is actively involved in science and math teacher workshops across the region. The University is also placing an emphasis on recruiting additional future math and science teachers.

BHSU is preparing future scientists through a unique outreach effort with the Science on the Move project. Two large semi-trailers, known as Mobile Science Labs or MSLs are equipped with a broad range of scientific equipment, from powerful microscopes to molecular biology tools such as gel electrophoresis cells to interfaced computers. These moving science labs are taken on-site to elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state so students can use the equipment to supplement their classroom work.

“This is an exciting time for Black Hills State University,” Dr. Holly Downing, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says. “Our science faculty are looking forward to the much-needed expansion plans. Faculty and staff are currently meeting with building consultants to determine the best use of space and funds. Continuing to enhance the high quality science opportunities at BHSU is a priority."

Downing adds that BHSU is uniquely positioned to provide exceptional science educational opportunities for university students especially in the study and research of ecological, natural history, and evolutionary issues.

“We’re an island in the Plains, being right here in the Black Hills. This is an exceptional place to study science and our students have access to some unique field research opportunities with subspecies that are unique to the Black Hills,” Downing says.

Schallenkamp added that the science expansion comes at a critical time. Just last summer, the former Homestake Mine at Lead was chosen as the site of a world class science lab. BHSU’s proximity to the lab and close connections to ongoing work there will create many opportunities for BHSU students and faculty. BHSU has a variety of plans in association with the lab in Lead, including the possibility of hosting visiting researchers from across the nation and world. Enhanced science facilities are needed in order to pursue this and other options. Students and researchers at BHSU are already actively involved in research at the SUSEL sequencing bacterial and archaeal clones of samples taken from the former Homestake Gold Mine. In the CCBR lab, a student researcher and staff member are searching for undiscovered organisms as part of a research project with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The research has already stimulated ideas and discussion of future research projects in conjunction with the developments at SUSEL.

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