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Governor’s School offers college experience to North Dakota youth

Published July 15, 2014

Three North Dakota high school students scored with a summer project that tastes good and also teaches them engineering principles. They spent six weeks perfecting sugar cookies produced with a 3D printer at North Dakota State University.

Matthew Dawson, Kody Coles and Reed Erickson are in the engineering track for North Dakota Governor’s School, a state-sponsored and funded program hosted at NDSU each summer since 1990. The school opened June 1 and concluded July 12.

Each year, North Dakota high school sophomores and juniors live at NDSU and study laboratory science, mathematics, information technology, English studies and visual arts or theatre. Agriculture, architecture and engineering joined the curriculum last year.

Dawson, Coles and Erickson were selected to work with Bashir Khoda, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, to create the cookies.

It’s a Thursday afternoon five weeks into Governor’s School. Dawson, Coles and Erickson surround a 3D printer. An engineering lab brimming with printers, scanners and a hodgepodge of electrical components is warm due to a malfunctioning air conditioner. However, the students remain cool and focused. They’ve been here since 10 a.m.

“What’s the detail look like?” said Coles, a junior from Horace, North Dakota. He refers to the crisp outline of an incandescent light bulb taking shape in sugar cookie dough.

“It’s better than the last one,” said Dawson, a junior from Casselton, North Dakota.

The cookie looks like the Governor’s School light bulb logo, down to the threads.

Compressed air pushes dough from a black vertical cylinder that looks like a cardboard paper towel tube. The nozzle pointing down from the cylinder is half as thick as a No. 2 pencil.

The dough oozes out in a small, uninterrupted line onto a shiny metal hot plate the size and shape of an iPad. The plate moves according to signals the students programmed into a computer.

Earlier in the month, Khoda and two graduate students advised the Governor’s School students as they designed the shape of their cookies in computer-aided design software. They inputted their plot points into the 3D printer. They also fabricated the brackets that hold the cylinder, which is immobilized as the hot plate moves back and forth.

NDSU has hosted North Dakota Governor’s School for 24 years. The annual six-week event gives high-achieving high school students a taste of college academics and the opportunity to work with experts, including NDSU faculty members, in a discipline that interests them.


The students watch their creations take shape. The light bulb is formed in 18 minutes with two crisscrossed layers of dough.

The scent of baked sugar, butter and vanilla wafts through the engineering lab. The smell and the dirty mixing bowl and spatula seem out of place among the electrical components and other examples of 3D printing – a replica of a human hip joint and the body of a four-rotor drone.

Yet the students are learning the concepts of additive manufacturing, a burgeoning field used to create projects ranging from human tissue and bone to complex rocket engines to the student’s cookies.

“The underlying principle is the same,” Khoda said.

The student’s work has out-of-this-world applications. NASA is studying the feasibility of 3D printing dietary-specific meals for its astronauts in space.

The students also get a taste of the challenges the experts face. The hot plate, a recent addition, isn’t hot enough to fully bake the cookie. More fine-tuning is required.

The nozzle needs resizing to keep the dough from clumping. The air pressure is lowered to prevent the dough from becoming an unrecognizable blob. A smiley-face design refused to hold its shape the day before. It still tasted good after baking in a conventional oven, Dawson said.

The students spend the rest of the week perfecting their cookies before presenting their work to NDSU faculty and other Governor’s School students.

Other students follow a similar routine based on their academic track. For example, the performing arts group toured a production of “Big Love” by Charles L. Mee throughout the state.

Governor’s School students attend life and leadership classes and travel to Minneapolis to tour 3M and visit the Science Museum, Valley Fair and the Art Institute. They also visit local companies and partake in recreational outings, such as a day canoeing Minnesota’s Crow Wing River.

For more information about Governor’s School, visit


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North Dakota State University
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