Bismarck State College has started an energy training program for male high school graduates in Saudi Arabia.

After months of contract negotiations between BSC and Saudi officials, on Tuesday, the National Power Academy in Dammam welcomed its first students enrolled in a three-year program run by BSC.

"This has turned out to be quite an exciting project, a very large project, and we're excited that, obviously, we were selected on a global basis to be a part of this," BSC president Larry Skogen said Tuesday.

For months, BSC officials have addressed kinks in the program, including a contract dispute over intellectual property. Skogen said those issues have "been worked out."

BSC's National Energy Center of Excellence was selected to serve as a model for the National Power Academy, which is run by leading Saudi power sector companies, including Saudi Aramco. Institutions from around the world submitted proposals to partner with the academy, including from Germany and Great Britain.

BSC signed a five-year contract to operate the program for young Saudi nationals, which includes two years in the classroom and one year of on-the-job training in disciplines such as electrical, mechanical and renewable energy.

Skogen said on Tuesday that 67 students were enrolled in classes in the program, which will take place over three trimesters. The goal is to enroll 200 students in the first year. There will be three enrollment periods throughout the year, so Skogen anticipates to be "close" to that number.

The program is expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue in BSC, which has been hit in recent years with state budget cuts. The exact amount of revenue remains to be seen, though the college previously estimated $20 million over five years.

"It still has the potential for some really good revenue over that five-year period, but it's really hard to even guesstimate on that because we've just started," Skogen said.

BSC had to create a limited liability company to operate independently of the college and handle the program revenue, which would go to the LLC then be distributed back to the college.

Skogen said the contract had been stalled in part due to discussions over who owned the program curriculum. Skogen said the final contract stated that whatever BSC develops in Bismarck to support the program belongs to the college, and what's developed "specific to their needs" in Saudi Arabia belongs to the academy.

"That was a real sticking point, but we feel very good about the way that was resolved," he said.

BSC's limited liability company in Saudi Arabia has about 15 employees, Skogen said. This includes Zak Allen, project manager for BSC's National Energy Center of Excellence, other administrators, nine English language instructors, as well as a couple Saudi women hired as support personnel.

National Power Academy officials would not allow women to be hired as instructors or academic staff, BSC officials said previously. However, Skogen said he's been informed that the academy is working toward hiring additional qualified female staff.

Skogen also said National Power Academy officials have asked BSC to develop additional short courses and training programs for the academy, including one for Saudi women in retail sales.

"It has nothing to do with energy ... but they asked us to put a retail sales program for Saudi women, because the crown prince has a goal of increasing the number of women who are in the workplace," Skogen said, adding that the program has not yet been established.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)