About EPICS@Mines

Engineers and Scientists can change the world for the better – and you can start here!

Combining service to the community with real design challenges, EPICS provides students with an opportunity to develop both technical and professional skills while developing solutions that benefit the local community and society.  Half of EPICS projects will collaborate with Oglala Lakota College and/or community partners from the Native American Community. 


What would an EPICS project be like?  Here's a past community project that shows how Mines students worked to bring real-world solutions to the Pine Ridge reservation.

A greenhouse paved the way for a National Science Foundation grant awarded to SD Mines for the university’s first-ever Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program, where students design, build, and deploy real systems to solve community problems. Of the more than twenty EPICS universities nationwide, Mines will be the first to partner with a tribal college, and 50 percent of projects will meet critical needs on the Pine Ridge reservation.

There are 1,700 houses on the Pine Ridge Reservation. On average, seventeen people live in each home. Building material is scarce, land developers scarcer, and with 40 percent below the poverty line, there’s little money to spend on food, much less electricity and heat for a home. Insufficient infrastructure means half of the workforce commutes, spending a majority of income on transportation. For the half that remains, the fresh produce available costs more than most can afford—in the only grocery store for 120 miles.

The problem is big. The vision is greater.

Partnering with Oglala Lakota College (OLC), the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative, and the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, a small group of Mines students and faculty set out to find opportunity in the crosshairs of crises: poverty, energy, housing, and unemployment.

First, they built a greenhouse.

Heated through solar panels, the plastic-covered structure offered students a real-world design lab and residents affordable access to produce. Today, Mines and OLC are working to ensure food can be produced year-round.

The greenhouse helped pave the way for a $566,698 grant awarded to SD Mines for the university’s first-ever Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program.

Part of $1.4 million in recent science, technology, engineering, and math education grants awarded to Mines, EPICS is a program where students design, build, and deploy real systems to solve community problems. Of the twenty-three EPICS universities nationwide, Mines will be the first to partner with a tribal college, and 50 percent of projects will meet critical needs on Pine Ridge.

The first research project led by assistant professor Jennifer Benning, PhD, will implement better heating systems to grow food throughout the winter.

Eventually the Mines team hopes to build greenhouses on each of OLC’s nine campuses and begin to turn Pine Ridge’s 2 million-acre food desert into a land of plenty.

imgThunderValleyIn addition to making more locally grown food possible, Mines and OLC students have been focusing on low-cost energy. The Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative, funded by the US Department of Housing & Urban Development, reached out to OLC and Mines with a unique proposition: power a zero-energy home. Earning their photovoltaic installation certificates, Mines Native American students installed solar panels on the roof. The house, built with strawbale insulation, locally sourced materials, and green building methods, won a national architectural education award.

Benning continues to monitor it for indoor air quality, energy usage, and durability in the unpredictable weather of the plains. Situated next to Thunder Valley’s offices, the strawbale house is now the first of over thirty to be built by the inaugural class in Thunder Valley’s new workforce development program.

Remaining nimble and responsive, the team hopes to sow the seeds of food sovereignty, sustainability, and economic vitality through engineering projects that meet needs as they arise and empower a community to thrive.

What's Ahead

Looking ahead:  the SD Mines EPICS program will partner with organizations like Oglala Lakota College, United Way organizations, and other local community groups like the Rapid City Arts Council (RCAC) which is seeking solutions to better manage and protect artists' work at Art Alley.
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