Mines News

Release Date Wednesday, January 13, 2021

New Program Supports First-Generation Students

RAPID CITY, SD  (Jan. 13, 2020) — First-generation students at South Dakota Mines will now have additional support through the recently established SD-FIRST Program, funded by a $998,819 grant through the National Science Foundation S-STEM program. In addition to the NSF grant, a private donor with a tremendous commitment to helping first-generation women students has provided significant support to the SD-FIRST program to impact even more students.

The new SD-FIRST Program will provide support in academic, social and economic areas with the goal of helping first-generation students find success and ultimately graduate with a STEM degree from South Dakota Mines. The program is designed to give students the tools to better understand and navigate a college culture, have greater involvement in campus life, and achieve higher retention and graduation rates to allow more first-generation students to enter STEM fields. Students accepted to the program will have access to special programming including faculty and student mentors, workshops, special events, assistance with internships, co-ops and research opportunities and more. The program also aims to alleviate student financial burden by providing participants scholarships of up to $5,000 per year for four years based on financial need.

“First-generation students should be proud to be here at Mines, and we want to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful,” says Cassandra Birrenkott, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  

First-generation students are defined as being the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. Birrenkott says that a college degree can open the door to many other opportunities for first-generation students, especially in the STEM fields.

“Because their families didn’t have that college experience, the support systems of first-generation students may not be able to offer the same advice on how to navigate a college setting.” says Birrenkott, who was a first-generation herself and graduated from South Dakota Mines in 2007.

That advice might include things as simple as taking advantage of faculty office hours to things as complicated as filling out the FAFSA form to qualify for federal loans, grants and other assistance. “First-generation students often feel intimidated and can get lost in the intricacies of the complicated higher education process,” she says.

The issue of helping first-generation students is of particular interest to South Dakota Mines, where one-third of incoming students are first-generation, which is above the national average.    

First-generation students are particularly vulnerable to leaving college without a degree. They are more than twice as likely to drop out within three years than students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree. At Mines, the current five-year graduation rate for first first-generation students is roughly half of that for the general student population.

“We believe that giving students the proper tools and creating an environment where they can be successful will help propel first-generation student on our campus,” Birrenkott says.

The first eligible cohort of students will begin in fall 2021 and will be followed throughout their undergraduate career. Another cohort will be accepted into the program fall of 2022. “This award will go a really long way in helping students on the South Dakota Mines campus, and our team is excited to see the impact this program will make” she says.

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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 2,475 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $66,150. For these reasons College Factual ranks South Dakota Mines, the #1 Engineering School for Return on Investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram and Snapchat.

Contact: Lynn Taylor Rick, (605) 394-2554, Lynn.TaylorRick@sdsmt.edu