Faculty, staff and students at Black Hills State University are making plans for an $8-million science building after the Legislators recently approved funding.

President Kay Schallenkamp says the funding comes at a critical time and is a great investment in the future of the state and region. 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.

“Improving the quality of science facilities, and in our case, constructing new facilities to meet our dramatically increasing demand is imperative,” 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.”

The comprehensive plan calls for new construction at BHSU and upgrades to science facilities and laboratories at the other state universities across the state.  BHSU’s proximity to the developing Sanford Lab and 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.

Growth in the number of students seeking science degrees has grown 310 percent in the last 15 years. 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 in medicine, pharmacy, and other allied health careers.

Schallenkamp noted that BHSU is committed to increasing the number of highly effective math and science teachers for South Dakota’s schools through its premier teacher preparation program. BHSU hosts the Center for Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE) and the mobile science lab for K-12 students and teachers. BHSU is actively involved in science and math teacher workshops across the region during the year and hosts conferences on campus for teachers.

Dr. Holly Downing, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences says the impact of the science facility funding will be “absolutely profound for the students and faculty on this campus.”

She noted that preliminary plans call for the proposed 26,000 square foot science building to be located west of the current Jonas Science wing. Much of the new space will be dedicated to biology and chemistry.  In addition laboratories for specific areas like organic chemistry, anatomy and histology, among others, will provide teaching, research, and research mentoring space that is necessary for our students. The current facility was built in 1968 and no longer meets the needs of our students, Downing added.

“In addition a new greenhouse will allow us to conduct research in plant ecophysiology and genetics and maintain a collection of plants for teaching,” Downing says. “Work areas will be established for graduate and undergraduate student research and collaboration, thus encouraging greater involvement of students in research. Rooms in the current science facility will be remodeled to support current teaching methods in basic biology, geology and physics. Instruction and research that is presently conducted in basements and other buildings will be brought together either in the new or renovated facilities, enhancing science instruction across disciplines.”

Downing says 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. 

During the past several years, BHSU has increased opportunities for undergraduate students to be involved in research. This spring 20 students will present their research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research Conference in Baltimore. BHSU’s strategic plan emphasizes research opportunities for undergraduate students as a part of the educational experience.