Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Defense Innovation Course Taps Student Ingenuity for Creative Solutions to Real-World DOD Challenges

A B-1B Lancer is prepped for towing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., on Aug. 18, 2020.  South Dakota Mines students will work to improve the durability of the concrete pads where Ellsworth B-1 aircraft park as one of the projects in the new Innovating for National Security course. Photo credit (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin McIntosh)


South Dakota Mines students are undertaking hands-on, real-world projects that help the Department of Defense (DoD) solve problems in a new course called “Innovating for National Security.” This course offering is supported by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a program office within the U.S. Department of Defense.

This innovation class, which is based on the nationally-recognized curriculum of the Hacking for Defense (H4D) course, is designed to invite the talents of communities that have not previously been fully explored for defense innovation, like colleges and universities. Through the course, students are taught to work with the defense and intelligence communities to rapidly address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges.

Specifically, class projects are sponsored by the DoD and the students spend the semester on customer discovery to ensure they comprehend the problem and then work to produce novel solutions.

Earlier this year South Dakota Mines further developed its relationship with the Department of Defense with the appointment of an on-campus university program director from NSIN, Jason Combs. This partnership is already beginning to show its value as the “Innovating for National Security” course has launched within the Department of Industrial Engineering, led by department head Jeff Woldstad, Ph.D.

“During this course, Mines students have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact our nation by finding solutions to national security challenges,” said Woldstad. 

The specific projects in this inaugural course span a wide range of needs ranging from tackling environmental challenges to developing resilient infrastructure, to meeting the software coding needs of military installations.  All of the projects have been sourced by Combs, who serves as a liaison between the DoD and the university. 

This past summer, Combs met with officials at Ellsworth Air Force Base and identified two engineering projects that Mines students could consider. Through the NSIN network, Combs also brought forward a third project tied to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) mission at U.S. Army Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

  • One team is working with the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron at Ellsworth to improve the lifecycle of the concrete parking locations for the base’s B-1 aircraft. The parking pads require replacement every three years compared to the standard 20-year life expectancy cycle of other portions of the airfield. Extreme conditions caused by high temperature B-1 exhaust as well as fluids that come in contact with the concrete are some of the factors that contribute to the shortened lifespan of the concrete.    

  • The second team is working with the 28th Maintenance Group at Ellsworth. The maintenance group commander has a wide range of data on the training level of each Airman. The Mines team will help build a new computer system to process and organize the data in a way that enables easy analysis for decision making. The outcome of this project will optimize Air Force personnel into the best maintenance tasks and highlight those who may need additional training to maximize their potential.

  • The third team will work with the joint staff from Fort Belvoir. JPRA is responsible for survival and recovery operations and planning for deployed DoD personnel. Students working on this project will help build an information system and other tools that help JPRA modernize the way they support DoD personnel.  Mines students have the opportunity to help military members across every service by providing more accurate information in far less time than is currently realized.  

Oftentimes innovation that meets a DoD need has a wider benefit to the public.  “There are a number of examples where H4D students have been empowered to take their ideas to market as a startup,” Combs said. “This is a win-win for the DoD as it can purchase a new product at an affordable rate because it has a dual-use purpose and can be sold in a wider marketplace.”

The inaugural class offering of “Innovating for National Security” includes a diverse mix of both undergraduate and graduate students representing multiple disciplines and varying backgrounds. 

“The class has been very popular across the student body and this diverse mix of talented students will help yield strong results,” said Joseph Wright, the Vice President of Research and Economic Development at Mines. “We’re super excited about this opportunity to raise the profile of the talent and types of students at Mines and to show off our abilities on a national platform. I’m confident that by the end of the semester, people will be talking about the kind of innovation that came out of this course.” 


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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