AE2S donation, state match draw Engineering College closer to landing its 'dream house'


David L. Dodds

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AE2S donation, state match draw Engineering College closer to landing its 'dream house'

Private alumni support driving successful effort to build new Collaborative Energy Complex on campus

A state-of-the-art facility that would connect Leonard Hall on the University of North Dakota campus with the rest of the University's engineering complex has been a dream of the College of Engineering and Mines for decades, according to Hesham El-Rewini, College dean.

Thanks to private donations from generous alumni and friends, most recently from Grand Forks-based AE2S (Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc.), the College currently is more than 40 percent along in finally realizing that dream.

"We have completed the planning phase and already started the fundraising phase of the project," El- Rewini said.

During the 2013 North Petroleum Annual Conference, which was held Sept. 16-18 in Grand Forks, UND President Robert Kelley announced that AE2S had utilized a match program authorized by the North Dakota Legislature to donate more than $1 million in support of the CEC proposal.

AE2S, with offices in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Utah, was founded by President Charlie Vein and CEO Steve Burian, both alumni and longtime supporters of UND.

"AE2S is playing large role in addressing infrastructure needs for municipalities in the Bakken (western oilfields of North Dakota) as well as for energy companies that are growing their businesses in North Dakota and Montana," says Vein.

"We see this as an investment not only in our potential workforce and UND, but as an investment in the future economic development of our State," added Burian. "We are incredibly proud to be a part of this groundbreaking facility."

Other major support has come from two UND alumni families in Houston, Texas: Robert "Bob" Solberg and his wife, Kris; and Thomas "Tom" Hamilton and his wife, Carolyn.

Bob Solberg is a 1969 civil engineering graduate of UND, while Kris Solberg got her degree from the College of Nursing the same year. Bob currently is chairman of JDR Cable Systems, Ltd., and Kris works as a childbirth educator and community volunteer in Houston.

Tom Hamilton received his master's degree in geology from UND in 1967, his Ph.D. in 1970 and an Honorary Doctorate in 1993, all from UND. Since 2003, Tom has co-owned Medora Investments, a private investment firm.

Collaboration is key

The new $10-million, 30,000square-foot Collaborative Energy Complex (CEC), as the new facility is being dubbed, will be set on the southeast part of campus between the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering in Leonard Hall and Upson Hall I. The new CEC will bridge the two existing facilities, forming a major engineering education and research complex on campus that will include Upson Hall I & II, Harrington Hall and the nearby Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library.

The CEC primarily will serve as a new headquarters for UND's Institute for Energy Studies and the rapidly growing Department of Petroleum Engineering. Currently, CEM is bursting at the seams with petroleum engineering students, fueled by booming oil and gas exploration in western North Dakota.

"The proposed Collaborative Energy Complex is an excellent example of the successful private-sector partnerships that UND has fostered in recent years across our academic and research enterprises," said President Kelley. "I commend Dean El-Rewini and his College of Engineering and Mines colleagues for their initiative and vision to strengthen these important bonds, which should provide immediate opportunities for students and long-term solutions for the future of North Dakota and the nation."

More than just a building to house programs, El-Rewini stressed that the new facility – as its name suggests – will provide students and faculty with a place to interact with each other as well as with colleagues from other units on campus and beyond.

"The Collaborative Energy Complex is a combination of several strategic initiatives for our College," El-Rewini said. "It will provide a common umbrella for interdisciplinary programs in the important field of energy. In addition to providing cutting-edge lab resources and multipurpose teaching centers for students, CEC will provide space for interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty and industry representatives in all fields related to energy."

Thomas DiLorenzo, UND vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the new CEC will go a long way in helping UND become an exceptional place for students and faculty.

"The proposed Collaborative Energy Complex is a big and exciting idea well on its way to becoming an important addition to our campus," DiLorenzo said. "Once completed, this facility will enhance our student-centered environment and support interdisciplinary teaching and research for both undergraduate and graduate students – key initiatives in moving the University toward becoming an exceptional UND.

"The College of Engineering and Mines should be proud of its efforts and progress."

Room to grow

Over the past 10 years, enrollment within the College of Engineering has nearly doubled to more than 1,600 students, driven by expanded program offerings and opportunities for students to learn and research new and exciting developments in engineering.

One of those new opportunities is in petroleum engineering. In just three short years since the start of UND Petroleum Engineering program, it has grown from a handful of pioneering students to a whopping 135 students last spring. Program leaders expected as many as 70 additional students to enroll in the program this fall, bringing it well over the 200-student mark.

"We anticipate the classes that follow will likely have more than 20 graduates each year," said Steve Benson, chair of the UND Department of Petroleum Engineering. "Our faculty also is increasing in size to meet the demands of the additional students."

Other UND engineering programs are growing as well, El-Rewini said.

The boom of students in UND's Petroleum Engineering program is being spurred largely by increased and sustained oil activity in western North Dakota but also because a great number of petroleum engineers and other industry professionals are expected to retire in the next few years.

The UND Petroleum Engineering program is the only one of its kind in the state and is among a small number of accredited programs – about 20 or so -- in the nation.

UND's College of Engineering, along with industry friends and alumni, such as AE2S, the Solbergs and the Hamiltons, hope to seize the momentum of today to build for tomorrow.

And the new CEC is an important next step in making that happen.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs

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