The Influence Arts-Based Instruction May Have on STEM Students

STS Students

By Elizabeth Benzmiller

Elizabeth Benzmiller is a senior in the Science, Technology, and Society: Policy & Law Major.  Throughout her time as a student at South Dakota Mines, she studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland, participated and held leadership roles in student organizations, and interned at the South Dakota Legislature and Raven Industries/Viaflex, Inc.

I was raised by two polar opposite parents. One chose a STEM career, worked in healthcare and laboratories, and was a very analytical and logical thinker. The other was a professional artist, singer, ballroom dance instructor, writer, and more. Growing up, I was able to see first hand how a STEM professional and an artist communicate and view the world very differently! One parent was a logical, straight to the point teacher who learned from a textbook and lectures, while the other was a creative, adventurous, empath who learned through experiences in their life.  

Photo of Elizabeth and her family.
This is my family in Italy, while we were visiting my sister while she performed in an opera. She did this before she graduated college with a degree in Computer Science and Data Analytics. From left to right, Sonya (older sister), Elizabeth (myself), Vincent (younger brother), James (father), and TracieLea (mother).

I was taught the importance of the arts and STEM from a young age and told I didn’t need to choose between the fields. From a young age, I was playing instruments, singing in proper form, reading like a true bookworm, and looking for any opportunity to get crafty and creative. We would have Craft Thursdays and Field Trip Fridays, exploring museums and historical centers, trying new things, and seeing the world from a new perspective each week. At the same time, I was encouraged to ask questions, research the world around me, explore nature and get my hands dirty.  I could build rockets, play with Legos, and learn how to use a microscope. I could travel the world and see new sights, cultures, and experience new things.

Every day, I was encouraged to explore my passions and be a lifelong learner. I didn’t have to choose between the Arts and STEM, and I was a more well-rounded individual because I could do both. I eventually decided to study in a STEM-field, but I never wanted to lose my grasp on influences that the arts had on me and I wanted to explore their interactions with the scientific community. This led me to my senior capstone project researching the influence and impact that arts-based instruction has on engineering and STEM undergraduate students. 

The Impact of Being a Firefighter on Mental Health 

STS Students

By Otutoa Afu

Otutoa Afu is majoring in Science, Technology, and Society. He plans to pursue a career in the fire service once done with school. 

After completing the fire academy in 2018, I was fortunate enough to get hired as a full time firefighter at the El Medio Fire Department out of South Oroville, California. At that time I was just a 19-year-old growing boy who never knew his life was going to change due to the fire service. Working as a firefighter, people have always thought about the cool things you get to do, from playing with the “jaws of life” to going to elementary school and playing hero for the young ones. But nobody ever told us about the bad things that came with being a firefighter. 

Three firefighters standing in front of a fire truck.

(Left to right) Otutoa Afu, Senior Firefighter Shawn Perez, Captain Jeffery Gamble.

After accepting my football scholarship here at South Dakota Mines, I left my job in California and joined the Rapid Valley Fire Department student resident program here in South Dakota. The student resident program is where you get to live at the fire station and run calls. You also need to be enrolled as a full time student and maintain a certain GPA. 

Because of my strong interest in firefighting, it was a good fit to explore firefighter mental health for my capstone project. The stress faced by firefighters throughout the course of their careers can be hard on mental health and well-being. This stress can be caused by incidents involving children, violence, inherent dangers of firefighting, and other traumatic events. For instance, you might roll up on a head-to-head traffic collision involving two vehicles, a family of five vs. drunk driver that leaves the parents dead. Later in the same shift, you can get called out for a suicidal patient to walk in on the patient hanging themselves. Some may say firefighters know what they are getting into, but that does not make them immune to developing mental health issues.

For my capstone project, I want to explore how firefighters are affected by their job and how fire departments address mental health. I will approach these topics by analyzing journals, scientific papers on mental health, and other reliable sources from those that are in the field or have been in the field. Hopefully this can help me summarize what the best coping tools or even shift schedules can be best for firefighters and their well-being and share with fire departments around the nation, maybe even internationally. All in all, firefighters are always there when called, and we should be there to help them, too. 

Is Driving in the Snow Really that Dangerous?

STS Students

By Jake Lindblom

Jake Lindblom is majoring in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences with a minor in Geospatial Technology. He plans to study atmospheric science in graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree.

As most Rapid City residents know, snow can be quite a pain to drive in. The roads are treacherous, it’s hard to see, and it just feels dangerous. As a driver, you may presume that more snow on the road equates to more hazardous driving conditions, but does this mean more crashes actually occur? Might you, as a driver, try to avoid those hazardous conditions and choose to stay at home? Furthermore, while you may think you can handle driving in small, frequent snow events, could this be a false confidence?

These are some of the questions I’m trying to answer in my research project. As a student in the Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences Program, I’m interested in operations research, or how to apply what we know about the atmosphere to the “real world” for the benefit of the community. 

But I’m also a snow fanatic, or someone who is irrationally excited about frozen water falling from the sky. Hailing from Olympia, Washington, snow was a rarity, but occasionally we received a good dumping. The largest of these dumps occurred in February 2019, when I measured 22 inches of snow in my backyard!

Snowy scene, with a pond and snow-covered trees.

A pond covered in snow near my house in western Washington during the February 2019 snowstorm. Snowfall totals ranged widely across the area, but my house measured 22 inches… the most I had ever seen in the Puget Sound lowland (photo credit: Jake Lindblom).

This event completely shut down the city. Nobody moved (in fact, my family couldn’t get out of our driveway for a couple days). In a scenario like this, driving would certainly be dangerous, if not impossible. But there are undoubtedly fewer drivers on the road as well. So, should first responders, city officials, and emergency managers expect greater or fewer crashes overall?

In a place like Rapid City, which averages much more snow than Olympia (about 48 inches, actually), the question of how snowfall impacts car crashes is much more pertinent. 

Photo of cars parked with deep snow surrounding them, covering part of the hood on the nearest car.

The November 2019 snowstorm on the South Dakota Mines campus. Snowdrifts were several feet high, as seen here. The storm set a record for the snowiest November in Rapid City (photo credit: Jake Lindblom).

This question seemed like the perfect project for me. It deals with one of my favorite things about the atmosphere (snow) and applies it to a good cause: helping the community understand how snow affects car crash counts. In this capstone project, I hope to identify a causal relationship (if any) between snowfall measurements and vehicle crash counts. I hypothesize that relatively small snowfall events (less than 3 inches measured) may contribute to more crashes than major events (6 inches or more). People may have more confidence in their driving abilities when “only” a few inches of snow cover the ground and may continue on with their daily errands versus when a major snowstorm discourages them from leaving home. If I have time, I’d like to develop a car crash “forecaster” based on expected snowfall and possibly other meteorological variables (like temperature or visibility). But for now, I think I have my plate full!

Accessibility to Non-Emergency Transportation Services for Senior Citizens & Veterans with Medical Health Disparities in Rural Areas

STS Students

By Anthony Wright

Anthony is a Cincinnati-born, Los Angeles-raised STS: Policy & Law senior. Some of his hobbies include reading financial literacy and personal development books, competing in CEO business plan competitions, and leading various student organizations. 

According to the Transportation Research Board, “Nearly 4 million Americans miss or delay medical care each year due to a lack of transportation.” This issue is pertinent to the community because every family, especially senior citizens and veterans, needs transportation access to life-sustaining services such as primary healthcare providers, pharmacies, nursing homes, grocery stores, and banks in order to stay alive. There is a lack of affordable, safe, and efficient transportation in America, and rural areas are impacted the hardest. My solution is to create a non-e­­mergency transportation network connecting Rapid City public transportation services with local primary health care providers, nursing homes, pharmacies, grocery stores, and various essential service vendors to make them more accessible for seniors and veterans. 

Research has proven that consistent transportation access to healthcare vastly increases the health outcomes of members and leads to dramatic cost savings. For example, there was an “experiment of transportation brokerage service administered in Kentucky and Georgia where access to healthcare improved and resulted in hospital admissions and medical expenditures decreasing for diabetic adults.” The Centers for Disease Control estimated that “8% of the adult population ages 55 and older have at least one chronic condition, resulting in these individuals in need of non-emergency medical transportation to access life sustaining treatments and services they need. More importantly, a large percent of the 20 million adults living with chronic kidney disease undergo dialysis three times a week. Approximately 66% of dialysis patients rely on others for transportation to and from their appointments.”

Searching for a Place to Live with the Most Ice and Thunderstorms

Atmospheric Science Students, STS Students

By Steven Slater

Steven is majoring in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, and his primary interest is extreme weather.

Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed watching the rare thunderstorms whenever they occurred in Western Washington. I often had to wait a year or more between seeing individual lightning bolts. I often watched The Weather Channel as my main source of weather-related content, whether it had to do with storms or snow. My mind was blown as I watched the reported snow totals rise close to 12 feet for the lake-effect vent in February 2007.

The lowlands of Western Washington don’t receive much snow, so I had to wait for that, too, though it happened more frequently than thunderstorms. I was an advocate for receiving as much snow as possible in the shortest time. The biggest event I experienced in Washington was in December 2008, where I remember playing in ~15 inches of snow at the peak of the event.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, sky, snow.
Washington in January 2012. Photo: Steven Slater.

Balancing Expectations: Preserving the Nature and History in South Dakota

STS Students

By Louise Swanson

Louise is majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with a minor in Environmental Science. She plans on working with the parks system or in museum work.

When I was growing up, I spent my weekends going to ghost town sites around the Black Hills with my father. Each time we went to Spokane we made guesses as to whether or not the old community center that Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at would have collapsed (a couple of years ago it did) or if the Two-Bit Mill would still be standing (about 10 years ago it was bulldozed into a nearby ravine to better allow for nature to return to the area). Meanwhile, I watched as the Gordon Stockade was refurbished and preserved for visitors to come and see where the Gordon Party lived while in the Black Hills.

A picture containing tree, grass, outdoor, building.
Spokane Community Center/Church, 2016. This photo and the following are taken by either me or my father, William Swanson. I asked him for his permission to use them.

In college I have taken both history and environmental science classes and worked for a year at The Journey Museum, and I have only become more curious about how the decision to preserve some things and not others is made and how agencies decide whether to prioritize the environment or the history of an area. The optimist in me also hopes that maybe sometimes we don’t have to choose. Maybe, sometimes there is a way that environmental conservation and historic preservation are linked.