SDSU presents unique solution to staffing shortages

BROOKINGS, SD- For many, the college experience isn’t limited to classes. South Dakota State University offers unique services and experiences that make campus life even more special.

One such service is SDSU’s fleet of Starship robots that deliver food to students.

“We looked to try and solve a few issues at once,” says Doug Wermedal, associate vice president of student affairs at SDSU. “Throughout the country, and in higher education in particular, we are facing staff shortages, so one of the ways to solve this problem is to try to automate some of this process. And so the thing that we found is this delivery fleet of delivery robots.

Although delivery is automated, the programming, storage, and maintenance of delivery robots provide job opportunities for students.

“WWe were actually approached by the company that runs them… it was early February last year when they first spoke to us. And we felt good because it provided jobs for students, and so there are about 16 students from robotics majors working and managing the fleet here locally,” says Wermerdal.

In addition to student employment, robots offer both a convenience and a cool factor.

“TIt’s a great way to get food rolling on campus, but add a little convenience to the lives of students, faculty, and staff. So we had a very good experience with that,” adds Wermedal.

There are other services at SDSU that students can enjoy such as the wellness center.

We have a 35 foot rock climbing wall. We have good hours in terms of student access to space. We have six different courts for court sports. We also have racquetball. We have an outdoor outing center. So for people who love camping, kayaking, and wilderness experiences, we have all of those supplies. So it really helps the students,” says Wermedal.

Wermedal says SDSU is able to offer the amenities of a big school while maintaining a small-town feel.

South Dakota State University will number between 10 and 12,000 in the last few years. So somewhere in there usually. So it’s still like this hometown smells like a lot of South Dakotans are used to, but through the normal college education experience… A lot of these students will come from hometowns where their entire class might be 35 or 40, but that’s by design the size of their residence floor. But then the whole building could be around 400 students, which would probably be close to a lot of their home communities. But the whole campus of 10,000, it’s, you know, big enough to give students access to a ton of fun academics, but kind of like the kind of interesting, dynamic, lively activities that take place on a university campus.

He adds that the small Midwestern atmosphere can help students transition from high school to college.

“It will be a lot like your high school experience. You know, the friends you made, your buddies, your buddies, the ones you were in activities with. It’s really who comes to university at SDSU. We’re big enough to attract people from, you know, all the surrounding states, all over the country, and even from abroad. But our elementary students are still South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. So that strong, super cozy, family-oriented, small-town feel is still alive and well at SDSU and that makes it a comfortable transition for everyone.