where is south dakota again? by Alan Z. '23, MEng '24
and other fun questions for your south dakotan friends
Back in September, when Shuli introduced the baby bloggers, they mentioned that I know “exactly how many students from South Dakota go to MIT.” This is true; the registrar provides state-by-state data on how many students attend MIT from each state in the US, so knowing that number is not particularly notable.
On the other hand, knowing all of the South Dakotans who go to MIT is keyword here is somewhat
I came into freshman year knowing myself included since we had all gotten in from the same to preempt commenters: yes, city. it's literally in the name: Rapid <strong>C</strong><strong>ity</strong>. at the same time and our interviewer had set up a meeting for all of us. I met another two South Dakotans during freshman year, one at a karaoke event in Burton-Conner where I just happened to mention being from South Dakota. and another during a class I was teaching about South Dakota. Finally, last summer, with some creative sleuthing, I found out that there were two South Dakotan prefrosh coming to MIT.
And, as it turns out, there are exactly besting D.C., North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Guam. from South Dakota this year.
Naturally, I put all of them on a mailing list. I also decided to ask them some questions about their MIT experiences for the blogs, so I asked the blogger Slack for some questions for South Dakotans. Unfortunately, most of their responses consisted of anti-South-Dakotan vitriol, which I, for one, will not stand for:
Undeterred by the comments of the s, obviously I sent out a list of around twenty questions, and, after a few months, managed to get responses from all of them. Here is the cast of characters we have:
- Natalie M. ’21, studying Natalie: Nuclear Science & Engineering flex option with a concentration in Security and Policy with a double minor in Japanese and Energy Studies
- Christian S. ’22, studying Alan: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with a concentration in Music
- Cameron K. ’23, studying Alan: Mechanical Engineering flex, I think with an environmental and sustainability focus Alan: also Cameron gets a special shoutout because she went to my high school; we did robotics together!
- Matt M. ’23, studying Matt: Aerospace Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering
- Harry H. ’24, undeclared but most likely studying 6-2. Also Henry’s brother.
- Henry H. ’24, undeclared but considering 6-2 with a potential minor in 2 or Alan: something in the Sloan Business School Also Harry’s brother.
and of course, yours truly. Alan: the responses below were put together by me and have been edited lightly for clarity. only slightly regretfully, this includes harry and henry's two spaces after each period.
The MIT Experience
When/where did you learn about MIT?
Natalie: My brother was considering MIT when looking at colleges, and I tagged along on the trips and tours. MIT just resonated with me, so I decided that I wanted to come here. I think it was summer before my freshman year of high school, 2014.
Christian: In fifth grade, my friend had this grey t-shirt with the iconic MIT rectangle logo on it. At the time I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I did know it was the place to go for science and math. From that point on, it became my goal to go to MIT.
Cameron: I actually think my mom brought MIT up first. She said something like, “Hey, you’ve got to apply. You’ve just got to.” I was more on the side of “uhhhhhhhhh.” Scary.
Matt: The first time I heard about (or at least, really considered) MIT was at the end of my sophomore year of high school. I went to a small school back in South Dakota, so my exposure to schools on the east coast was pretty low. It was only when a graduate of my high school came back to talk about his time at MIT that I first became interested, and I decided that I wanted to apply. The rest is history!
Harry: During high school, I knew I was interested in pursuing something in STEM. Thus, MIT was a school that commonly came up as I was researching possible colleges. From its making culture to its abundant opportunities, I knew it would be the right place for me, so I decided to apply.
Henry: I first learned about MIT during my freshman year when doing a future plans project. I knew I was interested in doing something with EECS, so for the dream college section, I researched the best college for that field. I stumbled across MIT and was interested in having the opportunity to go there ever since.
Alan: Personally, I think MIT has been at the periphery of my knowledge for a long time, but my first explicit memory of it is visiting at the end of eighth grade. Obviously, every answer here is different, but I think the early high school discoveries of MIT do speak somewhat to a lack of MIT in the cultural zeitgeist in South Dakota; I know a lot of people at MIT who have wanted to go to MIT since they were in elementary school, and Alan: to be honest, surveys like this deserve a blog post of their own. of the responses i got, the person who learned about MIT the earliest 'was born knowing about MIT', and the oldest was in senior year. my favorite two responses were someone who visited and 'was not impressed at age 7' and someone who 'told [their] father that Harvard was the best college and he disagreed.' suggests this is fairly common.
Did you know anyone at MIT before getting here/getting in?
Natalie: Yes, one of my swim team friends went to MIT for grad school and came back to train with us in the summers. There was also a student a few years ahead of me at my high school that went to MIT.
Cameron: No, I don’t think I knew anyone—not even in multiple grades above me, and there were some very qualified people in the grades above me.
Matt: Luckily, I knew quite a few people at MIT when I first showed up: I attended MIT’s Matt: s/o to the OEOP for putting on such an incredible program! so I had plenty of close friends I spent CPW/the first few weeks of MIT with.
Henry: No. Coming from a relatively small town, it was fairly rare at my school for anyone to go to a college outside of the Midwest. My brother and I are the only people from our high school that we know have gone to MIT.
Harry: I did not! In fact, it is fairly common for me to meet people who don’t even know what MIT is.
Alan: Similar to Matt, I was lucky enough to attend a program at MIT Alan: although somehow I didn't bump into him so I had quite a few close friends I knew I could rely on during the first few weeks of MIT. On the other hand, the only people I knew had gone from South Dakota to MIT were Cameron and Matt.
What is your favorite South-Dakota-related thing you have done at MIT?
Natalie: Uh…I guess the time I crashed Alan: a Splash for MIT class! on South Dakota to help educate the non-SD people that we, in fact, exist.
Christian: I’ve been able to successfully convince some of my friends that South Dakota is geographically North of North Dakota.
Cameron: It’s a toss-up. First and foremost would be giving a Alan: a <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/two-thousand-high-schoolers/">Splash</a> class! with my good ol’ pal Alan about Cameron: Did you know that you can get a license at 14 and then drive 80 mph on our interstate? But there are also the little things like running into someone in the Infinite and going, “Ope! Soory, I’m from South DakOHtah” or convincing my next door neighbor last year from North Dakota that South Dakota was better.
Matt: My favorite South-Dakota-related thing I’ve done at MIT would have to be ice skating. It’s definitely not unique to South Dakota, but I played hockey for ten years, so I associate ice skating with home :)
Harry: In a way, everything I am doing now is South-Dakota-related as I am still living in South Dakota. Hopefully this changes in future semesters.
Henry: I haven’t really been at MIT yet so it’s hard for me to answer this question. However, I did make a trip to the Alan: more on this piece of architecture later in this post Alan: read as 'a few months ago' and it doesn’t get more South Dakotan than that.
Alan: Natalie and Cameron have both mentioned South Dakota talks. The story behind this goes that I started out with a tiny slide deck back in summer 2018 to teach some of my camp friends about South Dakota. This ballooned into a 50+-slide deck when Cameron and I taught a Splash class, and I proceeded to attempt to teach this entire deck in 20 minutes for Splash for MIT, educating MIT students about the existence of South Dakota, with the help of Natalie. Truly an excellent time.
How do you think being from South Dakota has affected your MIT experience so far, if at all?
Natalie: Day-tripping to NYC for events seems normal to me because I’m used to long car rides, and I’m not one of the people running outside during the first snow of the year trying to build a snowman out of a Natalie: Spoiler: it won’t work. of snow. I guess it’s an interesting talking point?
Christian: There was certainly a cultural hurdle, at least in the beginning when meeting new people. People are generally unknowledgeable about our region of the country. Likewise, I wasn’t familiar with where most others came from either: the academic competitions, existing networks, and sometimes just the way people thought about problems simply weren’t present in my high school experience. I had to learn a lot to interact with science the way MIT expects and find ways to break ice that didn’t involve talking about Olympiads or playing into stereotypes about my state’s culture.
Cameron: It’s kind of fun when I introduce myself and immediately hear, “Oh, I’ve never met anyone from South Dakota.” Oh, so you haven’t met Alan yet. I don’t mean to trash on Cameron: except of course North Dakota and Florida. but it’s so often that you hear people are from California or New Jersey, Texas or Massachusetts. I like to be able to represent a place where there are not many others to do it for me. We’ve got our lil SoDak gang, and now we are simply in the process of getting the whole campus on board.
Matt: Coming from South Dakota had a ton of effects on my initial college experience, although quite a few can also be attributed to being a first-gen student as well. More than anything, I just felt lost. Imposter syndrome hit pretty hard my freshman year, but it got better once I realized that everybody else was just as confused as I was!
Harry: As we are virtual this semester, South Dakota has essentially been my MIT experience so far. Every morning, I can look out my window and see the cornfield on my neighbor’s farm. I am still visiting South Dakota landmarks such as the Badlands and Corn Palace, and I am still hanging out with my friends from South Dakotan schools. Thus, in a way, my life as a South Dakotan hasn’t really changed yet.
Alan: I agree with Christian that there was a lot of cultural lexicon I had to learn in order to communicate with existing networks of people here, which was a struggle. I think the experience of being confronted with something so radically different from home was really formative in trying to build an identity at MIT, but it also drove a lot of impostor syndrome. Of course I’m an impostor! There are only six other South Dakotans here!
How was adjusting from rural-ish places to urban bahston and did you miss farmland? (Source: Paolo)
Natalie: *eye roll* Not all of SD is farmland; I’m from Rapid City, which is in the Black Hills. It’s weird not having to drive every day and there’s definitely a lot more stores and services nearby, but it’s not that bad of a difference. The bigger difference is in general culture. I don’t miss SD when I’m on campus, but it’s more that I vibe better with MIT culture than any urban vs. rural thing.
Christian: In terms of physical locality, I do miss the freedom to be anywhere in town I want in 10 minutes or less by car. But in a lot of ways, not much changed. It’s just another place to eat, sleep, study, meet people, and hang out.
Cameron: Farmland will always be home, but did you know that if you give a train 2 dollars and 40 cents, you can get anywhere in the city? Did you know that people put stores on top of other stores, and food can just be delivered to your door? There are people walking everywhere! However, there is not a night sky. There is no forest to disappear into, and there is no silence, no stillness. The isolated natural world can really pull you out of busy lives. There are unique benefits in both places, I am thankful to have experienced both, and I don’t think I am ready to leave Boston quite yet.
Matt: I mean, honestly? I loved living in Boston! It was so exciting and vibrant and full of life. I’m definitely a little sad that I haven’t seen Boston in close to a year, so I’m super pumped to head back.
Alan: Adjusting wasn’t too bad, and I certainly didn’t miss farmland, although I occasionally miss the trees and rolling hills that I lived amidst. My favorite thing about urban Boston, and one I wouldn’t give up for the world, is that almost everything is walkable if you walk long enough. I love driving, but I think there’s something about being close to the street in a more dense, pedestrian-friendly city that makes walking an extremely enjoyable experience.
How has MIT differed from your high school experience/your expectations?
Natalie: MIT work is hard. I don’t have nearly as much time for hobbies as I did in high school because the academic work is far more rigorous. However, I have a lot more friends at MIT and go to more social events, so MIT >>> HS by a landslide.
Cameron: MIT is a little of what I expected and a lot of what I didn’t. Obviously, it’s a Cameron: gotta love a good challenge I never expected to fail a test in my life, but we can cross that one off the bucket list. I never expected to jump on a bus to New York at 3 am, but we got that one done too. Coming in, I was ready to be surrounded by geniuses who knew they were geniuses, and I was ready to be so far behind everyone else. Thankfully, though everyone is ridiculously smart, they are also human. There are many others who also go, “holy crap this pset is killing me,” or just simply answer a question with, “I do not know.”
Matt: MIT was waaay more difficult than I expected, and there were so many opportunities I could take advantage of. It Matt: still is, haha but also beyond exciting.
Henry: There are just so many more opportunities at MIT than there have been in my smaller community. At my school, I was largely limited to only a handful of clubs and extracurricular activities, with very few opportunities to take the classes that I was interested in or fully explore new interests. Already so far at MIT, it seems like there has been an opportunity to join a new club or try a new activity every single day. This is an incredible experience.
Alan: I think the biggest thing that’s different about MIT and high school is the diversity and intensity of interests. I love sitting and listening to people’s life stories, or to listen to them go on about the thing they’re currently interested in. The level of excitement and care is something I don’t think I see a lot of in most places, and it’s what most surprises and delights me about MIT.
Thoughts About Home
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re home? (Source: Paolo)
Natalie: Sleep, eat my mom’s cooking and baking.
Christian: Eat Jimmy John’s and goof around in Storybook Land.
Cameron: Definitely take advantage of the environment around me—hiking, skiing, Alan: Cameron is joking here, but it <em>is</em> only about half an hour away from where we live. ya know, the normal stuff.
Matt: Riding motorcycles and hiking.
Harry: Over the past few months, I have really gotten into hiking and rock climbing. There are a lot of beautiful state parks in South Dakota, many of which are only a short drive away. I will miss this once I am in Boston.
Alan: Based on empirics, mostly sleep, but I do love hiking quite a bit, and, of course, taking photos of nature while doing so.
How much do you identify with being from South Dakota? (Source: Paolo)
Natalie: Uh…I’m registered to vote in SD? If you ask where I’m from, I’d say SD, but MIT feels more like home and I disagree with a lot of SD’s dominant political stances.
Cameron: My name is “Hello, I’m Cameron from South Dakota.”
Matt: Probably Matt: Call that a side effect of having friends from both coasts + ROTC.
Harry: Although being a South Dakotan is a big part of who I am, I definitely don’t think it defines my entire personality. At the end of the day, South Dakota is very similar to many of the states around it. Still, I do believe living here has given me a variety of small-town values and an appreciation for Harry: especially corn
Alan: At MIT, I feel very South Dakotan, and I feel very obligated to defend my state’s existence from Alan: I say this mostly in jest, but there have been instances where I've genuinely felt attacked In South Dakota, I don’t feel that at all; I live there but feel very little attachment to its communities and its political leanings. Such, I think, is life.
What does being from a small state mean to you?
Natalie: It means you can get ahold of anyone in the state in 3 steps or fewer because you definitely know someone who knows someone who knows the person you’re trying to contact. It also mean that gossip and news spreads fast, so there are pros and cons.
Cameron: Some would say Massachusetts is smaller than South Dakota. Sorry to drop geography facts on you, Alan: oof. On a more serious and philosophical note, I think everyone can relate to and identify with a community; on a small enough level, there is the ability to connect with others, share experiences, and have some kind of Cameron: for us, that’s corn The state is one more thing to have in common with someone, and it is a small enough community that we can all share similar values, backgrounds, and experiences on some level.
Matt: To me, being from South Dakota means having a pretty unique perspective on rural life and so-called “flyover country”. It’s definitely helped me appreciate some of the smaller, simpler things in life, and it’s instilled a pretty strong sense of independence in me as well.
Henry: To me, being from a small state has meant learning how to appreciate the little things in life, forming a deep connection to my community, and valuing the importance of friends and family. It has shaped who I am today and will definitely influence the path I take at MIT.
Alan: It means less opportunities, but also less competition for those opportunities. Because of that, I learned to take advantage of everything I could and to build a strong work ethic, but I also got a lot more time to do my own things and appreciate life in high school. For those particular aspects, I am grateful to South Dakota, because they are a big part of who I am.
Why do you live in South Dakota?
Natalie: Because my parents live here.
Cameron: Way ago, back when we decided to steal a whole country, the great g-pa’s decided that the new homeland would be the prosperous fields of southeastern South Dakota. On the other side of things, the mother’s father got a nifty job on the railroad in southwestern South Dakota, and bada bing bada boom, here I live.
Matt: My parents were in the Air Force and got stationed at Ellsworth AFB.
Harry: Why wouldn’t you live in South Dakota?
Henry: Why do any of us live where we live? What does it mean to live?
Alan: Henry’s answer made me have another existential crisis, but long answer short, my dad got a job in South Dakota when I was four, and the rest is history.
West River or East River?
Alan: As opposed to traditional North-South rivalries, South Dakota is split fairly evenly by the Missouri River, whose course also delineates the land which is good for farming and our time zones. Thus, a West and East River regional divide. Unfortunately, West River is clearly better.
Natalie: West River, best river.
Cameron: South Dakota is divided between Alan: East River. and the side that is clearly better in all ways except Cameron: this point could also be moot because (personal opinion) Colorado > Minnesota.
Matt: West River, clearly – East River is just Canada with more humidity.
Christian: I stan East River. West River may have the looks, but East River has the personality.
Harry: What’s West River?
Henry: In the river.
Memes and Miscellanea
Any updates on the…the corn?? (Source: Cami)
Alan: No, there are no corn updates.
Natalie: There is not as much corn in SD as y’all seem to think. That’s an East River thing.
Cameron: How is the corn? Well, I could tell you a Corny story, but seriously, the truth would aMaze you.
Matt: Still growing (I hope).
Henry: The corn growing season has pretty much ended in South Dakota as we have already had a few overnight freezes. However, I am already excited for next year!
Harry: Umm…it seems like the corn has been doing well so far. I visited the Corn Palace a few weeks ago, and it looked alright.
Feelings about Iowan corn? (Source: Paolo)
Natalie: It goes on forever because their speed limits are crawling.
Cameron: I mean, we were taught in school that corn is good. It’s not the corn’s fault that some just happens to be grown better in a better location.
Matt: Iowan corn < South Dakotan corn.
Harry: Iowan corn < South Dakotan corn.
Henry: They don’t have a Corn Palace so their corn is clearly inferior.
Alan: I have nothing to add to the excellent points made above, but I just want to note that Matt and Henry sent me those responses, formatted exactly the same way, without coordination.
What is your favorite place in South Dakota apart from the Alan: for the record, this is a meme. the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_Palace">corn palace</a> is a tourist trap which consists of a fancy high school basketball arena that they staple corn to every year.
Christian: Storybook Land is the closest thing to a “hidden gem” you can find in Aberdeen. It’s a children’s theme park based on the Wizard of Oz and other fairy tales because L. Frank Baum lived there for a while. Fun fact: Kansas in WoO is based on his experiences in SD.
Cameron: On the personal side, the little places around the city that remind me of growing up before I knew what it was like to leave. The city—though nothing fancy—has a charm to it. Sitting at my favorite coffee shops doing homework; going to our team’s robotics shop during build season; kicking around a soccer ball where I met my first team; going to the highest point in the city to take prom pictures with concrete dinosaurs; far and wide, the town holds memories. If I had to pick a place unlike any other I’ve been to before, I would probably pick the Badlands. The Badlands are just wild—hiking, 50-ft drops, cool rock formations, fossils from the way way back times, and a night sky that you could stare at for hours. I would definitely recommend going.
Matt: Easy question: the Black Hills.
Harry: It’s hard to beat the Corn Palace. However, I would say Alan: This is also a meme, I think; Wall Drug is a notorious tourist trap which grew large because they have free ice water and 5 cent coffee in the middle of nowhere. I cannot believe I do not have a photo of it. Honestly, South Dakota is a really interesting state. Everyone should visit it at some point during their lives.
Henry: There are too many places for me to list. Of course, Mt. Rushmore is a major location for every South Dakotan. I am also very fond of Downtown Sioux Falls, Falls Park, Pallisades State Park, Devil’s Gulch, and Henry: free ice water.
Alan: There are some pretty spaces tucked around the hills, if you know where to find them; one of my favorites is Sylvan Lake, which is at the base of the climb up to Black Elk Peak, our state’s highest mountain.
Finally, why are we better than Alan: to any north dakotans reading this, *hamilton voice* i can't apologize because it's true.
Natalie: We’re not as much of a frozen wasteland. We have the Black Hills, the Badlands, and the falls on the Big Sioux River, so we are definitely more visually beautiful. Our interstate speed limits Natalie: Our interstate speed limits are 80mph, so that deserves a shoutout.
Cameron: North Dakota = Bakken Oil Field = The Death of our Environment. From a trusty Google search, the Bakken Oil Field is burning the amount of gas that could power—get this—ALL of the homes in Cameron: Alaaannn, do I have to cite my sources? (Alan: <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2269517/The-picture-space-shows-U-S-oil-field-burning-gas-power-Chicago-AND-Washington-cheaper-selling-it.html">yes</a>. unfortunately, this is the Daily Mail, but <a href="https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=42195">it is actually quite bad</a>. like, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bakken-flaring/exclusive-bakken-flaring-burns-more-than-100-million-a-month-idUSBRE96S05320130729">really bad.</a>)
Matt: The correct answer is that we’re less worse than North Dakota, but it all comes down to two things: 1) we have the Black Hills, and 2) we’re not as cold as North Dakota in the winters.
Henry: We have more corn than they do.
Alan: We have more MIT students than they do!
Harry: Better question. Why don’t we have just one large South Dakota?
- keyword here is somewhat back to text ↑
- myself included back to text ↑
- to preempt commenters: yes, city. it's literally in the name: Rapid City. back to text ↑
- at a karaoke event in Burton-Conner where I just happened to mention being from South Dakota. back to text ↑
- besting D.C., North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Guam. back to text ↑
- \s, obviously back to text ↑
- Natalie: Nuclear Science & Engineering flex option with a concentration in Security and Policy back to text ↑
- Alan: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science back to text ↑
- Alan: Mechanical Engineering flex, I think back to text ↑
- Alan: also Cameron gets a special shoutout because she went to my high school; we did robotics together! back to text ↑
- Matt: Aerospace Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering back to text ↑
- Alan: something in the Sloan Business School back to text ↑
- Alan: the responses below were put together by me and have been edited lightly for clarity. only slightly regretfully, this includes harry and henry's two spaces after each period. back to text ↑
- Alan: to be honest, surveys like this deserve a blog post of their own. of the responses i got, the person who learned about MIT the earliest 'was born knowing about MIT', and the oldest was in senior year. my favorite two responses were someone who visited and 'was not impressed at age 7' and someone who 'told [their] father that Harvard was the best college and he disagreed. back to text ↑
- Matt: s/o to the OEOP for putting on such an incredible program! back to text ↑
- Alan: although somehow I didn't bump into him back to text ↑
- Alan: a Splash for MIT class! back to text ↑
- Alan: a Splash class! back to text ↑
- Cameron: Did you know that you can get a license at 14 and then drive 80 mph on our interstate? back to text ↑
- Alan: more on this piece of architecture later in this post back to text ↑
- Alan: read as 'a few months ago back to text ↑
- Natalie: Spoiler: it won’t work. back to text ↑
- Cameron: except of course North Dakota and Florida. back to text ↑
- Cameron: gotta love a good challenge back to text ↑
- Matt: still is, haha back to text ↑
- Alan: Cameron is joking here, but it is only about half an hour away from where we live. back to text ↑
- Matt: Call that a side effect of having friends from both coasts + ROTC. back to text ↑
- Harry: especially corn back to text ↑
- Alan: I say this mostly in jest, but there have been instances where I've genuinely felt attacked back to text ↑
- Alan: oof. back to text ↑
- Cameron: for us, that’s corn back to text ↑
- Alan: East River. back to text ↑
- Cameron: this point could also be moot because (personal opinion) Colorado > Minnesota. back to text ↑
- Alan: for the record, this is a meme. the corn palace is a tourist trap which consists of a fancy high school basketball arena that they staple corn to every year. back to text ↑
- Alan: This is also a meme, I think; Wall Drug is a notorious tourist trap which grew large because they have free ice water and 5 cent coffee in the middle of nowhere. I cannot believe I do not have a photo of it. back to text ↑
- Henry: free ice water. back to text ↑
- Alan: to any north dakotans reading this, *hamilton voice* i can't apologize because it's true. back to text ↑
- Natalie: Our interstate speed limits are 80mph, so that deserves a shoutout. back to text ↑
- Cameron: Alaaannn, do I have to cite my sources? (Alan: yes. unfortunately, this is the Daily Mail, but it is actually quite bad. like, really bad.) back to text ↑