The first Build Dakota scholarship recipients are set to graduate from tech schools across the state.
The full ride scholarship funds approximately 300 students seeking a skilled trade degree from one of South Dakota’s tech schools.
Build Dakota is one of several programs the state has set up to grow a skilled workforce in rural areas.
Sara Garreau checks out a child mannequin hooked up to a heart monitor in an emergency room replica at Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City.
Garreau is a 31-year-old nursing student. She says she discovered a love for nursing when she was younger after her grandmother got sick.
“My grandmother got real sick and I just saw all the amazing work that they all did with her, the time she spent with nurses in hospitals," Garreau says. "I just decided that what they do really makes a difference in somebody’s life.”
As a mother of two Garreau says affording the cost of tech school was out of the question.
That’s where the Build Dakota scholarship program came in. She says it paid for everything.
Garreau is set to graduate in May. She’s part of the first group of graduates to receive a scholarship from Build Dakota.
Build Dakota was established in part by two donations of $25 million, half from Denny Sanford, a South Dakota businessman and philanthropist, and the other half from the South Dakota Future Fund.
Several construction, engineering and electric companies have partnered with the program to help pay for a portion of student scholarships. Deni Amundson is the Build Dakota program manager. She says these partnerships help ease the demand for skilled workers in rural communities.
“Sometimes they have to compete with these larger cities to get people to either come home or relocate," Amundson says. "Especially, given the opportunity, for these industry partnerships, not only can they grow their own talent by working with the technical institutes but hopefully, by cultivating that relationship and having that partnership, it will bring them home, back to their rural communities.”
Amundson says industry partnerships stretch the scholarship’s money even further.
Build Dakota is only one of several funds and laws meant to develop and keep skilled workers in rural South Dakota.
Last year, lawmakers increased the sales tax by half a penny to bump up teacher pay. Previously, South Dakota teachers were close to last in the nation for compensating teachers.
This legislative session lawmakers eased licensing requirements for certified nurse practitioners and nurse midwives. The new law removes the mandate that certified nurse practitioner have agreement with doctors to get their licenses.
Lawmakers also revised criteria for determining if a property is classified as Ag land for property tax purposes, to accommodating the shift in agriculture.
In the Building South Dakota fund, not to be confused with Build Dakota, lawmakers shifted funding in the program to assist in rural rental and rural home ownership.
Other lawmakers, like Senator Jason Frerichs of Wilmot, hope the state can further encourage broadband access expansion.
“I would hope we will see some changes here in South Dakota. We’ve invested heavily in broadband. Not so much we as a state, we’ve helped out and removed any road blocks. But companies have invested in making sure that broadband high speed internet access is throughout our state and we need to continue to do that," Frerichs says. "That will breakdown those barriers and help out our rural communities much more than anything else because it gives that incentive.”
Back in Rapid City, Sara Garreau prepares for her last day of clinicals at Regional Health Hospital. Part of the catch for the Build Dakota scholarship is working in South Dakota for three years. Garreau says serving for three years is not a problem. She says she’s always wanted to stay in South Dakota.
“I was born and raised on the Cheyenne River Indian reservation in Eagle Butte," Garreau says. "I just want to go home. I want to be a nurse and serve my community and my people.”
Garreau says she hopes to work for the Indian Health Service hospital in Eagle Butte.