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Nadine Radtke takes on engineering work

DICKINSON - Life has taken many twists and turns for new area extension specialist Nadine Radtke at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center.

Radtke is a recent graduate from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, where she received a degree in industrial engineering and a minor in occupational health and safety.

She started working in Dickinson this past October and is still learning the ins and outs of agriculture containment waste systems.

Radtke's office is housed at the DREC, but she works with them and different engineering firms as an engineer in designing waste systems.

Rolling with the changes

Radtke started school with an interdisciplinary science degree and then changed to engineering.

"I just thought I could do it," Radtke said of the change in degrees.

Before college, her background was in arts and humanities. Originally from the Rapid City area, Radtke graduated from college there in December 2006. Her family remains there so she frequently returns to see them.

Her husband Gregg works as a health unit clerk at the Rapid City Regional Hospital. Their oldest son Kyle, 20, is attending the School of Mines and Technology and is thinking about engineering, while her younger son Michael, 18, is in high school.

Radtke's first time to Dickinson was for her job interview, but she enjoys the community and would like to stay as long as she can. Her husband hopes to move here in the spring.

Relocating isn't new to Radtke, who has moved around quite a bit with her husband while he was in the military. The couple lived in Seattle, Hawaii and New Jersey before coming back to the Midwest.

Her background with horses and farm animals reaches back to growing up on a hobby farm in South Dakota. Her school and animal backgrounds are a great match for her job now.

"They wanted someone who had taken and passed the engineering fundamental exam which all engineers must take and someone familiar with livestock," Radtke said.

A new frontier

Radtke's job is to help producers stay in compliance with federal water regulations and help design agricultural waste systems.

"I'm the contact person for the producer to go through and for others with soil conservation districts or the Natural Resource Conservation Services," Radtke said. "The engineer is responsible for the design idea, oversees construction, works with the producer on the design and double checks things during the process."

Radtke is required to work under an engineer who has a professional engineering license to have them sign off on the designs, she added.

Projects begin with a survey of the area, talking with producers about their needs and designing a waste system to fit those needs and state requirements. A preliminary design is then completed and must be approved by the state health department.

"My position was established here already, so I've just been learning more on what is expected of me and about different projects," Radtke said. "There's a learning curve."

For Radtke to get her professional engineering license, she has to work under someone with a license for four to five years before she can take the exam herself, she added.

Radtke's degree in industrial engineering serves her well in the job, but she also is being introduced to other types of engineering such as civil.

"Industrial engineering is more about learning the process of something and an ag waste system is a process," Radtke said. "Industrial puts people into the system."

As a way to understand the different types of engineering and how they work, Radtke uses an example she was given.

If mechanical engineering is building the car engine, then electrical engineering would deal with powering the car, while civil engineering is about building the roads to put the cars on and industrial is bettering the entire process, she said.

A great investment

Even in this new territory, Radtke enjoys learning new things and likes that her job has an impact on someone else and helps producers.

"Ag waste systems help the producers' better their operation and it's nice to say I can help with that," she added.

Her position is made possible through the Livestock Facilities Assistance Program, which is partnered with several agencies, including Dakota West and Dakota Prairies Research Conservation and Development Councils, the DREC, the North Dakota Department of Health, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and several soil conservation districts, water resource boards and county commissions.

The program is funded in part through the North Dakota Non-Point Source Management Program, which is administered by the state health department. It seeks to reduce non-point source water pollution by helping producers comply with the North Dakota Animal Feeding Operations rules on pollution control from animal feeding operations within an 18 county area. In 2006, the program provided assistance to 16 animal feeding operations in its service area.

Her work contract ends in 2010, Radtke said.