After 18 months as president of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Heather Wilson offered praise for the university's culture and for the community of Rapid City at large. At the same time, she said both the school and the community should work harder to become intertwined with each other.
"This isn't a Hardrocker town, and I'd like it to be moreso," Wilson said.
Wilson spoke to a crowd of more than 70 on Feb. 13 at The Garage in downtown Rapid City.
She said she wants to find more ways to invite the greater Rapid City community to participate in campus events so that it "becomes one of the fun things to do in Rapid City." She cited the school's popular Christmas concert that has expanded to two performances as a success.
Even though she was a finalist for the SDSM&T presidency, Wilson said she did not believe that she would be chosen because her doctoral degree is in international relations, not in the sciences. At the same time, she said her entire family liked Rapid City during her visit to the school.
"I like what's happening in Rapid City and the vibrance of downtown," Wilson told the crowd.
She said SDSM&T can contribute to Rapid City's landscape in part by driving economic development.
Her praise for the school centers on its culture of excellence in all areas, not just academics or even a narrow band of academics in math and science. Students are expected to perform community service as part of leadership and ethics training, she said.
"We emphasize service because leaders serve. ... We train leaders from Day 1," Wilson said. "I want the students to not only be in this community, I want them to be of this community. I want them to serve this community."
SDSM&T should be attractive to students for several reasons, Wilson said, starting with its commitment to undergraduate education. Graduate students do not teach courses; professors teach the courses, which is unusual in higher education and research-focused universities, she noted.
"The school is values-driven and people-focused. It is still a very personal place," Wilson said of the school with an enrollment of about 2,800. "If a university is graduate-student-focused, very often undergraduates don't get much attention. At Mines, they get an exceptional education."
Beyond that, Wilson noted that SDSM&T graduates earn on average a higher salary than do Harvard graduates and that the debt-load after earning an SDSM&T degree is much lower than from an Ivy League school or other well-known universities such as the Massechusetts Institute of Technology. She said raising more money for scholarships will be a priority, as SDSM&T is not competitive in that arena.
The small, close-knit culture and the low cost also serve the 30 percent of the student body that come from families earning less than $35,000 per year, Wilson said.
Wilson said she plans to continue the trend of matching more SDSM&T interns and graduates with South Dakota companies. Of 200 summer internships last summer, 77 were in South Dakota with average pay of $17 per hour, she said. Of 100 companies recruiting graduates for full-time employment recently, 35 were South Dakota companies.
Wilson said she is glad she accepted the job and moved from New Mexico. "This is worth being part of," she said.