Eight portraits of Davis-Bahcall Scholars

This year's Davis-Bahcall Scholars from left to right. Top: Mark Petrasko, Victoria Deitschman, Henry Heiberger, Eric Lefevre. Bottom: Harry Heiberger, Emily Orme, Sedonah Franzen, Lillian Gibson

Photos courtesy Davis-Bahcall Scholars

Davis-Bahcall Scholars look forward to 2021 program

Davis-Bahcall Scholars program postponed; students invited back next year

This month, the Sanford Underground Research Facility’s (Sanford Lab) 2020 Davis-Bahcall Scholars program joined a host of educational programs nationwide that have been postponed due to COVID-19-related precautions. Deb Wolf, director of Education and Outreach at Sanford Lab, said the students who were selected for the 2020 program will be invited back next year.

“The Davis-Bahcall Scholars program is an amazing opportunity for our South Dakota students,”  Wolf said. “While our current situation prevents us from offering the program this summer, we are committed to providing this deserving group of students the chance to explore research and career pathways next summer.”

The Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program accepts eight South Dakota students who are entering science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and who have demonstrated leadership in their communities. The program helps rising freshmen and sophomores understand just where their passions for STEM could take them. 

Students spend time at Sanford Lab learning from experts in dark matter, neutrino and biological studies. Then, they travel to two national laboratories in Chicago and to universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin before flying to Italy to spend time at Gran Sasso National Laboratory. 

The program, a joint effort between Sanford Lab and Black Hills State University, has served 129 students since 2009. It is funded through a grant from the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium and a donation from First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard, which has supported the program since 2016.

Dana Dykhouse, chief executive officer at First PREMIER Bank, said First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard "enthusiastically support the program and the experiences it provides to South Dakota students."

“The opportunity encourages young people’s exploration of the research and discovery being led by Sanford Lab scientists and provides a window to our future,” Dykhouse said.

Next year’s scholars are currently focused on completing their spring semesters as their high schools and universities transition online to promote nationwide “social distancing” protocols; however, the students took a moment to share their enthusiasm for next year’s programming.

Victoria Deitschman, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Deitschman is fascinated by the study of biodiversity, specifically ecosystem diversity. Her interest in the natural world stems from annual adventures with her family to various national parks across the United States. Deitschman applied to the program because it exposes students to various areas of research.

“I also wanted the chance to spend multiple weeks with people who share my passion for science, talk with and learn from professionals, travel and visit esteemed laboratories,” said Deitschman.

Sedonah Franzen said she read the textbook for her first physical science class from cover to cover and has been enthralled by science ever since. Now a freshman at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, Franzen is most interested in the fields of astrophysics and nuclear physics: “I can't think of a better way to spend my future career than constantly learning more about the scientific laws governing our world.”

“Through the program, I am hoping to learn more about different careers a degree in science can lead to,” Franzen said.  “Also, I would like to learn more about the daily work of scientists.”

Lillian Gibson, a freshman at Grinnell College from Rapid City, South Dakota, said she is excited to experience an environment in which important scientific investigation is happening, while meeting the brilliant minds at work in the field she is passionate about.

“I like to understand things at a most fundamental level, which is why I find research into particle physics so compelling,” Gibson said.

Twin brothers Harry and Henry Heiberger are both seniors at Brandon Valley High School in Brandon, South Dakota.

Harry Heiberger said his interest in class experiments cascaded into a passion for science. He finds the interdisciplinary nature of biochemical engineering most compelling, as it provides insights into medicines and machinery that directly benefit human society.

“As someone going into research, I thought the opportunities this program presented were one-of-a-kind,” Harry Heiberger said. “From visiting innovative science facilities to meeting with world-renowned researchers, the Davis-Bahcall Program would truly engulf me in the world of science.”

Henry Heiberger hopes to gain a deeper understanding of physics and increase his knowledge about the current state of scientific research through the program. He is most interested in machine learning and robotics.

“This relatively new field has incredible potential to change lives,” Henry Heiberger said. “The thought of contributing to its advancement fills me with massive excitement—there is simply no other field like it.”

Eric Lefevre said he has always wanted to understand the reason why things happen the way they do. Now a senior at Rapid City Stevens High School, he views scientific inquiry as a natural continuation of that childhood curiosity. While his future major is undecided, he hopes to find a rich supply of inspiration through this program. 

“I applied to get a taste of the scientific community and their research efforts. This program offers an opportunity to collaborate with peers and explore the real science being carried out by professionals,” Lefevre said.

A freshman at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Emily Orme considers science a universal field in which ideas and innovations are shared with people from all walks of life. She is interested in chemical research and aims to, one day, have a chemical process named after her.

“I applied to the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program because I wanted to learn about the inner workings of scientific research,” Orme said. “I want to uncover my true passions for committing to research as my potential lifelong career.”

Mark Petrasko’s interest in science was first piqued when he visited his father’s cardiology office and saw an echocardiogram. Petrasko, a senior at O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is fascinated by biology’s ability to improve healthcare treatments and positively impact other people.

“When I read about the program, I couldn't believe that it was possible to explore that many different aspects of science in just one summer! I realized that it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to not apply for it would be a mistake,” Petrasko said.