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At a press conference on Tuesday at the University of Mary, Brian Opp spoke about the the school's new Workforce Development Initiative, which is charged with cultivating relationships between higher education and business leaders. Opp will oversee the program. 

The University of Mary is using a grant from the Dakota Access Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners to develop additional partnerships with organizations across North Dakota.

Last year, Energy Transfer Partners announced a $5 million grant for U-Mary, $3 million of which would go toward constructing a new School of Engineering and $2 million for a workforce development program. 

University officials announced in January they would use funding to establish a workforce development team and conduct a study on training and other workforce needs with various employers across the state.

U-Mary has established partnerships with more than 50 entities, and, with the grant, hope to reach out to more, according to Rachael Brash, executive director of University of Mary Worldwide.

"There's certainly more opportunity for us to do more (with the grant)," Brash said. "We've been working on building relationships across the state for a long time, and this provides us an additional resource for the workforce development team to do that."

The university has since partnered with MBI Energy Services, the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and McKenzie County Healthcare System.

Through these partnerships, U-Mary provides a scholarship to these organizations' employees to complete undergraduate programs or graduate programs in the evening and online, at no cost to the employer, Brash said. In return, the university gets to find out what sort of workforce training programs they need, she said.

The workforce development team is surveying employers in North Dakota to discover workforce development needs. In April, the group will produce a report to be shared with higher education institutions statewide.

Brash said the study builds off of other workforce needs surveys, including Gov. Doug Burgum's recent statewide survey.

"This is our opportunity for us to see what is the link between all this research, what the employers are actually saying, and, now, what are we going to do as higher education in the state of North Dakota to make sure we're building the right types of programs that meet that need," Brash said.

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

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