BROOKINGS, S.D.- For many, the college experience includes more than just classes. South Dakota State University offers unique services and experiences that make life on campus extra special.
One of those services is SDSU’s fleet of Starship Robots that deliver food for students. “We have looked at trying to solve a couple problems at the same time,” explains Doug Wermedal, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at SDSU. “Food service across the country, and higher-ed in particular, we’re dealing with staff shortages, and so one of the ways you can sort of address that is to try to automate part of that process. And so the thing that we came up with is this delivery fleet of delivery bots.”
Although the delivery is automated, the programing, storage, and maintenance of the delivery robots provide student job opportunities. “We were actually approached by the company that manages them, early on last February, was when they first talked to us. And we felt good about it because it offered some student employment, and so there’s about 16 students from the robotics majors that work and manage the fleet here locally,” Wermerdal says.
In addition to student employment, the robots offer both a convenience and coolness factor. Wermedal adds that “this is a great way to keep the food rolling on campus, but add some convenience to the life of students and faculty and staff. So, we’ve had a really good experience with it.”
There are other services at SDSU that students may enjoy, like the wellness center, Wermedal explains. “We have a 35 foot climbing wall. We have great hours in terms of student access to the space. We have six different courts for court sports. We have racquetball, as well. We have an outdoor outing center. So for the folks who enjoy camping and kayaking and wilderness experiences, we have all of those supplies. So that really helps students.”
Wermedal says that SDSU is able to offer the amenities of a large school while still maintaining a small-town feel. “South Dakota State University will number somewhere between ten and 12,000 over the last several years, somewhere in there usually. So, it’s still like that hometown feel that 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 whole graduating class might be 35 or 40, but that’s by design the size of their residence hall floor. But then the whole building might be about 400 students, which would probably be close to a lot of their home communities. But the whole campus of 10,000, that’s, you know, big enough to offer students access to a ton of fun academics, but sort of like the interesting, vibrant, alive sort of activities that happen on a college campus.”
He adds that the small Midwest feel can help students transition for high school to college. “It’s going to be a lot like your high school experience. You know, the friends that you made, your buddies, your pals, the ones that you were in activities with. That’s really who’s coming to college at SDSU. We’re big enough so that we attract some folks from all the surrounding states and across the country and even internationally. But our primary students are still South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska. So that strong, super comfortable, family oriented, small town feel is still very much alive and well at SDSU and that makes it a comfortable transition for everybody.”