By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service
A $3 million gift will help launch a new master’s program at Montana State University that is designed to help recent graduates – particularly those with backgrounds in engineering and STEM – develop professional skills to help them succeed in their careers.
The gift for the new Master of Science in innovation and management program is from Norm Asbjornson, a Montana State alumnus and Montana native from the small town of Winifred who is well-known at MSU for his philanthropy. Asbjornson’s gift will help students with tuition and other costs and provide support for administering the program.
“We’ve received extremely positive feedback from recruiters and students for this new program,” said Mark Ranalli, dean of the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, which houses the new program. “We are confident the program is going to be a real career accelerant for our students.”
Ranalli said the new master’s program is designed to provide professionals in early stages of their careers with skills that will enable them to be more effective leaders, innovators and team members. The program is designed for recent graduates in STEM, which is short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Ranalli said the college anticipates most students will enroll immediately following completion of their undergraduate degrees, although some may enroll after working for one to three years.
The first students accepted to the program will enroll in the fall of 2021, with the initial group including 25 students. Those enrolled will be expected to complete significant team-based experiential work. Students will have the option of completing the degree in two semesters, two semesters plus a summer capstone, or in three semesters.
MSU student Tiga Ward, who intends to graduate in the fall of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, plans to apply to the program. She said she wasn’t having luck finding a graduate program that fit her aspirations for a career in project management or engineering management until she learned about the new MSU program.
“I felt like the master’s degree I was seeking finally existed,” said Ward, who is originally from Plains. “I could get the business/management skills I wanted while still being in the STEM field.” Ward added that she is especially excited that the program emphasizes hands-on learning, and she is grateful that there are opportunities for generous scholarships.
“If you are a STEM student but want to focus more on the management/business side of your degree … and get hands on experience, I would strongly suggest looking into this program and what it has to offer you,” Ward said.
MSU engineering alumni who work with graduates early in their careers hailed the program as a wonderful opportunity.
Tony Hagen, vice president of engineering – airplane programs at Boeing and a 1989 MSU mechanical engineering graduate, said “Boeing is committed to inspiring and preparing the next generation of innovators. The Master of Science in innovation and management at Montana State University inspires and cultivates the future global aerospace workforce by accelerating skill development and enriching the educational experience for students.”
Anything that can be done to accelerate engineers’ ability to take what they have learned in engineering school and apply it to business is a “great thing,” according to Nancy L. Seleski, director of Global Facilities and Services at 3M who graduated from MSU in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.
“Engineering school is so devoted to teaching engineering/problem solving skills, so adding basic business analysis skills will just accelerate the value that these young bright people can bring to a company,” Seleski said. “Making everyone a ‘business person’ as fast as possible will be another reason MSU engineering graduates are highly sought and recruited.”
Chris Murray, president and CEO of the MSU Alumni Foundation, said MSU is extraordinarily grateful to Asbjornson for his ongoing generosity.
“This program would not exist without the generosity and vision of Norm Asbjornson,” Murray said. “As a national leader in business, Norm has seen firsthand that students who graduate with hands-on experience in innovation and leadership can be powerful change agents in their companies and in our society.”
Asbjornson, 85, is the founder and president of AAON, a NASDAQ-traded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with annual revenues in excess of $469 million and more than 2,000 employees.
Murray noted that Asbjornson has been among MSU’s most loyal supporters, giving generously to establish the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering and to fund other campus priorities that have helped fuel the university.
Asbjornson also gives of his time and ideas as a member and former chairman of the MSU Alumni Foundation board and as a long-time member of the engineering college’s advisory council. He has been a major philanthropist for his hometown of Winifred as well.
Asbjornson said his gift for the innovation and management master’s program, like all of his previous gifts to MSU, is intended to provide opportunities for MSU students to be successful.
“To say that this program would have benefitted me would be an understatement,” Asbjornson said. “All too often in industry, we face a significant gap in our search for talent – those with technical backgrounds who need the expertise to bring a great idea to market, while those with business backgrounds need a stronger grasp of the technologies that drive innovation. The Master of Science in innovation and management will help close this gap.”
Asbjornson previously said of his motivation to give to MSU: “I think it’s an absolute must for everyone to give back to what made them successful. I had a lot of help from MSU and Winifred. I can’t repay those who helped me, for they’re gone. But I can give to the next generation. I think everyone should balance the books and thank those people and institutions who helped them and also give to the next generation.”
Asbjornson started his entrepreneurial career at the age of 10 when his uncle offered him a Model T in return for watering hundreds of chickens. For a summer, he hauled hundreds of gallons of water to the chickens from a well using two small pails. On payday, he learned the Model T had been covered in a flood and the engine was too rusted to start.
Undeterred, he worked on the car in his father’s garage until it ran. Then he became his own boss and went into business hauling garbage for 25 cents a barrel. It felt like a lot of money to Asbjornson, who grew up during the Great Depression, his family starting in an 800-square-foot house with no indoor plumbing, running water, electricity or telephone. Asbjornson’s parents added to the family home in the same way he added to his entrepreneurial skills.
Applications to the innovation and management graduate program may be made through The Graduate School at montana.edu/gradschool/admissions/apply.html. Applications are accepted on Nov. 15, Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, with rolling admissions thereafter if the program cap of 25 has not been reached.
More information about the program is available at montana.edu/business/ms-innovation-management/index.html.