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Western Dakota Tech Electrical Trades Program Project is Finalist in National Science Foundation Community College Innovation Challenge

Western Dakota Tech is proud to announce an Electrical Trades program Aquaponics project has been selected a Community College Innovation Challenge Finalist by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). There are 10 national challenge finalists.

Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture (the rearing of aquatic animals for food) and Hydroponics (the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil). The official name of the Electrical Trades Innovation Challenge entry is, "Western Dakota Tech, South Dakota: Electrical Automation to Solve Hunger."

 "The students competing in this challenge are leaders in innovation, and their use of STEM solutions to benefit society are not only highly significant but necessary in helping to secure a strong future," said Walter G. Bumphus, President and CEO of the AACC, in the official National Science Foundation news release.
Western Dakota Tech President Ann Bolman, Ed.D., congratulates Bryan Mitchell, Electrical Trades Program Director, and the Electrical Trades program students on their remarkable national achievement. She acknowledges some might be surprised that technical colleges excel in science innovation, but they shouldn't be.
"It is important for people to understand that technical education incorporates science, math, critical thinking and creativity. These are the fundamentals for being highly skilled in technical fields. Technical education is not just learning theory, but also learning how to apply it successfully. That is what we do at Western Dakota Tech," she said.

Electrical Trades Program Director Mitchell explained the Electrical Trades Aquaponics project, and subsequent NSF Challenge submission, was the result of Dr. Bolman asking Western Dakota Tech faculty to think about how their programs can improve our community. This was before the college learned of the Community College Innovation Challenge competition.

"My mind went to how can we help our community and use what we are teaching our students, my answer then came to Aquaponics," Mitchell said.

Mitchell explained he believed the Electrical Trades program could create a sustainable system that would minimize human involvement and maximize food production by using the integration of electrical automation.

"I believed at the conception of this project that the learning opportunities for my students would be almost immeasurable. Not only would they have the opportunity to learn electrical automation, which is why they are here, but they are also learning the processes involved with the aquaponics cycle," he said. "I also had the big picture goal of, at first, providing the our own Western Dakota Tech student food bank with organic produce and be building toward the ability to provide a protein source by way of the fish harvest thereby improving our local community."

Mitchell is impressed with the commitment of his students to the Aquaponics project.

"My students took my idea and the concept and blew me away with their commitment to the project. The majority of the work they have done has all been outside of their actual class time and it really makes me proud to see this group of students be recognized on such a grand scale for something they have been so passionate about from project conception," he said.

In the end, the Aquaponics project will fulfill the original Western Dakota Tech goal of helping to improve our community.

"The honor of making it to the National Science Foundation Community College Innovation Challenge finals will provide my group a platform to use our process to solve the real problem, food insecurity or hunger," Mitchell proudly said.

Electrical Trades student Tanner Blank, of Rapid City, is proud to have been part of the team that has been working on the Aquaponics project.

"This project has helped send our education to the next level. We hope this opportunity will come full circle to help our community," the second-year student said.

Dr. Bolman is very proud of the Electrical Trades students and Program Director Mitchell.

"I'm not surprised they did well in the National Science Foundation Community College Innovation Challenge. They are such a creative and talented group of students. I'm really happy they have been recognized in this way, because they deserve it," she said.

Making it to the finalist round is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself, but the challenge isn't over. As a finalist, Western Dakota Tech's team is required to attend the Community College Innovation Challenge Boot Camp, June 11-14, in Alexandria, Va. The Boot Camp is designed to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for the 10 finalist teams to further develop their ideas through a workshop focused on building innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic communication skills.

As part of the Boot Camp, Western Dakota Tech and the other finalists will display their challenge projects during a reception on Capitol Hill on Jun 13. Congressional members, STEM leaders, and key congressional staff will be invited to meet with the Innovation Challenge Teams to learn about their ideas and proposed solutions.
"Many talented students may not have considered a career in a STEM field," said Jim Lewis, NSF acting assistant director for Education and Human Resources (EHR), the directorate that funds CCIC. "CCIC demonstrates the creativity of students in the nation's community colleges and provides an exciting opportunity for them to start thinking about STEM careers. Fostering talent from all over the U.S. is crucial to NSF's mission and our nation. I congratulate the finalists and look forward to seeing them and learning more about their STEM-based inventions."

You can view Western Dakota Tech's Electrical Trades program challenge submission video at:
The official National Science Foundation news release is available at:

The National Science Foundation has announced Western Dakota Tech's Electrical Trades (ET) Aquaponics project is a top 10 national finalist in the 2018 Community College Innovation Challenge. Bottom row, L-R:  Western Dakota Tech President Ann Bolman, Ed.D.; ET students involved in the project: Tanner Blank, Joe Cattin, and Nick Smith; and ET Program Director Bryan Mitchell. Back row, L-R: Project students Jon Eggers and Matt Kerner.  

About Western Dakota Tech

Western Dakota Tech was established in 1968 and is the only technical college that serves the western South Dakota region. 

Western Dakota Tech offers programs in a variety of fields, including Business and Computers, Construction and Manufacturing, Energy and Environmental Technologies, Health Sciences, Legal and Public Services, and Transportation Technologies. 

More than 96 percent of Western Dakota Tech's most recent graduates are working, continuing their education, or are enlisted in the military.
Western Dakota Tech faculty, staff, and administration focus their efforts on helping students gain the skills and experiences they need to succeed. Through hands-on learning, internships, and industry partnerships, Western Dakota Tech students graduate ready to make a real and immediate contribution to their employers and to their communities.
For information about Western Dakota Tech, call (800) 544-8765 or (605) 718-2565 or send an email to Visit us on the web at


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