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April 26, 2016 06:02 PM

Students Create Web To Visualize GEAR UP Players

Vermillion, SD

For the last seven months, our KELOLAND News investigation has uncovered all kinds of conflicts of interest involving the administration of the GEAR UP grant. 

The legislature has added new conflict of interest laws and created an internal board of control.  

A University of South Dakota political science class has also put together their own investigation, after following KELOLAND News reports.

If you thought the reports KELOLAND News has brought you over the last several months on Scott Westerhuis, Stacy Phelps, Rick Melmer, Dan Guericke and many others' involvement in GEAR UP were a tangled web, well it turns out, you're right. 

With push pins and yarn, political science students have spun a web that would be worthy of the most talented spider.  

This web paints a complicated picture of all the people who had a role, directly or indirectly with the GEAR UP grant, the Department of Education, or Mid Central Educational Cooperative in Platte, or all three.

Angela Kennecke: What's been the most surprising thing to you as you saw this come together?  

"At the heart of this controversy are two tragedies," instructor Marshall Damgaard said. "One tragedy is the horrific death of six human beings.  The other one is the fact that the state of South Dakota in terms of federal and state dollars has invested $62 million since 2005 and no one has come forward with documented legitimate evidence saying how many American Indian kids have gone to college because of that investment."

Damgaard commissioned his students to do the research and they came up with 24 players in the GEAR UP saga and followed the money that flowed from Washington D.C. into the state. 

"And now it's really, really big," senior Ben Deverman said. "We have it going all the way across the United States now. Farther than I ever thought possible until we started doing this class."

Deverman, a political science major, says the interconnectivity has opened his eyes to issues of conflict.

"I see conflict of interest, but I also see how small the state is," Deverman said.

"You're going to have a smaller pool of people to work with, so you're going to have what is perceived to be conflicts, but aren't necessarily conflicts," Damgaard said.
"Frankly, I don't buy the argument that South Dakota's talent pool doesn't have a deep end.  The qualified people are out there. You have to have the desire to find them." 

While Damgaard does say some of these connections are positive, his students question others.

"The thing I focused on a lot was the relationship between Rick Melmer and Keith Moore and not just in the past year, but the past almost eight years," Deverman said. 

Damgaard hopes his students keep this web in mind after they graduate and enter the real world.  

"I think there are a lot of lessons here and they all go back to public policy in South Dakota." Damgaard said. 

The web will hang up in Dakota Hall at USD through this summer.  Students are also working to convert it into an electronic map that anyone can access online. When it's complete, we will make sure to bring you a link on
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