MSU alumnus leaves $4 million estate gift to MSU

Gift from the late Bill Wurst will be used for Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center

Montana State University announced today that the late Bill Wurst, a 1959 alumnus in electrical engineering, has left $4 million to the MSU College of Engineering as a gift from his estate. The gift will be used as matching funds for the university’s planned Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center.

“Mr. Wurst’s gift will help provide a top-notch education for students and promote future innovations in engineering,” said Brett Gunnink, dean of the MSU College of Engineering.

Through a bequest from his estate, Bill Wurst designated $4 million to be directed to the greatest needs of the College of Engineering. Wurst had first shared that MSU would be a benefactor of a portion of his estate in 2011 during a conversation about his philanthropic goals and estate planning with MSU Alumni Foundation Senior Director of Development Jackie Sather.

“In follow-up conversations we learned of his intentions and how he wanted this gift to impact MSU,” said Sather. “Bill had also discussed his vision for the bequest with his wife, Edith, so it was very helpful that she knew his intention was for the gift to be used for the College of Engineering’s greatest needs.”

When Wurst passed away in 2014, Edith and his children worked with the Alumni Foundation and determined that the gift could make a significant impact toward the match for the Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center.

During his lifetime, Wurst was committed to supporting future engineering students at Montana State. He established a scholarship with matching funds from Hewlett Packard to support students in electrical and computer engineering. Since 1994, dozens of scholarships have been awarded from the fund. More recently, Wurst had also established two additional endowed scholarships designated for engineering students from Flathead and Lake counties in Montana, where he grew up.  

Chris Murray, president and CEO of the MSU Alumni Foundation, said that through his gifts, Wurst has exhibited great confidence in MSU and its students.

“Through this gift, Mr. Wurst demonstrated tremendous faith in MSU’s College of Engineering to teach and prepare outstanding engineers for the future,” Murray said. “We are grateful not only for his generosity but for believing in our faculty and students, and for making a brighter future possible for so many.”

A native of Ronan, Wurst received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MSU. He also earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering while working as a research and teaching assistant at MSU.

After graduate school, Wurst helped found a start-up manufacturing company, Montronics, and then was recruited to Hewlett Packard in 1963. His 30-year career with Hewlett Packard began as a development engineer; among other positions, he later became the general manager for the Network Measurements Division.

Colleagues described Wurst as a natural leader who developed a reputation as an innovator and strategic thinker. Gunnink believes these qualities about Wurst make his estate gift to the Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center fitting.

“The Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center will provide a state-of-the-art learning environment for engineering students, as well as space to advance important interdisciplinary research,” Gunnink said.

The building is envisioned to promote meaningful student-faculty interaction, as well as accelerated innovation that responds to and anticipates emerging trends in education, industry and society. The center is named for Asbjornson, a MSU alumnus and Montana native from the small town of Winifred, who committed in 2014 to give the university $50 million for the College of Engineering. University officials hope to break ground on the facility by the spring of 2016.