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Chris Curia, left, executive vice president of Human Resources for Energy Transfer Partners Equity, gets a reaction from University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea while sharing a lighthearted story before announcing the pipeline company's $5 million donation for the university's School of Engineering on Friday. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline developer has made the single largest donation to the University of Mary's capital campaign.

At a news conference on Friday at the University of Mary campus, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners presented a $5 million check that will help fund the university's 18,200-square-foot engineering school and create a new workforce development program.

"Speaking on behalf of the senior team at Energy Transfer (Partners), I appreciate the people of the state and how you stood with us and how you stood behind us when we were trying to complete the pipeline. That will never be forgotten," said Chris Curia, executive vice president of human resources for the company. "For us, getting to meet the people of North Dakota, getting to spend some time here, has been a huge blessing. We would never have known about the University of Mary if we didn't have to come out here and visit."

The two-part donation includes $3 million for the engineering school, which will be constructed at the old University Dining Center, and $2 million for the workforce development program. Details of the program will be determined at a later date.

University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea said the donation is an important investment in an area where there is a shortage of professionals.

"When workforce needs in our region become urgent, when the engineering community clamors and expresses to us a serious and persistent need for well-trained engineers here in North Dakota ... the University of Mary is there," he said. "We launched a school of engineering not because we knew it was something we would be really good at, we launched it because we knew that the need was too great not to respond to it."

Curia said the demand for all types of engineers continues to grow, as does the need for talent.

"We hope these funds will assist the state in developing and expanding training and vocational technical areas where there is a shortfall of skilled workers and in the recruitment of skilled workers to (North Dakota)," Curia said.

Since launching the engineering program two years ago, the university has enrolled 60 students, with another 40 to 50 incoming freshmen expected in the fall. The university offers a bachelor's degree in engineering, with programs in civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical and petroleum engineering.

"The faculty and staff of the engineering school would like to thank ETP for making this investment," said Terry Pilling, associate professor of physics and engineering and chair of the engineering science program.

Pilling said the donation will help better train students and to meet the university's goal "to produce a new kind of engineer," one who has communication and other related skills to compete in the marketplace.

Construction on the engineering school is expected to start within the next six months.

University of Mary's Vision 2030 capital campaign, which totals $272 million, inches closer to the end of its phase one goal of $96 million with the latest donation from Energy Transfer Partners. So far, the university has raised more than $81 million.

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

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