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UPDATED: New Mines president lays out goals

Like his peers, Jim Rankin left South Dakota in search of a job after he graduated from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in 1978.

There were no other options, said Rankin, who returned to the school as its 19th president following Tuesday’s unanimous vote of the South Dakota Board of Regents.

“I’d like to see more companies come out of the university,” Rankin said following his afternoon presentation to more than 200 faculty members and students on the Rapid City campus. “I’d like to see more jobs so graduates can stay in South Dakota.”

Rankin, a native of Draper and Fort Pierre, is the chief research officer of electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas. He will start his new role as Mines president on Jan. 8.

“When I was a student here,” Rankin told the crowd, “returning as president was not in my wildest dreams.” Displaying his knowledge of Mines traditions, he quipped: “Does a first-year president have to wear a beanie?”

Rankin laid out five goals for himself: increase student enrollment from around 2,400 to 3,000, raise funds to increase the number and size of student scholarships, provide resources to sponsor economic development, expand interdisciplinary efforts to compete for larger scientific grants, and strengthen the tenure track system for professors.

Job creation was clearly near the top of the list. Rankin was fully aware of past and current Mines efforts to create business incubators capable of translating scientific breakthroughs into jobs and enterprises.

What keeps an area with the beauty of the Black Hills and the quality technological education available at Mines from developing an enduring entrepreneurial spark?

“Mindset,” Rankin answered.

“At Stanford,” he said, “students have an expectation of starting a company once they graduate.”

Mines, he said, does have some critical ingredients.

In Arkansas, he said, the challenge has been to bring successful entrepreneurs back to the university as mentors. Mines already has 30 in residence, he said.

Venture capital, funding for new startups, was another ingredient critical to South Dakota’s success, he said.

Rankin said he intends to work with faculty and the community to determine how best to generate that entrepreneurial spark.

The Mines presidency has been vacant since Heather Wilson resigned to become Air Force secretary. Jan A. Puszynski has served as interim president since May.

Rankin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering at Mines and worked 11 years for Rockwell-Collins in Iowa. After earning his Ph.D. from Iowa State University, he became a professor at the University of St. Cloud, Minn., where he discovered his interest in administration.

During his years at Ohio University, Rankin served as interim vice president for research, associate dean, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Avionics Engineering Center.

As vice-provost for research and economic development at the University of Arkansas, Rankin led school efforts to generate more than 50 startup companies and increase annual external funding to $103 million. He also led efforts to develop the institution’s first strategic plan in research and economic development, instituted several faculty recognition programs and developed an expedited industry contracting process.

Rankin said he was proud to be associated with Mines. In a prepared release, he said:

"I know firsthand the excellent academic preparation that students receive here. A 98 percent placement rate for 10 straight years is a testament to the quality education provided by the outstanding Mines’ faculty. There will be a continued emphasis on the success of our students.

“The school is poised to grow in many areas, including student enrollment and sponsored research,” he said. “Faculty-led innovation will have an increasing role in the area’s economic development. I look forward to working with our loyal alumni and friends to develop the resources needed by faculty and students for these initiatives. I am also excited to team with our faculty, staff, and students to continue to enhance the school’s reputation throughout South Dakota, the region, and the nation.”

Helping kids stay full, one backpack at a time

This school year 1,824 students throughout the Black Hills will rely on Feeding South Dakota’s BackPack Program for meals over the weekend.

On Tuesday a group of volunteers spent part of their afternoon packing meals for area schoolchildren at Feeding South Dakota's warehouse on North Creek Drive. 

Forty percent of children in the community quality for free and reduced meals, according to Feeding South Dakota, but during weekends and holidays those kids lose the only meal they can count on.

“The backpack program is really important because it provides a weekend package of food for these kids so that when they come to school on Monday mornings they’re ready to learn,” said Debbie Renner, development associate at Feeding South Dakota, Rapid City. “We know kids do better in school when they’ve had enough to eat. We know their behavior is better, and that their health is better. So this is a way we can make sure they’re getting enough to eat.”

Although Feeding South Dakota has received 75 percent of the funding it needs for the BackPack program, it is launching a campaign this month to raise the remaining funds through individual sponsorships.

“Each BackPack sponsorship costs $150, and that ensures that one child has access to nutritious food for an entire school year,” according to a news release.  

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'Veteran Stand Down' event set for Thursday

The Department of Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System will host a Veteran Stand Down event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Rushmore Hall, C&D.

The event is open to all veterans and their families, and Goodwill of the Great Plains will provide a meal as well as cold weather clothing. The focus of the Stand Down is to reach out to veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, according to a release.

“Over 30 of our community partners and a dozen VA departments will be on hand to help veterans access a broad range of specialized resources and services aimed at breaking the destructive cycle of homelessness,” said Jamison Hild, Health Care for Homeless Veterans program staffer. “A Stand Down is a great opportunity to connect veterans to the services and the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

Veterans will find helpful information and on-the-spot services, the release said, and VA Black Hills staff will offer housing and employment assistance. Stylists from The Man Salon will give haircuts. Veterans may ask questions and receive immediate assistance on VA benefits, special programs, legal assistance and health-care enrollment. To help prepare for winter, personal items such as cold weather clothing, blankets, hygiene kits and duffel bags will be available.

Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. with the presentation of the colors by the VFW Honor Guard, followed by the national anthem sung by Sami Bradsky and a welcome address from Sandra Horsman, VA BHHCS director. Veterans are invited to attend, and there is no charge for any of the services.

Veterans who have not previously enrolled with the VA are asked to bring a copy of their military discharge papers, DD 214 or Vet Card to the Stand Down. For more information, call Jamison Hild at 490-8587.


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Teen pleads guilty to murder in Loaf 'N Jug stabbing

The stabbing happened sometime after he had taken over-the-counter drugs, smoked marijuana and drunk vodka. He couldn’t remember attacking the woman but had no doubt he killed her. He was 17.

Between intervals of clearing his throat, Carlos Quevedo, now 18, told the court Tuesday what he remembered of the day leading up to the Jan. 18 death of Kasie Lord, a clerk at the Loaf ‘N Jug on Mount Rushmore Road. Quevedo, accused of killing the 45-year-old woman, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

The crime carries a sentence of mandatory life in prison without parole, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the penalty cannot be applied to juveniles.

“I’m prohibited from imposing that sentence,” 7th Circuit Court Judge Heidi Linngren told Quevedo at the Pennington County hearing. But, she added, “I can give you a term of years, in the hundreds of years … as long as it’s not a life sentence that doesn’t give you the opportunity of parole.”

Quevedo’s statement of the facts surrounding Lord’s death started with Jan. 17, when he got rehired by McDonald’s. To celebrate the job, Quevedo and his friends decided to get high on over-the-counter medication, his lawyer Randy Connelly said in an interview after the hearing.

In a statement that lasted around seven minutes, Quevedo told the court the events that happened next:

His girlfriend bought two boxes of Coricidin, a cough and cold medicine, and he took 16 tablets.

He got together with more friends, including 19-year-old Cody Grady, who would also be charged in Lord’s murder. At Quevedo’s home on the south side of Rapid City, the group smoked marijuana and passed around some goods stolen from a local Safeway grocery store: a liter of Sprite spiked with the cough syrup Robitussin.

Sometime later, the guys walked to a convenience store while drinking a bottle of vodka provided by Grady. They decided to do a “dash and grab,” or steal, from the store.

When only Quevedo and Grady were left together, Grady began rummaging inside unlocked vehicles they came across. From the console of one, Grady pulled out a “green, metallic” knife. Fearing Grady might hurt himself with it in their intoxicated state, Quevedo asked for the knife and put it in his pocket.

Halfway to the Loaf ‘N Jug, where Lord was working that early morning of Jan. 18, Quevedo blacked out. “I don’t remember anything happening at the Loaf ‘N Jug,” he told the court.

From a review of the store’s security video, police say one man entered the convenience store and tried to take off with a case of unpaid beer. Lord grabs the beer, calls 911 and blocks the door when she sees him grab another case. He pushes past her, and they struggle for the beer.

Another man walks up behind Lord and appears to stab her in the back several times. When Lord turns around, the man makes more stabbing motions.

Quevedo said that when he “came to,” he was inside a bathroom at Grady’s central Rapid City home, a dog licking his hand. Quevedo saw blood on his hand and clothes. “I didn’t know where it was from … I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Another friend at the residence reportedly asked Quevedo to take off his sweater, hid it in the ceiling and gave him something else to wear.

When Quevedo stopped speaking, Judge Linngren asked if he had any doubts he killed Lord since he couldn’t remember the incident. No, he replied.

The court was told his attorney reviewed the security video, as well as an audio recording of the incident, which supported the murder allegation. Quevedo apparently had refused to take a look at the evidence.

“He wants to accept the full consequences of his actions,” Connelly said, adding that he spoke with Quevedo about the meaning of the guilty murder plea “half a dozen times.”

Quevedo was entitled to a hearing that would determine if his case could be transferred to juvenile court, but he waived it and decided to be tried as an adult.

His original charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery will be dismissed in accordance with his plea agreement with Pennington County prosecutors. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 12.

Grady, meanwhile, is preparing for a two-week trial beginning Feb. 20.

He is facing twin alternative charges of first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, as well as aiding and abetting first-degree robbery and grand theft. He can be convicted on only one of his alternative charges. Murder, his most serious charge, is punishable by death or mandatory life in prison.

Grady also appeared before Linngren on Tuesday, about half an hour before Quevedo did. Both are detained at the county jail without bond.

Nov. 15, 2017, correction: The person who reportedly told Quevedo to take off his sweater and hid it was misstated in the original report; it was another friend at Grady's home.