Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce holds ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the new facility’s impact on the industry in North Dakota, the region, and beyond.

The Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and University of Mary President James Shea officially open the new state-of-the-art engineering facility with ribbon cutting ceremony.

BISMARCK, ND — In 2015, the University of Mary announced its intent for a new School of Engineering and began to dramatically increase technical course offerings in the fall of 2016. Since then, Dr. Terry Pilling has spent the last half decade soliciting opinions from local and regional firms, touring other colleges and universities, and listening to his own students, as to what they believe would make up the most ideal, most comprehensive, and most student and faculty friendly engineering program. Pilling took all that advice to heart, along with his own 25 years of experience as a professor, nuclear physics researcher, engineering firm executive, and scientist, in order to help design and build what he and the University of Mary believe is one of the most modern, teaching-centered, student-friendly, state-of-the-art engineering facility in the United States.

Dr. Terry Pilling
Chair, School of Engineering
University of Mary

“The new engineering building was constructed with our unique curriculum in mind,” said Pilling, chair dean of University of Mary’s School of Engineering. “We decided on a layout that allows us to teach the laboratories and the lectures in the same space. Our curriculum is designed so that courses and labs can be combined and taught by the same faculty member. This enables the student to study the theory behind an engineering concept, such as an electric circuit, and then immediately test the theoretical results with a computer simulation, and then immediately follow this by actually constructing the circuit and testing the results in a direct laboratory experiment. This combined way of teaching engineering concepts is not done elsewhere and we believe it is crucial to connecting the theoretical concepts learned in class with the physical apparatus that the student will encounter in their future career. So we have designed the classrooms and laboratory spaces in our new building with this teaching method in mind.”

Today, the University of Mary celebrated the completion of its new engineering facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony by President Monsignor James Shea, Executive Vice President Jerome Richter, Pilling, and other faculty, friends and engineering firms. The nearly 20,000 square feet facility is dedicated to teaching for the instruction of Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering along with Computer Science, and Construction Management programs.

At its centerpiece, is a student design center in which students will work on their junior and senior projects. The space is immediately adjacent to a machine shop with a tool dispensary separating them. This allows the students to fabricate the materials in the machine shop and check out any tools and equipment they need to complete their project. The projects will be “in progress” throughout the year and anyone visiting the building will see a constant buzz of action as students work on their projects. The building is also designed so that students can work on their projects outside of class time and on the weekends by simply using their student MCard ID. This will allow the students to work on their projects at any times and for as long as they need in order to achieve the successful completion of their design.

“It is clear that this new modern engineering facility will allow our faculty and students to maximize the educational impact of our equipment and laboratories,” added Pilling. “We are very pleased to see the design that we have worked on for several years manifested in such a beautiful way. Its location overlooks the panoramic vista of the glorious Missouri River Valley of which history tells us Lewis and Clark and their expedition cast their eyes from this very bluff in 1804. We are thankful to the many engineering companies and other donors to have helped us over the past five years in designing and constructing our Engineering School here at the University of Mary. We are all very proud of the result of their generosity.”

Peter Collart, a senior mechanical engineering student from Covington, GA, a suburb of Atlanta, passed up several colleges and universities in the United States, including Georgia Tech, just to be part of the whole University of Mary experience.

“I would consider the University of Mary’s engineering program to be one of the best in the country,” said Collart, who foresees his future in new product development or improvement, for a company that utilizes cutting edge technology in their products — especially large machinery. “I applied to several schools for mechanical engineering, but the University of Mary presented a smaller community feel which really attracted me. Living so close to Atlanta all my life, I felt the urge to go somewhere smaller and some place Catholic. Additionally, Mary’s engineering program was so new, and this intrigued me. I saw it to be a challenge, but I also felt it would be satisfying to look back at the program many years after it was established and flourishing, and know that I played a part in paving the way for future students.”

The University of Mary broke ground on the new engineering facility 16 months ago, in April of 2019. That’s when the school began an aggressive renovation and repurposing of the old University Hall on North Campus where it’s located, while keeping intact the structural integrity of the building designed in 1965 by world-renowned architect Marcel Breuer.

Collart believes, it’s been well worth the wait.

“I can assure you that the engineering students are very excited about the new facility,” added Collart. “I am thrilled to think of how much more we will be able to accomplish in our class projects with our increased range of resources. I am looking forward to the new equipment and tools we will have to support the concepts learned in our textbooks. Additionally, I can already tell that the new facility will be a hub for engineering students to collaborate on assignments and projects. After seeing the facility, I have no doubt that it will significantly enhance and promote learning.”

Collart’s already earned many opportunities with the University of Mary engineering program, but also significant hands-on experiences inside engineering firms across North Dakota. Following his sophomore year at Mary, Collart worked a summer internship at Steffes in Dickinson. That experience taught him how to be extremely proficient in 3D design. This summer and fall, while starting his senior year, Doosan Bobcat of North America hired him onto the excavator NPD team where he repairs machines, tests improvements and changes before they are released to production, and gives feedback to the engineers on quality issues.

“This internship has provided invaluable experience working with assemblers and mechanics, in addition to all the other hands-on work which often occurs behind the scenes,” added Collart, who would like a job in Bismarck, or in the Midwest. “I am learning how to design for functionality, as well as ease of operation, assembly, and maintenance.”

Pilling says, Collart’s many engineering experiences at Mary are very typical, and serve as an example of hundreds of endless networking opportunities his past and present students take part in every year.

“During the development of our engineering school, we have made it a top priority to prepare our students for engineering careers in western North Dakota and beyond,” said Pilling. “To this end, we have nurtured relationships with many of the companies that do business here and encouraged them to hire our students for summer internships and semester-long co-ops while they are completing their degrees. Companies have responded beyond our expectations and have informed us about how impressed they have been working with our students as interns. Our students begin getting summer internships right away in their freshman year and they continue to do so each summer until they graduate. In fact, so many companies have been pursuing our students that there are usually far more internship opportunities than we have students available. The result is a unique situation where the student is able to choose from among several interesting opportunities and can try different options throughout their degree — enabling them to find the career that most excites them when they graduate. Of our graduating students, approximately half have taken careers in North Dakota with the remainder taking jobs in their home states, or else they are still undecided as to where they would like to go.”