BHSU, U of Michigan, and Benedictine Receive $1.1 Million Grant from DOE

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a $1,125,000 Reaching a New Energy Sciences Workforce (RENEW) grant to a collaborative program between Black Hills State University (BHSU), the University of Michigan (U-M), and Benedictine University. BHSU's share of the award amounts to $520,000 over a three-year period. 
The three institutions will utilize the grant funding to recruit students in science and technology (STEM) fields from diverse backgrounds, including rural, Native American students, and students from underserved urban backgrounds.  
Each year, a cohort of six undergraduate students will spend 10 weeks each summer performing research at U-M, where they will also gain professional and writing skills. Following this summer research program, the students will continue their studies at either BHSU or Benedictine University for further research and professional development. 
"In this collaborative effort, our institutions each bring unique strengths to the table. The University of Michigan, a global research leader, is actively engaged in significant scientific endeavors. BHSU has close proximity to the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), while Benedictine University's proximity to Fermilab is equally advantageous," explained Dr. Brianna Mount, associate professor of Physics at BHSU. "By working together, our universities can ensure a wider range of students from various backgrounds enter graduate school for STEM while strengthening the research programs at smaller colleges." 
The universities developed this collaboration at SURF and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. SURF is a research facility located in Lead, SD and constructed in a former gold mine. Its sensitive equipment is located almost a mile underground, where the detectors researchers build are protected from cosmic rays. One of the lab's key focuses is the search for dark matter, a hypothetical form of matter. 
Through the collaboration, a U-M graduate student based at SURF will lead a team of undergraduates, integrating them into the search for dark matter. The U-M graduate student will also work with BHSU to develop research knowledge and infrastructure. 
"These universities are playing a double role. They have a strong educational role in their communities, and their researchers teach a tremendous amount, but they don't have graduate students or postdoctoral researchers to assist with research. Despite that, they make important impacts to the experiment. This grant enables us to work with these universities to develop a strong science track record," said Dr. Bjoern Penning, principal investigator of the grant and U-M physicist. "In the long term, we hope to attract undiscovered talent into science. They are doing fantastic work and I think we're losing out on talent and potential by not trying to attract students like this." 
Working with Penning and Mount on this program are Dr. Matt Wiesner from Benedictine University and Dr. Marcelle Soares-Santos from U-M. Penning and Mount are both actively involved in the LZ dark matter experiment at SURF, which laid the foundation for this collaboration. Similarly, Soares-Santos and Wiesner work together on dark energy research. 
Penning has also previously collaborated with Gina Gibson, professor of digital communication at BHSU, on the UN/Earth art exhibition currently on display at U-M.  
This semester, Mount is working with three BHSU students on this project who will be given the opportunity of joining the University of Michigan cohort next summer. For more information about this program, please contact Dr. Brianna Mount at  
More information about DOE's RENEW grant can be found at