Riggs seniors awarded $2.8 million in scholarships

T.F. Riggs High School senior Trey Nedrebo is awarded the Dakota State University Merit Champion Scholarship and the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship at the annual scholarship awards night Tuesday, May 3. 

T.F. Riggs High School seniors received more than $2.8 million in scholarships during Tuesday’s annual awards night after putting in the extra effort to find everything available.

“It’s almost surprising, the amount that of money that’s offered, but the amount of money that it takes (for higher education) is a lot too. We’re just really blessed. First of all, parents send their kids to school ready to go and then we’re able to get teachers that take them to the highest level and the kids work hard to qualify as applicants for some big scholarships across the country,” Riggs principal Kevin Mutchelknaus said.

Since students returned to school from winter break many months ago, they’ve steadily applied for scholarships as they’ve become available.

It’s an important process for students as college tuition continues to rise across the country.

“It’s so important because of the cost. It’s $80,000 for four years at a state school in South Dakota. Nothing in the world has inflated as much as the college education in the last 20 years … Going back to the importance of these scholarships, some of these kids aren’t going without them. They can’t afford to,” Mutchelknaus said.

For some students, getting a scholarship ensures they can attend a college or vocational school when they might otherwise be unable to without accruing a large amount of debt.

“It all adds up and it’s so expensive to go to college every dollar counts. There’s no amount of money that doesn’t make a difference,” Mutchelknaus said.

The 2022 graduating class was challenged by faculty to earn more in scholarship dollars than last year’s class which earned $2.2 million in scholarships.

One scholarship awarded to students was the R.E. Rawlins Memorial Scholarship which gave seven students $5,000 a year for four years. Students needed to maintain a 3.75 GPA to qualify for the scholarship.

The students awarded the scholarship were Griffin Gates, Aydan Johnson, Kayla Petersen, Isaak Rombough, Nevaeh Starr, Devin Strutt, and Draix Wyatt. The alternate was Steven Juhas.

Chuck Quinn, Pierre-Fort Pierre Rotary Club executive secretary, said the club hands out several scholarships amounting to roughly $8,500.

“We want to be involved with youth activities. We’re big supporters of the Boys and Girls Club. We’re big supporters of the Discovery Center and then of course the schools as well. One of the ways we can do that is through scholarships,” Quinn said.

The club manages donated funds and distributes them to high school seniors in both Pierre and Fort Pierre.

The Pierre-Fort Pierre Kiwanis Club awarded $17,300 in scholarships to students.

“We want to thank the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre for supporting our fundraisers like the golf tournament, concert and pancake feed to make these scholarships possible. We couldn’t do it without community support, and we wish all these students well as they continue their educations,” Kiwanis secretary Jeff Mammenga said.

The Kiwanis Club awarded several scholarships between $150-$2,500.

The majority of scholarships are offered by local organizations, Riggs guidance administrative assistant Carlene Barber said.

“The colleges and universities have given a lot, but as far as the number of scholarships the local ones far outnumber,” Barber said.

Barber contacts local organizations annually to see if they’re offering scholarships and passes that information along to students.

Students are sent reminders throughout the school year regarding scholarship deadlines. There can be an overwhelming amount of options and Barber encourages students to slowly chip away at them and avoid waiting until the last minute.

“She manages the whole process for kids and the deadlines and the applications. These kids are obviously very capable, but they have a lot on their plate right now. So having Carlene organize and manage that whole process makes their life less stressful. She does that in a way that is very caring,” Mutchelknaus said.

Scholarships can have a variety of requirements such as a GPA threshold or an accompanying essay.

“They’re very accomplished. I just read some of their essays and they’re just wonderful,” Barber said.

While students have help along the way, applying for certain scholarships requires them to be self-starters and seek them out from their prospective universities or vocational programs.

Not every scholarship dollar will be utilized as many are contingent upon students attending a particular university.

Once students complete their application for a scholarship they give it to Barber who sends the materials to the appropriate organization.

Organizations decide which students to award their scholarships to and inform Barber of their choice. Barber then invites students to awards night. Students don’t know which scholarships they received until presented to them at awards night.

“The students can’t apply for scholarships if they’re not offered. We’re extremely thankful and grateful for the community that we live in here at Pierre, for all the people and what they offer us,” Barber said.

She said she’s grateful for the parents, teachers, organizations and every individual who makes scholarships for Riggs students possible.

“These universities have figured out that the kids who come out of T.F. Riggs High School are high-quality students with a lot of great ethics and they’re smart and they’re very respectful. They’re just great kids. Lastly, it’s the educators in the Pierre School District. At the high school level, they’re getting all this stuff but it starts at the elementary level,” Barber said.

Mutchelknaus echoed Barber’s sentiment and remarked on the role she has played in helping students secure scholarships over the years.

“She’s a service-oriented person. This is one of the services she’s providing our kids right now that really makes a big difference in their life,” he said.

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