Big step forward for mechanical engineering in the Black Hills

Mines' program beat out hundreds of other schools.
Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 12:47 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Mechanical engineering in the Black Hills is thriving, as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, better known as ASME recognized a Rapid City university for its innovation in the mechanical engineering study field.

The Donald N. Zwiep Innovation in Education Award is only given to one school every year to recognize innovative mechanical engineering departments in various colleges and universities across the US. This year the prestigious award was presented to South Dakota Mines.

“The award we just received was the Dons Zwiep award for innovation and mechanical engineering education,” said South Dakota Mines mechanical engineering department head Pierre Larochelle, Ph.D., PE.

He added the unique way they have students work with the Rapid City community helped them stand out from over 400 mechanical engineering programs across the country.

“The students go out into the local community right here in Rapid City looking for an opportunity, for a product, looking for a need, talking to the potential customer for that product, getting their input, design, and along the way building a functioning prototype. Then, taking the prototype back to those same people to say, ‘Does this meet your needs, does this solve the problem’,” explained Larochelle.

This not only encourages more opportunities to open up in the city but also gets students to stay in the Black Hills.

“A lot of opportunities are opening up because of this incubation innovation corridor here in downtown Rapid City,” said Larochelle. “A lot of our graduates are staying local in South Dakota and West River especially.”

The Zwiep Award is also continuing to encourage development in the way the mechanical engineering department teaches the field at Mines even further.

“So, they learn how to actually develop a product, how to talk to customers, how to understand customer needs, and how to design a product to meet those needs. That’s how mechanical engineers make the world a better place by creating new products,” explained Larochelle. “You have to understand the problem in order to design a good solution.”

While some of the projects students work on during their time at Mines only stay as functioning prototypes. Some of those student projects are developed even further to a finished product, then submitted through the Governor’s Giant Vision competition, where they have a possibility of getting assisted start-up funds.