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BHSU English major finds wealth of ideas in depths of Sanford Lab

Author: BHSU Communications/Thursday, October 18, 2018/Categories: Students, College of Liberal Arts, Sanford

Outside of the classroom walls, Black Hills State University student Erin Broberg’s steel-toed shoes and hard hat can be found in an office in Lead, S.D., at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, a world-class research facility that conducts experiments almost a mile underground.

What may seem like an unlikely place of employment for an English and communications major makes complete sense once you hear the passion in Erin’s voice as she shares the stories and successes of her fellow Sanford Lab coworkers. Her extraordinary knack for writing and communicating is accentuated with the emerging field of scientific writing, and her flair for explaining intricate physics projects allows Sanford Lab to connect with its community in a way that’s understandable and appreciated by any audience.

A position within the BHSU Marketing Department led Broberg to don a hard hat and take a slow but steady ride 4,850 feet underground to what is referred to as the 4850 level of Sanford Lab. The purpose for this downward trip? She was interviewing and collecting information for a press release on a robotics competition that BHSU students conducted with middle schoolers from the area.

During her first trip underground, Erin met Constance Walter, the communications director at Sanford Lab, and was intrigued by the history of Sanford Lab, which operated as a gold mine before it became an extraordinary home for complex physics experiments that need very particular external conditions in order to be conducted. Shortly after, Erin heard about a communications intern position that Sanford Lab was hoping to fill for the summer. She took the shot and applied.

“If it wasn’t for the connections that BHSU had with Sanford Lab, I never would have heard about the opportunity, have worked with my supervisor Constance Walter ahead of time, or been able to apply and be offered the position,” says Erin.

For ten weeks this summer, Erin was challenged to write about concepts from neutrinos, to dark matter, to safety and health, working with astro-physicists, shaft operators, other international lab workers, and creative services at Sanford Lab, to name a few.

“In our courses at Black Hills State, we try to write about a variety of things, but this opportunity has allowed me to write extensively about engineering, physics, and chemistry projects. I’ve learned how to communicate these really abstract, heady research topics and communicate them in a way that strengthens Sanford Lab’s relationships with the community, South Dakota leaders, the national government, and international labs and relations,” Erin says.

Once her 10-week internship rounded out at the end of summer, Sanford Lab offered Erin a newly created part-time position as a communications specialist, so she could continue to share her talents even while taking her senior year classes at BHSU.

Broberg has noticed her growth as a graphic designer, as a photographer, and foremost as a writer through this position, and greatly appreciates being able to apply what she’s actively learning in classes into her work at Sanford Lab.

“My role at the lab has also strengthened me in countless other dimensions that are relevant to communications. Social media management, event planning, community outreach, the list goes on,” she says.  

Most of all, this position has encouraged Broberg in her studies through Black Hills State University, opening her eyes to the fact that she can write about any topic – from robotics, to physics, to personal stories about the scientists working underground.

Erin says well-meaning people often ask her what career options are open to English majors who don’t want to teach. She says riding the “cage” (an elevator of extreme sorts that transports the people and materials of Sanford Lab a mile deep) gave her the answer.

“I was riding the cage, preparing to enter a class-100 clean room, to write a story about electroforming the world’s purest copper,” says Erin. “It made me laugh to myself, because I finally realized that I really can do anything I want with this degree.”
 
About BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab:
The BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab provides an extraordinary opportunity for BHSU students in multiple disciplines, including physics, biology, geology, physical science, and education and outreach opportunities, to take part in a unique research environment almost a mile underground. BHSU partners with Sanford Lab to construct a cleanroom and adjoining work space, as well as allow access to valuable underground experience. This collaborative research provides opportunities for students to work with groups around the globe. For more information, contact Dr. Brianna Mount, assistant professor of physics, at Brianna.Mount@BHSU.edu.
About the BHSU English Program:
The BHSU English Program, led by a talented, diverse and experienced group of faculty, offers a range of courses on great literature, including ancient poetry to 21st-century fiction. The program offers many opportunities for publications and writing competitions, as well as multiple concentrations. The creative writing concentration has been newly introduced this semester, and students from any disciplines are encouraged to apply. For more information, visit BHSU.edu/English.
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