‘I did it for the school.’
In true Army National Guard fashion, Denton Beck is “Always Ready, Always There,” according to officials at Mitchell Technical College.
“(He) is the type of student every instructor dreams of – he is hard-working, kind and extremely motivated. He doesn’t need directions repeated – he takes the task and figures out a way to get it done,” Mateya Berg, interim advisor of the campus’s Student Veterans Organization, wrote in a nomination letter for the 2023 Student Veteran Leadership Award.
Beck was among 32 college students nationwide to receive the honor from Military Friendly, an organization recognizing businesses, schools and individuals for their commitment to investing in improving the lives of veterans. The list of recipients was listed in the August edition of G.I. Jobs magazine, a print and digital publication distributed free to transitioning service members, veterans and their families worldwide. The digital version went live Aug. 1.
Beck graduated from the Mitchell Tech Diesel Power-Light Truck program in May. He is a mechanic in the 155th Engineer Company of the S.D. National Guard, based out of Parkston and Wagner, and returned from a month-long leadership school in Utah last week. He works full-time for his family gravel and construction business, B&B Equipment, as a heavy equipment mechanic in Pierre.
Beck was involved in SVO while on campus and served as the organization’s president last year. During that time, Berg said, Beck “has gone above and beyond his duties and is always the first to volunteer when projects arise.”
When SVO Advisor Whitney Bruinsma announced in Spring 2022 that she would deploy in the fall, Beck stepped up to ensure that the organization would continue on as if she’d never left.
“I made sure I was equipped to provide new students the full experience of comradery that I had last year,” he said, adding that SVO offers an on-campus experience like no other for student and employee veterans at Mitchell Tech. “You can instantly start up a conversation and hear really cool stories in the SVO lounge – where they’ve been and what their jobs were.
You wouldn’t get that in any other club, I don’t think. There are a lot of kids, even in my program, who were in the military and they’ve been to all sorts of countries.”
Beck said he and fellow veterans could escape to the dedicated veterans’ lounge on campus mid-day to share a “brotherhood” that other students, faculty and staff would not understand.
“Anywhere you go, Army-wise, if someone else is in the military, you can start a conversation with another veteran very easily. You don’t get that civilian-side, so having that lounge gives veterans a place to discuss our experiences,” he said.
Beck added that conversations in the veterans lounge helped him appreciate his own military experience, as well as others’, whom he said have “done so much more.”
But Berg said Beck’s contributions to SVO and Mitchell Tech have been priceless. This spring, he coordinated a pancake feed to raise awareness for the organization and used the funds to create a nine-hole disc golf course on campus.
“This project was led by SVO, but it was single-handedly coordinated by (him),” Berg said. “(Beck) saw having a disc golf course right on campus as an avenue to promote comradery among students and provide something to do that doesn’t require a long drive. The entire course was designed by (Beck), and physically brought to life by him, other students and faculty. (He) managed and facilitated this project on top of his normal course load and while maintaining a 3.95 grade point average.
Although Berg credited Beck with managing the project, he humbly credited several others on campus with pulling it together. Beck sought approval from Mitchell Tech administrators to plan the course around an on-campus pond between Campus Tech Apartments and the Nordby Trades Center. Geospatial students and Instructor Devon Russell assisted in mapping the course, and Architectural Design and Building Construction students and Instructor Eric Schramm assisted in forming and pouring the concrete pads for the tee boxes, as well as with dirt work throughout the course. Instructor Gregg Thibodeau, a veteran himself, and his Machining and Manufacturing students helped design and cut hole numbers, while Instructor Jed Schoenfelder, also a veteran, and his Welding students helped design and fabricate the holes with Beck, Diesel Power Technology Instructor and fellow veteran Joel Rassel and Beck’s peers in the program.
“Schoenfelder helped me piece together my broken idea, and I built two or three to show them how I wanted them built,” Beck said. “I built a Henry Ford-style assembly line in the welding lab for three or four weeks.”
Beck admitted that the course could have been constructed more quickly and with less stress, but he felt it was logical to utilize the skills being taught on campus to put it together. That approach also decreased the cost of the project.
“We have all of these trades at this school that (others) don’t have. Why not use what we have and some of this open space and try to do something for the students on campus to do? Mitchell Tech is pretty good – we’ve got a gym and a student lounge. Now we’ve got a frisbee golf course,” he said.
In addition to giving the students ownership of the work put into the project, utilizing student talent saved the organization money.
“Each basket would have cost close to $1,000, and we made them for about $100. If we would have just bought them, we could have had it done pretty fast, but it would have been pretty spendy,” he said, “and less meaningful,” Berg added.
Beck said he is proud that the project and his service to SVO put Mitchell Tech’s name on Military Friendly’s 2023 Student Veteran Leadership Award recipients, and he looks forward to opportunities to continue to serve the needs of others in his final two years of enlistment and beyond.
“A lot of the people you see in that magazine are from huge colleges, so to see Mitchell Technical College recognized was pretty cool,” he said, but “I didn’t do it for the recognition. A lot of it was to help (Bruinsma) out while she’s gone. I did it for the school.”