By Caitlynn Peetz for the Mitchell Daily Republic, December 4, 2015
Giving has its benefits, and the most generous donors to Mitchell Technical Institute were honored Thursday night, with NorthWestern Energy taking home the Donor Legacy Award—the highest honor of the evening.
NorthWestern Energy was recognized for its “consistent and outstanding support” of the MTI Foundation at the Donor Appreciation Reception in the school’s Campus Center.
“It was a great night,” said Craig Fergen, Mitchell-area manager for NorthWestern Energy. “They kind of gave us a little bit of a heads-up prior to, so we knew it was coming, but it was a great honor.”
NorthWestern Energy’s contribution to the college has tallied more than $121,000 over the years through scholarship funds, endowments and equipment donations.
Heather Lentz, executive director of the MTI Foundation, said NorthWestern was one of the earliest companies to pledge an endowment, and in 2003 established the NorthWestern Energy Endowment with a $25,000 pledge.
“Scholarships have just been one way that NorthWestern has been able to support programs and students at MTI,” Lentz said to the crowd, highlighting the $12,000 worth of equipment donated to the school in 2007 and 2008. She added that recently the business donated $10,000 worth of equipment and $50,000 to MTI’s Electrical Utilities and Substation program, including voltage regulators and three phase transformers.
“We’ve been able to find a home for some of our used equipment. We got word out throughout the company and started donating it to the different programs here,” Fergen said.
Additionally, NorthWestern Energy employees established a memorial fund in memory of a former employee and MTI alumni, Dennis Knouse. Employees organize a Poker Run each year to raise funds for the memorial, and a $500 scholarship is given each year to one student in Knouse’s memory.
Fergen said NorthWestern Energy’s involvement with MTI stems back farther than he can remember.
“We just have a long history of employees that have come through Mitchell Technical Institute and the programs here,” Fergen said. “We’ve always had involvement with advisory boards in the early years covering several different programs and just grew from there.”
Corporate Donor of the Year: Trail King Industries
The Corporate Donor of the Year award is given each to a company that has made a single or multi-year commitment to an MTI Foundation initiative, program or scholarship, and Trail King Industries has made an outstanding contribution to the development of the Workforce Recruitment Program.
Representatives accepting the award were: CEO Bruce Yakley, Vice President of Finance Gene Astolfi and Vice President of Manufacturing Operations Perry Lubbers.
The industry provides more than $75,000 to pay for tuition and fees of students who agree to work for the company after graduation. Trail King has also been a supporter of the annual welding competition MTI hosts for high school students. The industry provides prizes, judges and financial support for the competition.
Donations total nearly $100,000 have come from Trail King, along with hands-on experience, jobs for students and graduates and guidance for those involved in the Workforce Recruitment Program.
“MTI relies on Trail King for jobs for our students and graduates, donations, advice and guidance for our program and valuable hands-on experience for students,” Lentz said.
Individual Donors of the Year: Chuck and Lois Paulson, Scott and Lisa Paulson and Paulson Air
The Paulson family members have been longtime supporters of MTI, with Chuck and his son, Scott, serving on advisory committees for many years. Scott now serves on the MTI Foundation Board, of which he was the president for one term.
The family, including Chuck’s wife, Lois, and Scott’s wife, Lisa, provided annual scholarships for MTI students, and in 2012 created the Paulson Family Endowment. The family also donates equipment and supplies to help support the Heating and Cooling Technology program.
In 2000, MTI granted Chuck an honorary Associate of Applied Science degree. According to Lentz, when Chuck was presented with the honorary degree and was asked why he supported the idea of technical education, he said, “Technical education is important because it provides the individual with a basic background of knowledge and information that prepares them for employment, better income potential and leadership.”
Lentz added, “Not many families have backed up a philosophy like that with the kind of monetary and equipment support that the Paulsons have provided to MTI.”
For their collective efforts, the Paulson family was awarded the Individual Donors of the Year Award, an award given to an individual or family who has made a single or multi-year commitment to an MTI Foundation initiative, program or scholarship.
Industry of the Year: Electrical Utility and Substation Technology
Jerry Ehlke, a professor at MTI, was hired in 2013 to take over the Power Line program, but “it is remarkably hard to teach substation technology if you don’t have a substation where students can work and learn,” Lentz said. So the school began seeking out assistance from individuals and businesses with substation experience.
Ehlke and representatives of electrical utility and substation technology companies received the Industry of the Year Award for their respective companies—an award granted to an industry which, as a whole, has come together to support an MTI program with donations of cash, equipment, supplies, training or provided internship or employment opportunities to MTI graduates.
Blattner Energy, Central Electric, the city of Vermillion, East River Electric, Excel Energy, NorthWestern Energy, Sioux City Energy, TransCanada and West River Electric were the companies recognized.
Each business has been essential in the creation of the substation located on the northeast corner of MTI’s campus, built with more than $290,000 worth of equipment.
To support the college’s energy training efforts, MTI has been the recipient of several grants, some of which are helping to complete the substation program.