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DRACO Catalyst

DRACO Catalyst is our newest initiative aimed at creating a robust statewide network of students interested in student-based engineering, design, and business competitions!

We are seeking student leaders who are interested in teams to develop ideas and compete in local competitions within South Dakota and take innovative ideas to the global stage!


To rouse, provoke, or inflame; to encourage a group to take some action or to express some feeling.

The Catalyst Initiative starts with raising awareness and inciting students to participate in something new that challenges their personal status quo. Our goal is to incite action and encourage students to break the framework and create a pathway for them to realize their potential. To create a decentralized model and allow as many students as possible to pursue their own leadership and project ideas, Catalyst Ambassadors throughout the state will act as conduits between student team leaders on campuses, industry mentors, team sponsors, and the DRACO Catalyst team.


To catch fire to or cause to catch fire; to excite, set in motion.

South Dakota is a unique state in which our resources and student talents are spread across a large geographic area. Our goal is to ignite students’ passions for engaging opportunities to address real-world issues, achieve social impacts, and deeper connections throughout the state. Based on our Team’s research of student involvement in South Dakota-based competition, we anticipate that the Catalyst Initiative will have a substantial impact on student involvement in local and national competitions. We hope that our Catalyst Initiative sets in motion a paradigm shift in student mentality that encourages them to seek meaningful experiences beyond the classroom and the laboratory. It takes courage to share your idea, to take the lead, and to put your time and effort into something new, but through the Catalyst Initiative, we want you to know you are not alone!


To breathe in,  spur on, motivate, enliven, exalt influence, guide; to bring about.

To be inspired is great, but to inspire is an honor. Our Catalyst Team brings knowledge and experience from diverse backgrounds to inspire one another. We are combining our skills and abilities to build a first-of-its kind resource to connect and inspire students to reach higher, step out of their comfort zone, and create something new! We believe that this initiative to incite students to participate in something new, will ignite their passion for creating and innovating will be a catalyst for lasting inspiration that will resonate across the state.

Interested in getting involved? Apply as a Catalyst Ambassador, a Catalyst Team Member, or sponsor a Catalyst Team!

Meet Our DRACO Catalyst Team

Communication Director – Manaal Ali

Manaal joined DRACO earlier this year to pursue her passion for communications and community engagement; expand upon the skills she gained through her previous work experiences, and to spotlight DRACO’s important work to South Dakotans across the state.

As DRACO’s communications specialist, she is tasked with growing DRACO’s influence on social media platforms, cultivating community engagement, and fostering a passion for innovation among students.

Project Leader – Ty Vuong, M.A.

Ty holds a Master’s degree in Human Factor Psychology from the University of South Dakota (USD), where he is currently a doctoral student and adjunct instructor. He will be connecting with South Dakotans on an individual-basis, cultivating business relationships to build stronger entrepreneurs and a stronger local entrepreneurship community, with a goal of enhancing individuality and uniqueness within each individual interaction.

Outreach Coordinator – Mikala Fjerstad

Mikala recently graduated from South Dakota State University (SDSU) with degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Spanish as well as minors in Biomedical Engineering and Mathematics. She will begin graduate school this fall in pursuit of a Masters Degree in Biomedical Engineering and will be specializing in Sports Biomechanics. She will be working on the DRACO Catalyst team to assist in facilitating new relationships with educational and professional institutions, bringing an engineering perspective to the multidisciplinary team!