Meaningful Development for a… | South Dakota Community Foundation

Meaningful Development for a Strong Future with Build Dakota

Fostering meaningful development starts with setting a solid foundation, which is what Build Dakota is dedicated to establishing. Build Dakota is a unique scholarship program encouraging and supporting skilled scholars to enter high-demand programs at South Dakota technical colleges. Whether it is a position in nursing, engineering, automotive or ag technology, there are hundreds of high-need jobs waiting to be filled in South Dakota. Looking to end labor shortages in important fields of industry, Build Dakota is helping individuals get the education they need to enter the workforce across the state.

Deni Martin, Build Dakota Program Manager

It all began in 2015 when founders, T. Denny Sanford and Dana Dykhouse, Build Dakota Board Chairman, built a program using the state’s technical colleges to address South Dakota’s workforce gap. An initial $25 million gift from Mr. Sanford and a matching contribution from the South Dakota Future Fund combined to create the Build Dakota Scholarship program held with the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF). In 2020, additional contributions led by Governor Kristi Noem and generous industry partners renewed the program for another five years.

Build Dakota not only supports students but also serves as a workforce development program for many businesses. It creates meaningful connections with industries and communities to better understand their needs. These industry relationships facilitate economic development in rural communities of South Dakota.

Deni Martin, Program Manager for Build Dakota, joined Jamie Farmen, SDCF Community Development Coordinator & Marketing Manager, to discuss how this scholarship program, which is invested through SDCF, is developing a stronger future for South Dakota.

Deni has been with the program since its founding. Build Dakota was established as a way to combat labor shortages, especially in rural South Dakota communities. The program partners with the South Dakota Department of Labor and technical colleges to identify where there are labor shortages, which then translates to scholarship opportunities that are based on a commitment by students to work in these high-need fields after graduation. The program also fosters connections with schools, businesses, and industries across the state. Business leaders can invest in the future workforce by sponsoring a portion of a student’s education and guaranteeing job opportunities upon graduation.

“On the outside, it is a full-ride scholarship,” shared Deni, “but behind the scenes, it is a true workforce development program bringing people together. For someone in a small town, to not only have a scholarship to attend school, but a job waiting for them when they graduate, is the key to making an impact in communities across South Dakota.”

Deni believes in the importance of meaningful community connections. She visits high schools and community events across the state to talk to potential students about high need career opportunities. Deni also emphasizes the importance of getting local businesses involved in creating job shadowing and intern opportunities to develop a real connection between the potential workforce and businesses in need.

“When I talk to students about Build Dakota, I want to emphasize that I don’t just mean high school students, but students of any age,” said Deni, “There is a lot of untapped potential and people waiting to find a career that they love, so this program is for everyone looking to further their education for a better future.”

Deni believes in demystifying preconceived ideas about what working in these fields can be like. She hopes to see more partnerships grow to help shine a light on just how many fantastic jobs are waiting out there in South Dakota.

On the outside, it is a full-ride scholarship, but behind the scenes, it is a true workforce development program bringing people together.

Deni Martin, Build Dakota Program Manager

“Everywhere I go, I hear communities need a stronger workforce in all our high-demand fields. So how can we all change the perception of these fields and show students the true opportunities that are out there for them,” said Deni, “I believe we can make a significant difference in the workforce shortage, but it must start on a local level. But we can do it because South Dakota is great.”

Deni reflected on her hopes for Build Dakota graduates. “When I think of Build Dakota and philanthropy and the future and what that means for South Dakota. The students receiving the Build Dakota scholarship, I hope they can look back and be givers. There is so much opportunity to give back in so many ways. I hope that through the work we are doing, that our younger generation will see what kind of impact they can make through philanthropy.”

Learn more about Build Dakota.