Anyone who knows Tawnie Williams knows she loves plants and animals. Makes sense for a biology major, but how much does she love plants?
Answer: Enough to have over 100 (plants and starters) in her house that she and her husband recently purchased in Rapid City, South Dakota. It also has a number of aquariums. Some contain plants, but others contain fish.
What’s even more interesting about Williams, who graduated from Northern State University in Aberdeen last May, is that she can now call herself an award-winning inventor.
Williams, who started at Northern in the fall of 2019, took a few entrepreneurship courses in school that set her on the path to innovation. It suited her well, as she has always liked to think outside the box.
“I was at the top of my class in high school. I was always an overachiever, pushing myself to see what I could do,” she said.
In one of the courses on entrepreneurship, students took an idea and turned it into a viable business model. How would they bring their business idea to life? How would they run the show?
Williams had already been researching a certain bacteria for about a year, which gave her some ideas long before the class assignment. She took one of those ideas and set to work developing a self-contained system, “like a bioreactor,” she said, “that degrades plastic on the spot using this bacteria I did some research.” The bacteria was Escherichia coli (E. coli).
It was an invigorating experience to see her idea come to life, especially since she had never done anything like it before. Others noticed it too.
Williams entered a contest for his invention, placing third in that year’s South Dakota Governor’s Giant Vision Contest. She was extremely excited “because I had no experience in entrepreneurship,” she said, noting that she had come up against people who were much more experienced. “It was the first thing I had ever done (that way).”
Dr. Sal Villegas, assistant professor of management, said an entrepreneurial spirit is thriving at Northern State University. Students in the Entrepreneurship II class were required to conduct market research, discover a viable business opportunity, and create a comprehensive business plan to determine potential profitability.
“Tawnie really stood out in the class because rather than coming from a business background, she wanted to show how scientific research can be used to solve contemporary problems while being monetized as a business,” he said. he declares. “His depth of understanding regarding enzymatic biodegradation and his passion for turning this idea into a plan was an inspiration not only to me as a teacher, but also to his classmates.”
Now that she’s graduated, Williams is back in Rapid City, where she’s originally from, and still has her business idea floating around. She has spoken with at least a few business leaders about her possibilities. They want to “make it a reality,” she said. “But since it is still in the idea phase of the business development timeline, it would take several years before it is actually operational.”
Who knows, maybe in a few years Williams will be able to accommodate all the plants and all the aquariums she would like if her invention sees the light of day. This could very well be his path to fame and fortune. In the meantime, she is enjoying life outside of school and deciding what she would like to do next.
Long-term career goals — aside from seeing his invention take off — are still up in the air. It’s a flashback to before she started at Northern.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do — no idea — when I was in high school,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to get into. I chose Northern because of their study abroad program. I thought it would be a really cool way to use the degree I chose and be able to explore different cultures and different avenues that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to pursue in South Dakota.
As part of the program, she traveled to Guatemala, where, using bottles filled with waste that formed a sort of eco-brick, she helped build a school.
It was a good experience for her, as was much of her time at Northern. She said her instructors were helpful and passionate about their work. They also seemed to have liked her.
“Without a doubt, Tawnie is an outstanding student and a highly motivated person,” Villegas said. “I have no doubt that she will be able to achieve her professional career goals, whether entrepreneurial or not. Her ability to solve complex problems, think critically and apply her skills in an unparalleled work ethic will set her up for success.
“Furthermore, her drive and ambition will most certainly prepare her to thrive in any industry or profession she chooses to explore. In my opinion, Tawnie will be an asset to any organization she chooses to explore.
For now, and with degrees in her pocket — bachelor of science in biology, associate’s degree in biotechnology, and a certification in biotech entrepreneurship, all honoribus — Williams is spending time with her husband in their new home and when she spoke with Prairie Business said she would be looking for work soon. Their plan is to stay local.
Them and all those plant and fish aquariums.
One pond is home to platypus and guppies — peaceful little fish, very different from the mother, and five young blue cichlid mites, “a very aggressive species,” she said, who occupy another pond. “They’re really good looking, though, and display a lot of really cool behaviors.”