South Dakota Mines celebrates 50th Tiospaye scholar

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Farm Forum

RAPID CITY, S.D. — When Tristan Picotte received his diploma during South Dakota Mines 182nd Commencement on Dec. 19, he became the 50th student to graduate in the Tiospaye Scholar Program. The program’s mission is to increase the number of Native American students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields through financial, academic, professional, cultural, and social support.

“Throughout the years this program has been an extreme benefit, not only financially but also socially and even spiritually,” says Picotte. “Part of the challenge of being a Native student is finding a place to fit in, and the Tiospaye program provided that.”

Picotte, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, is from Eagle Butte, S.D. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. During his college career, he interned with IBM in Chicago where he worked on storage systems hardware, sales and customer service. Picotte accepted a job offer from IBM as a technical solution specialist in Dallas, Texas. Picotte was also an active member of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society, where he served as treasurer, vice president and president.

“We’re so proud of Tristan and all our amazing Tiospaye scholars for their contributions to the world,” said Carter Kerk, Ph.D., a professor of industrial engineering at Mines. “The most rewarding development to witness over the past decade was seeing students come together as a critical mass, studying together and supporting each other in the challenging STEM curriculum and in life. These graduates are now serving as role models for future generations of Native students. They are becoming STEM leaders in academia, industry, and their own tribal nations. The program has been a wonderful success and we are working on new funding to see it continue.”

The Tiospaye Scholar Program celebrated its first graduate in 2010. Picotte became the 50th graduate at the end of a 10-year grant from the National Science Foundation that aimed to boost Indigenous representation in STEM fields. Kerk is now leading an effort to find new funding to keep the program going.

“Dr. Kerk has been an incredible advocate for Native students,” Picotte said. “For any young people considering a degree in STEM, college can be intimidating, and it can be hard to believe you can make it. But with a lot of hard work, along with support from programs like this and professors like Dr. Kerk, you can succeed.”

“The 50th Tiospaye scholar is a wonderful milestone to celebrate. Congratulations to Tristan and all Tiospaye Scholars,” Mines President Jim Rankin said. “We also know there is more work to do. Native people have been underrepresented in STEM fields for far too long. We hope this program will continue so we can begin to turn the tide.”

The Tiospaye Scholar Program is one of many efforts at Mines that aims to meet industry demand for greater diversity in STEM graduates. Many companies in the global marketplace have found that science and engineering teams that operate in inclusive environments yield the most robust innovation. For Picotte, addressing underrepresentation in STEM is of paramount importance, but he adds there are other benefits to this program that should not be overlooked.

“It’s ultimately helping to empower Native communities,” says Picotte. “Many Tiospaye scholars are becoming leaders in their own tribal nations. They are out there giving back many times over on the investment made in them. They are making a real difference in supporting and uplifting their own communities.”

Tristan Picotte is the 50th student to graduate in the Tiospaye Scholar Program at South Dakota Mines.