M Hill got a much-needed makeover this summer thanks to a joint effort by alumni, students, and friends of South Dakota Mines and the community of Rapid City. The “M” of the beloved icon received all new concrete, and by this winter all original alumni plaques will have been cleaned and reset. New LED lighting will be installed as well. The trail to the top has also been made safer for hikers.
“The team took on this project with the objective to make it last at least another hundred years, realizing the legacy it represents,” says Dr. Scott Kenner (CE 77), project lead and professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering.
The initiative started when Dr. Jim Rankin (EE 78) returned to Mines as president and heard about the condition of the M and then later saw it for himself during the 2018 Rocker Days hike. Cracking, separation, and concrete spalling over time had not only made the aging monogram aesthetically unappealing, but it had led to injuries during the traditional homecoming hike and whitewashing of the M. Additionally, many of the plaques had become unreadable due to weathering and excessive whitewashing.
President Rankin began meeting with local alumni in the construction industry about the feasibility of the project. They suggested the first step would be for some students to focus their senior design project on the restoration. Emily Sande (CEE 19) and Jamie Smith (CEE 19) did just that. Many other students and alumni have since assisted with the project.
“From students, faculty, and alumni removing and restoring the plaques, to local contractors getting involved and alumni donating their time and talent, this project signifies the tenacity of the South Dakota Mines community,” says President Rankin.
Sande and Smith evaluated material quality and talked with local entities regarding the feasibility of an upgrade to the monogram, given the steep terrain. Their design recommendations included adding a thicker base and reinforcing steel so that the concrete would have the longest possible lifespan. They also provided recommendations regarding the safety of students and hikers, as well as gave alternative design recommendations to the Center for Alumni Relations & Advancement for the restoration and preservation of the senior plaques that are affixed to the monogram.
“I feel proud to have done the initial work on this project,” says Sande. “The project is a symbol of a time-honored tradition and what it truly means to be a Hardrocker. I believe when students whitewash the "M" each year we pay homage to those who have completed the trek up M Hill and in the classroom at Mines to complete their degrees.”
The project was ultimately made possible by more than $160,000 in donations from alumni and friends, as well as many in-kind gifts. Campus rededicated M Hill on Sept. 23 during the Rocker Days and M Day Picnic. Thank you to everyone who was involved in this effort!
Special thanks to the following companies and individuals for assisting with this effort: Ferber Engineering (Dave Muck CE 94 and John Van Beek CE 98), TerraSite Design (Shane Matt CE 96), FMG Engineering (Alex Fisher GeolE 00), Albertson Engineering (Aaron Hartwell CE 07), Bob Quinn (CE 77), Calvin Thom (CEE 21), Jacob West (CSC 22) and Severin Boe (EE student) along with several other students who continue to work on the plaques, Black River Contracting (Sam Crittenden MinE 19 and Ethan Peterson MinE 19), and their subcontractor SRS Concrete Services (Steve Sargent), Pete Lien & Sons Inc. (Keld Ditlev CE 06).