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.”