The designation of the former Homestake Mine in Lead as a world-class Lab site will have an astonishing impact on the region and higher education. Black Hills State University is poised to be integrally involved in this massive undertaking.

“SUSEL will have a transformational impact on Black Hills State University. As the only comprehensive university in the West River region, BHSU will not only have a role in the education and science mission of the Lab but will also provide lifelong learning, cultural, and athletic experiences for those who will come to this area to live and work,” BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp says. “The University’s centers in Entrepreneurism, Conservation Biological Research, The Center for the Advancement of Mathematics and Science Education (CAMSE), and the Center for Tourism Research will also have a role in providing service to the region.”

The role that BHSU will play as a multipurpose comprehensive university transcends the scientific realm. BHSU, which just this week began their premiere season of a summer theatre program on a historic stage in downtown Lead, will call upon the depth and breadth of their programs from liberal arts and humanities, business, education and science to meet the vastly increasing needs of the region through enhanced cultural offerings, historic documentation, lifelong learning, research, and educational outreach.

BHSU will also play a pivotal role in educational outreach and in developing a world-class visitor center experience, which is a primary component of the lab development.

“This is a natural connection for us,” Ben Sayler, director of CAMSE, notes.  “BHSU offers exactly what SUSEL is interested in – science education outreach.  Our proximity to the lab just magnifies that connection.”

The Center for the Advancement of Mathematics and Science Education (CAMSE) at BHSU has been successfully providing science educational outreach for more than 10 years. The center has received over $5 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) awards for teacher education through its history and is, and will continue to be, actively involved in the design of educational programming and an interactive visitor center for the for the Lab. Thousands of teachers have benefited from CAMSE’s existing outreach programs. SUSEL will build on and draw this upon expertise.

BHSU, which has the largest teacher education program in the state and is recognized as an innovative leader in math and science education, recently instituted an education master’s degree with a math and science emphasis in anticipation of the Lab designation. The Lab will provide additional opportunities for all students. Schallenkamp also noted that math and science education is a priority for BHSU and said the university is dedicated to increasing the number of teachers who earn math and science teaching degrees from BHSU.

Plans are already being made for educational outreach. According to Sayler, $20 million of the $70 million donation T. Denny Sanford has been designated to build and operate a world-class Sanford Center for Science Education. Sayler and his associates have assembled a list of exciting possibilities, including an interactive visitor center, summer camps, computer networking for distance learning and research internships, and educational opportunities for teachers. These are activities that BHSU already facilitates through CAMSE that will be expanded and enhanced.

In the scientific area, BHSU biology students and faculty are likely to be impacted first according to Sayler. BHSU, which has a strong biology program and the only state-of-the-art genomics lab in the region, is looking forward to using this expertise as the Lab is developed.

“The biology area will see opportunities early. When the water is pumped from the mine, biologists will be looking for exotic life forms and testing water quality. Organisms could then be DNA sequenced by our genomics lab,” Sayler said.

Students and faculty in the new master’s degree program in integrative genomics at BHSU are poised to take advantage of the many opportunities that this Lab will present.

Schallenkamp noted that BHSU faculty are collaborating with faculty from the nearby South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and many other higher education institutions, to make the most of this unparalleled opportunity. Additional science research opportunities may evolve in a number of other areas including chemistry, physics, and geology.

BHSU faculty members and students, in a wide array of disciplines, have been involved in a variety of ways reaching back to when Homestake Mine was still operational. In the interim, faculty and staff have continued to be involved in plans and developments. Sayler, who has been actively involved in this collaboration since 2000, emphasizes that the Lab site will create opportunities for many higher education institutions.

“This is a site that embraces everybody for collaboration. Every good idea is welcome and needed,” Sayler said.

Schallenkamp noted that the pending completion of the Northern Tier network will provide high speed internet connections needed for the Lab. 

“This advanced connection will allow collaboration across the nation and world,” Schallenkamp says. She added that the enhanced connectivity provides opportunities for educational spin offs as well.

BHSU expects an increase in interest from across the national and internationally as people become aware of the Lab and, through its cooperative arrangement with the Lab, find out about the opportunities that the university offers. Schallenkamp also sees immense potential for international student exchange programs.

Schallenkamp praised former BHSU President Dr. Thomas Flickema for his vision in anticipating the potential of the Lab and what its development could mean.

“Dr. Flickema understood the Lab’s potential for the university, state, and region. His visionary planning and proactive collaboration positioned BHSU to be ready for this opportunity,” Schallenkamp says.

“There’s no question that much of what we do will take a new focus. We are continually looking for opportunities to ensure our academic programs meet the needs of the state and region,” Schallenkamp said. “With the Lab designation, we’ll be reviewing those offerings and proactively making changes.”

BHSU officials praised the many people who have shown extreme persistence in their support of the Lab and noted that the success was due to a true team effort by our congressional delegation, Gov. Mike Rounds, the S.D. State Legislators, Dave Snyder and the South Dakota Science Technology Authority, T. Denny Sanford, as well as many other people in the state and community.

“The persistence and optimism of all of those involved has paved the way for a future that will be changed forever. The Lab has been a long time coming. BHSU has been committed since the beginning. We’ve been looking forward and planning with cautious optimism for the development of a world class Lab facility right here in the Black Hills,” Schallenkamp says. “Our dreams have come true with this designation, and we are excited and awed by the limitless possibilities.”