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DSU students have high visibility at MDHL Day

February 2, 2017

Dakota State University students made their presence well-known at Madison/DSU Hosts the Legislature Day (MDHL) on Jan. 31. The annual visit to Pierre is sponsored by the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and DSU so that area residents and those on campus may see first-hand how state government works during the legislative session.

Thirteen current students hosted booths at an evening reception, and two alumni showed the group how their education led directly into their careers with state government.

Heather Specht (’09), and Zach Merrill (’13), are now working at the George S. Mickelson Criminal Justice Center in Pierre, Specht as a forensic scientist, Merrill as an IT engineer and IT project manager. They took small groups of the Madison/DSU contingent on tours of the facility.

Merrill, a network systems administrator graduate, said he is “really happy here,” at the Criminal Justice Center on the east side of Pierre. The skills he learned at DSU tie in with the cyber security work he does, although the casework is geared a bit differently than classwork, he stated. Dakota State also offered him opportunities to learn people skills with leadership opportunities, such as those available as an RA through the residence hall system.

“DSU definitely played into where I’m at today.”

Specht’s degree in scientific forensic technology also played into her job at the center, but her digital photography degree was an additional qualification for the job, she told the group. Her work now involves property crimes such as vandalism, along with cases involving homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and burglary, “the whole gamut.”

Eric Hortness, executive director of the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce said “it was great to have [them] be a part of our day. Their insight into the State Crime Lab was very beneficial for our group.  It was also a good example to our Madison High School students on what can be accomplished with a degree from DSU.”

Current DSU students were on hand at the evening’s reception to visit with those local high school students, as well as members of the Madison delegation and their invited guests.

Dr. Jeff Howard, associate professor of game development and design, said their message for the legislators was that coursework for that major “involves a lot of math and programming skill.”

These game design skills are then applicable to many careers, he added, any type of interactive media software development. Graduates of the program work for a variety of companies and organizations, he stated, including the state’s Bureau of Information Telecommunications.

Students in the major spoke highly of the program. Aaron Curry, who is also president of the game club, said he comes from central Minnesota, where “there’s not a lot of people into games,” so “it’s nice to come to a place relatively close to home” to work on what he enjoys with people who will “push me to do great things.”

Richard “Lewus” Morgan concurred with that thought. “It is important to be able to stay in the state and do what I love to do.”

Derek Kerner came to Madison from Fairbury, Nebraska, but said he feels very welcome at DSU. He and his fellow students “appreciate the constructive support,” from professors’ advice to comments from fellow students.

Joe Staudenbaur, associate professor of art and film, said the skills film students learn are valuable as well. As far as career choices, “there are lots of opportunity with film,” he said.

Film students said they enjoy creating quality content in their videos. Tyler Boe, from Sherburn Minnesota, likes writing for the films, providing “the why” behind the creation. Craig Sanden’s goal is for viewers to be immersed in the storyline. Sanden is from Watertown, S.D.

These goals are apparently effective, as Darian DeVries pointed out that their club, the Lights, Camera, Action Film Club, won the 2016 Best of Show in the Prairie Grass Film Challenge. The results from the 2017 competition should be released soon, he added. DeVries is from Sioux Falls, S.D.

“Having current DSU students be in attendance at the reception is a great benefit to the overall success of the day. Being able to give a first-hand experience of DSU is a great selling point to not only DSU but also Madison as a whole,” Hortness added.

The other student and faculty booths at the reception included:

  • Health Point, with Dan Friedrich and Kevin Atkins
  • Health and Information Management – Dorine Bennett, Linda Parks, Julie Wulf Plimpton
  • Mad Labs – Dr. Kevin Streff
  • DSU Science Department “Small programs, big science” – Dr. Michael Gaylor and junior Hope Juntunen
  • College of Education – Dean Crystal Pauli and Dr. Kristine Harms
  • GenCyber Camps showcase – Dr. Kyle Cronin, Rob Honomichl, and Mike Ham
  • CybHER – Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, Pam Rowland, and graduate student Stephanie Plucker
  • Business and marketing programs – Dr. Deb Tech with students Chandra Patil, Yazan Alshboul, Hanna Ramstad, Ryan Wille
  • DSU art programs – Angela Behrends

In addition to these DSU connections, several of the legislators and elected officials are DSU alumni or former students, including Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, District 8 Senator Jordan Youngberg, and District 25 Representative Tom Pischke. 

DSU ALUMNA Heather Specht (right) took a group of people attending the Madison/DSU Hosts the Legislature Day on a tour of her workplace, the Criminal Justice Center in Pierre. The group included Madison High School students Cayden Elliason, (front left), Lyndsey Kessler, and Kevin Shan.