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In 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) awarded the team from Western Dakota Technical Institute (WDT) in Rapid City, SD first place in the fourth annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC). The winning project, entitled “Electrical Automation to Solve World Hunger,” used an aquaponics system as a tool for both the technical training of Electrical Trades, Environmental Engineering, and Computer-Aided Design professionals as well as the broader goal of and solving the local, regional, and national problem of food insecurity.

Aquaponics is a synergistic food production platform that combines techniques in aquaculture and hydroponics to simultaneously raise edible plants and fish. As a forward-looking technology, aquaponics responds to the current sustainability challenges of the 21st century, including limited arable land, constrained freshwater supplies, soil degradation, and soil nutrient depletion, by minimizing water use and negative environmental impacts. It uses biomimicry of ecosystem processes, including nutrient and water cycling, that occur naturally in lakes and rivers. By creating a symbiosis among plants, fish, and microorganisms, water and nutrient reuse is maximized, and environmental impacts are minimized.

Aquaponics provides an opportunity for students in the trades to receive their respective training and education through real-world application while allowing for a better student understanding of content while building transferable skills. The integration of aquaponics at WDT as a tool for learning has been beneficial to our students by promoting a systems-thinking approach and encouraging experiential, hands-on learning. Through this project, we aim to better train a diverse, competitive technical workforce while solving the local problem of food security. Our continuing work in sustainability, including a growing campus apiary, a greenhouse operation, and our electronics recycling facility, will have direct and positive impacts on our community while upholding the values of energy neutrality and sustainability.

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