DSU celebrates ‘MadLabs’ computer sciences center

Dakota State University opened the doors to some public and some soon-to-be top-secret places at its new $60 million MadLabs computer-sciences and cyber-security center Wednesday night.

As rain fell outside, former Governor Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson joined university president Jose’-Marie Griffiths and other special guests for the late-afternoon tour.

Then at 6 p.m. they spoke in an auditorium next door jammed with lawmakers, community leaders and higher-education people from across South Dakota.

The major private donors to the project, T. Denny Sanford and Miles and Lisa Beacom, couldn’t attend but sent remarks that others read for them.

Sanford and the Beacoms gave $30 million — $15 million apiece — on the condition that state government provide $10 million and Dakota State seek another $20 million from federal sources.

Miles Beacom was a Dakota State class of 1981 graduate. Sanford is founder of First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard. Beacom is PREMIER Bankcard chief executive officer.

Daugaard recalled how the Legislature and then-Governor Bill Janklow back in 1984 set Dakota State University on a new path emphasizing computers and technology. Thirty-five years later, DSU ranks as one of the nation’s top sites for research and training in cyber security.

Daugaard remembered the strategy meeting he and President Griffiths had three years ago in Madison at the insurance office of Randy Schaefer, who serves on the state Board of Regents that oversees South Dakota’s public universities.

And he credited the man who preceded him as governor, now-U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, for the idea to hire the Lawrence and Schiller marketing firm to condense a complicated message about the global battle over cyber security into a straight-forward explanation to present to Sanford.

Daugaard said Miles and Lisa Beacom couldn’t attend that meeting because they were at their daughter’s basketball game. That gave Sanford the opportunity to emphasize he wanted the project to honor the Beacoms. Another new building on campus is also named for them.

Daugaard said Sanford also wanted assurance that Griffiths and David Link, the center’s director, would be at the university for the long term. Link, a Sioux Falls native, began duties at Dakota State on October 16, 2017. He previously spent 32 years in the healthcare system that now bears Sanford’s name.

Griffiths said the Legislature’s unanimous support for the project was important for the message it sent to those outside South Dakota. She said faculty members from across the Dakota State campus were key for the enthusiasm and ideas they’ve brought to the project.

There are at least 14 different laboratories with specific areas of emphasis planned inside the building. It sits across from the Karl Mundt library that President Richard Nixon came to open while the long-time U.S. senator — one of South Dakota’s longest serving elected officials — was still in office and alive.

Rounds now chairs the cybersecurity subcommittee for the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee.

President Griffiths somewhat shyly showed the gathering a special congratulations sent on behalf of the federal government’s National Security Agency and National Cryptologic School from the school’s commandant, Diane M. Janousek.

In a handwritten note on the certificate, Janousek thanked DSU and Griffiths “for your service in keeping our nation safe.”

Daugaard said the center’s staff will start at about three dozen scientists and will grow into the hundreds.