ANDERSON — After building a single-man flying machine powered by wind energy as a freshman project, Dakota Welker set out to persuade his classmates to join him in building a spaceship for a design class.
“I didn’t think they’d go for it,” the engineering technology major said.
As much as he wanted to make one of the gadgets from his beloved Star Trek television programs a reality, he and his classmates opted for something a little more down to earth: a table for board games.
Dakota Welker, who on Friday delivered the student commencement address, is a member of the first graduating class of the newly opened Purdue Polytechnic Anderson building, 2601 S. Scatterfield Road.
For his senior project, he and classmate Austen Metzger developed a prototype for an indoor hydroponic kitchen appliance. Though it’s intended to be used in areas where people face food shortages because of problems with the soil, it could be used just about anywhere, he said.
“A space application would be cool, too. It could help facilitate colonizing other planets,” he said.
However, that appliance may be the key to Dakota Welker’s five-year plan to start an agriculture-based business.
To that end, Dakota Welker is participating in an internship with Muncie-based tech startup D.D. Dannar, where he said he’s learning about building materials, reverse engineering and technical writing.
“I’ve learned about the startup culture and the struggles with that, like obtaining funding,” he said.
Lynette Welker, Dakota Welker’s mother, said he’s always been smart, driven and creative.
“I saw at an early age that he was a lot smarter than what we were,” she said. “He charts everything. I thought that was weird. He keeps track of things, and his favorite thing to do is to read about business things.”
As a result, Lynette Welker said, she’s not surprised her son dreams of opening his own business.
“He wants to give back to the community and take it to where people can have jobs,” she said.
It’s also not surprising, Lynette Wlker said, that her son would be interested in building machines that are likely to aid in agriculture.
“He always had an interest in gardening,” she said.
As a child Dakota Welker also was interested in computers and the arts to design the contraptions he imagined, his mother said.
“I think that’s why he went into engineering, to build the things swirling around in his head,” she said.
Corey A. Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, met Dakota Welker when he participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy while attending Anderson High School. At the time, Sharp said, Dakota Welker was extremely shy and reserved.
“He did that program to force himself to give speeches,” Sharp said. “His personal growth was fantastic. He just kind of fought those internal fears, and he has blossomed like you wouldn’t believe.”
In fact, his growth was so impressive, Sharp tapped Dakota Welker to deliver a student speech at the groundbreaking for the new Purdue Polytechnic building, in part because he lives in the neighborhood just west of the school.
“He knew how important Purdue would be for his neighborhood,” Sharp said.
He said Dakota Welker also is remarkable because he is graduating in three years rather than four, even while doing his internship and handling family-related responsibilities, such as making sure his younger brother and sister get to school.
“That just doesn’t happen. He’s a brilliant kid,” he said. “That kid is a rock. He’s just amazing.”
Sharp said there’s no doubt Welker will succeed in whatever path he follows, including starting a business.
“Like any entrepreneur he’ll have some successes and he’ll have some failures, but there is no doubt in my mind that kid will be successful,” he said.
Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 640-4883.