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SDState breaks ground on new American Indian Student Center

A rainy day at South Dakota State University didn’t stop the campus community from breaking ground on the American Indian Student Center. 

The ceremony took place inside the Architecture, Mathematics and Engineering Building, which is near where the center will be constructed.

It was nearly one year ago when SDState President Barry Dunn announced a $4 million anonymous donation to fund the center. Dunn said the AISC will allow students to receive the benefits of higher education. 

“The facility will recognize American-Indian culture, while supporting students to ensure academic and personal success,” Dunn said at the groundbreaking event.

Prior to the ceremonial groundbreaking, Gene Thin Elk blessed the future site. This is a Native American tradition to connect with Mother Earth. Thin Elk has worked with American Indian students in higher education for more than 30 years. He appreciates the support that SDState is giving to future generations.

“As someone coming from the outside, seeing this happen, it’s so humbling, not because of what you’ve accomplished, but because of what you know you are going to accomplish,” he said. “Knowing that some of these young people coming in here will be our children and our grandchildren from our indigenous nations to receive a global impacting and world-class education. I want to thank you not only as a tribal person, but as a father and a grandfather.” 

Less than 1 percent of SDState’s student body identifies as American Indian or Alaskan Native. For students like senior sociology major Aubrey Hendrixson, the American Indian Student Center is a home away from home. She said that transferring to a university where she was a minority was daunting, but she found solace with the American Indian Student Center. 

“The center and the community and support I found there, gave me the strength I needed to walk across campus and to feel confident in who I am … the daughter of Michelle Hendrixson, granddaughter of Martina Kennedy and a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe,” Hendrixson said.

The center is to be built on Rotunda Green, just off Campanile Avenue. The location will make it is easy for students to access.

The center will provide include financial aid, mentoring, paperwork processing and helping students, according to their individual needs. April Eastman, director of the American Indian Student Center, said that there aren’t many universities that have a center like this. 

“To know that not many campuses have a stand-alone facility, let alone a brand-new building, it really does speak to the commitment that SDSU has shown us,” Eastman said.

Construction on the center will begin this spring.