BOZEMAN — Montana State University celebrated the generosity and vision of Norm Asbjornson during a groundbreaking ceremony held Thursday for the university’s new Norm Asbjornson Hall, future home of the MSU College of Engineering and MSU Honors College.
The approximately 110,000 square-foot building will feature nine classrooms, 17 laboratories and a presentation hall called “Inspiration Hall,” as well as “Innovation Alley,” where engineering projects will be on display. Construction of Norm Asbjornson Hall is expected to be completed by January of 2019.
“Today we’re here because we can truly say dreams do come true,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “This hall will epitomize the dream of Norm Asbjornson, a man of vision, passion, determination and generosity.”
In 2014, Asbjornson – an MSU alumnus and Montana native from the small town of Winifred – pledged $50 million for the building and the university’s new South Campus Project. The project is also supported by $20 million more in matching contributions from hundreds of donors. Several of the major donors whose gifts made a significant difference to the project include Tim and Mary Barnard, the Gianforte Family Charitable Trust, the estate of Bill Wurst and the estate of Marjorie Thorson.
“This building contains the dreams of many people. It can facilitate and encourage the education and dreams of students,” Asbjornson said.
Asbjornson, 80, is the founder and president of AAON, a NASDAQ-traded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has reported annual revenues in excess of $300 million and more than 1,300 employees. Asbjornson earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Montana State in 1960. He also received an honorary doctorate in engineering from MSU and the Montana Board of Regents in 2004.
Asbjornson said he realized after graduating from MSU that he would need to learn how to work collaboratively with individuals in other fields in order to succeed. So, designing a facility that would encourage collaboration among students from multiple disciplines was important to him.
Cruzado said the new building will fulfill Asbjornson’s vision of a collaborative learning facility.
“(Norm Asbjornson Hall) will create a beautiful space embracing the best of architectural design to encourage students from different majors and an interest in working together to be motivated by each other and their faculty members so that everyone can innovate in ways previously unavailable to them,” Cruzado said.
Brett Gunnink, dean of the MSU College of Engineering, said the building’s classrooms will be able to be configured in multiple ways to address the needs of different classes and students. And, informal gathering spaces located throughout the hall – such as large stairs where people can sit down and talk – will also provide opportunities for students and professors to discuss ideas, work on projects and otherwise collaborate outside of class.
“Norm Asbjornson Hall has been designed to promote dynamic interdisciplinary engagement, meaningful student-faculty interaction, and accelerated innovation that responds to and anticipates emerging trends in education, industry and society,” Gunnink said.
With record enrollments at MSU and in the College of Engineering, Norm Asbjornson Hall will also help the university continue its work to address a much-needed backlog of classroom and study space, Gunnink said. He noted that the building’s classrooms and auditorium will simultaneously accommodate approximately 415 students, while informal study spaces scattered throughout the building will provide room for approximately another 400 students. The building will also include three computer labs that are dedicated to classroom work.
Asbjornson had made previous gifts to the college and the university before announcing his $50 million pledge. In 2003, he endowed a $1 million scholarship fund for graduates from Montana high schools with 100 or fewer students. He also has created an endowed scholarship specifically for graduates of Winifred High School who attend MSU, and he created an endowment for the Burns Technology Center to develop innovative distance learning programs for rural Montana schools. In 2006, he gave more than $600,000 in cash, equipment and technical advice to create a one-of-a-kind HVAC laboratory in MSU's College of Engineering. His company also gives research grants to the College of Engineering on a continuing basis and has hired a number of MSU engineering graduates.
Asbjornson has also given of his time and ideas as a member and former chairman of the MSU Alumni Foundation board, through which his gift is made, and as a long-time member of the College of Engineering advisory council. He has been a major philanthropist for his home town of Winifred as well.
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 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 started in an 800-square-foot house with no indoor plumbing, running water, electricity or telephone. Asbjornson’s parents gradually added to the family home.
“Norm has inspired us and humbled us with not only his generosity, but with the depth of his character and his sense of responsibility for future generations,” Cruzado said. “(This) gift will transform the lives of generations of students, it will transform our campus, and it will transform the state of Montana in very profound ways.”
In a previous MSU interview, Asbjornson described his feelings about gratitude and stewardship.
“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," Asbjornson said. "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.
"It's a responsibility we all have."
Contact: Brett Gunnink, dean, MSU College of Engineering, (406) 994-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Design plans finalized for MSU’s new Norm Asbjornson Hall - July 28, 2016
- MSU raises $20 million to meet Norm Asbjornson match; groundbreaking for Norm Asbjornson Hall set Sept. 22 - September 19, 2016
- Norm Asbjornson's small town roots shaped his success - April 27, 2009
- MSU alumnus Norm Asbjornson pledges $50 million to MSU for its College of Engineering - March 3, 2014