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SDSU involved in $8 million STEM education investment in South Dakota

Math on the table

The National Science Foundation recently announced an $8 million investment to enhance South Dakota's research and development competitiveness.

South Dakota State University will join a project, led by Black Hills State University, to create pathways for young learners to develop interest and confidence in science, technology, engineering and math, while also becoming motivated to work in STEM fields in rural areas.

"By boosting the state's (research and development) capabilities, these teams are poised to drive use-inspired research and transform STEM education and workforce development within their regions," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said. "This investment from NSF's E-CORE RII program underscores our commitment to advancing research and building robust research infrastructure hubs, fostering innovation ecosystems and creating pathways for economic growth and societal impact."

The four-year project aims to engage STEM researchers and K-12 teachers and students to create a pipeline of the next generation of the South Dakota STEM workforce. The collaborating institutions will leverage their partnerships to meet core research infrastructure needs to develop self-sustaining research ecosystems and create pathways to science, technology, engineering and mathematics and spur economic growth and societal impact.

The project also aims to identify and nurture STEM teacher leaders, equipping them to strengthen STEM education within their school buildings and districts and to advance STEM education across the state.

"We know that South Dakota needs more people trained in STEM professions. This is why this project is so important and why we included the goals we did. My focus for the project is with providing teacher training in STEM," said Sharon Vestal, associate professor in SDSU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics. "Young students are naturally curious about STEM so we need to harness their curiosity and show them that they can become a STEM professional in South Dakota. Once we have their interest, we need to support them through their academic and professional journey."

The project is supported through NSF's Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Collaborations for Optimizing Research Ecosystems Research Infrastructure Improvement Program (E-CORE RII), which was established in response to the 2022 study of EPSCoR and the Chips and Science Act of 2022. E-CORE RII is a new program that aims to further EPSCoR's programmatic goals by building in one or more targeted research infrastructure cores.

"Dr. Sayler (the grant’s primary investigator from BHSU) and his coworkers have created a truly innovative approach to strengthen South Dakota's K-12 science teachers," said Kinchel Doerner, South Dakota's EPSCoR Executive Director. "Our teachers are already strong, but the program will help them get even better and ensure South Dakota students continue to receive the highest quality science instruction."

The project is part of a larger $24 million investment across South Dakota, Maine and New Hampshire.

Collaborating institutions include SDSU, BHSU, Oglala Lakota College, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Dakota State University, Augustana University, Northern State University, Sinte Gleska University, Sisseton Wahpeton College, the Sanford Underground Research Facility/South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, the South Dakota Discovery Center and the University of South Dakota.