Colton’s Aiden Heitkamp sets sights on Mitchell Tech agronomy career through Build Dakota Scholarship
Tri-Valley senior on course to attend Mitchell Tech this fall
MITCHELL — Aiden Heitkamp didn’t grow up on a farm, but he’s spent his fair share of time working on them.
And now, through a four-way partnership between himself, Mitchell Technical College, Agtegra and the Build Dakota Scholarship program, he has taken the first steps toward a career in agronomy just a few miles down the road from where he was raised.
The senior at Tri-Valley High School in Colton developed an interest in the agriculture industry through friends whose families had family farms and classes he took over the years in school. Soon, he found himself pitching in with chores on those farms and an appreciation of the business soon followed.
“A lot of my friends live on farms, and I took six years of FFA and ag classes, and I really got inspired by that. The last two years, I’ve been helping my friends on their family farms,” Heitkamp told the Mitchell Republic.
A lover of the outdoors, Heitkamp originally considered attending a four-year college to go into wildlife biology. But he eventually switched gears and decided a two-year technical school approach would be better suited for him.
Heitkamp said he was well-familiar with the Build Dakota Scholarship program from the posters on the school walls and information provided to him and his classmates through their guidance counselor. With his eyes now set on the technical college experience, pursuing the scholarship seemed like a good idea.
The scholarship supports tuition, fees, books and other required program expenses in eligible technical college programs. Accepting the scholarship means the students agree to enroll full-time in a high-need industry program at a South Dakota technical college and work full-time in their field of study for a minimum of three years in South Dakota following graduation.
Heitkamp's agronomy program typically costs $17,880. All of that will be covered by the Build Dakota Scholarship.
Degrees are completed in conjunction with an industry partner that picks up a percentage of the schooling tuition and costs, with the rest paid by the scholarship itself. The student then works for their scholarship partner business in a position that is guaranteed to be waiting for them after graduation.
When he had his career goal established, he began looking for his industry partner. He found one not far away at Agtegra in Colman.
“I looked on their website, and I was glad that they’re a local-based cooperative. It’s nice, they’re a big company still but it feels small, and they’ve been really nice and helpful in getting me going,” Heitkamp said. “I’m kind of a homebody, I really don’t want to go more than 40 miles for a job. So 20 miles up the road? That was perfect for me.”
Heitkamp will be Agtegra’s first Build Dakota student partnership with the company. The farmer-owned cooperative is with more than 6,800 active member-owners across North Dakota and South Dakota. Its services include agronomy, feed, farm supply, and energy services, across more than 70 locations in its trade territory.
McKenzie DuFresne, talent management lead for Agtegra, said jumping on board with Build Dakota and Heitkamp fit right into the company’s vision and goals by encouraging local, South Dakota students a chance to fulfill their career ambitions right here in the state.
“Given the current state of the job market, we want to find really good employees and students and give them the opportunity to stay here,” DuFresne said. “That’s something we see a lot of value in.”
Though working with Heitkamp will be the company’s first foray into working with the Build Dakota Scholarship program, DuFresne said she is already looking forward to tracking Heitkamp’s career as he works his way through school and on a company internship before he steps through the door as a full-time employee after graduation.
The next two years will be an exciting time to watch him grow and see what he brings to the table through his studies.
“We can develop them. He can bring ideas from school. We want it to be an open dialog. It is not just us giving them an internship and three years (of employment). We want them to feel like they have a say in their experience and bring new ideas,” DuFresne said.
Heitkamp said Mitchell Technical College seemed the right choice out of two-year technical schools in South Dakota based on its close proximity to his hometown and its good reputation in agriculture-related circles. He visited campus recently and sat in on a few classes and he liked what he saw.
“I talked to some people and it just seemed like that was the place I wanted to be,” Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp plans to start working at the Agetgra Colman location as an agronomy intern this spring and will continue interning there over the next two summers. After graduation, he will begin work as a full-time employee.
As a high school senior, he still has some unfinished business to attend to at Tri-Valley High School. He has a few classes to finish up and graduation is coming up soon, so he’s helping his mom plan his graduation party.
But his career goals are locked in and he’s ready to get started. The Build Dakota Scholarship program is a great opportunity, he said, and though he’s just getting started, he knows other students can find a pathway to a career if they look into it.
“I think it’s one of the best avenues you can take. If you know what you want to do and go to a tech school, and if it falls under the Build Dakota Scholarship, there’s no reason not to do it,” Heitkamp said. “You get school paid for, two internships to learn and three years of employment guaranteed. To me, that sounds like the perfect deal.”