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MSU alumnus David O. Kem and wife give $1 million for MSU students

MSU alumnus David O. Kem and wife Judith L. Raines
A $1 million gift from David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines will be used to fund the MSU Presidential Award for Emerging Scholars. The award is designed to recognize students who exhibit great potential.
Photo courtesy of David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines.

April 29, 2011 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

A Montana State University alumnus who built a successful 34-year career at Conoco and his wife announced today a gift of $1 million to Montana State University.

The gift from David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines will be used to fund the MSU Presidential Award for Emerging Scholars.

"David and Judith's gift makes it possible for us to fulfill one of my presidential priorities," said MSU President Waded Cruzado. "Thanks to their generosity, we now have the ability to help more students excel by providing them with financial support that goes well beyond tuition and fees. With the involvement of our engaged faculty, we will be able to identify the most promising students at MSU and actively support them in achieving academic excellence."

Cruzado said the gift is designed to recognize students who exhibit great potential, rather than prior academic performance, scholarly research, campus involvement or financial need. Faculty will nominate students for the award.

"The Emerging Scholar Award targets brilliant students who may be questioning their academic pursuits or are in need of inspiration," Cruzado said. "This award will provide an opportunity for students to grow beyond what they think is possible."

Kem said students often need extra encouragement and support.

"I think a lot of young people don't realize the potential they have in themselves," he said.

Kem's belief in the importance of education can be traced back to his mother, who was the first in her family to go to college and who worked as a first grade teacher in rural Montana schools. Both of Kem's parents emphasized the importance of a good education.

"It wasn't a matter of if (we should go to college), it was a matter of where, and how to pay for it," he said.

Kem grew up in Columbus, attended the University of Montana for one year and then transferred to Montana State after deciding to pursue engineering. To help finance his education, Kem held a number of different jobs as a student, including manning the campus switchboard, serving as a resident adviser and "slinging hamburgers." Kem was also involved in the Sigma Chi fraternity, including a stint as head of its council, and participated in intramural sports.

But it wasn't always easy for Kem at MSU. Part of his second year was rough enough academically that he considered dropping out.

"I didn't do well in my classes at that time, and I got to the point where I was really discouraged," Kem said. "I considered dropping out of school and going into the military. Fortunately, I found classes more to my liking, and several of my professors really helped me and encouraged me to work hard.

"Life got a lot better after that," he added.

After graduating from MSU in 1967 with a degree in civil engineering, Kem began his career in the oil industry. He worked as an engineer at Continental Pipe Line Company, a subsidiary of Conoco, and eventually progressed through the management ranks.

Kem later was general manager of crude oil supply and trading and president of refining marketing in Europe. He served as chairman of the board of Conoco's refining, marketing and distribution company in the United Kingdom. And, he was instrumental in Conoco's expansion into central Europe and the Caspian/Black Sea region.

"The fact that I had an engineering background was relevant in my management jobs and really helped me have a better understanding of the oil and gas industry," Kem said.

He also often recruited MSU graduates to work at the company. Almost without exception, he said, they did well and stood out for their good ethical foundation and willingness to work hard.

Raines, who graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, worked for Conoco in operational positions and later in developing and teaching leadership and career development programs for Conoco worldwide. She retired in 2002.

The president of the MSU Foundation, Michael Stevenson, noted that Kem and Raines have been strong supporters of MSU for many years.

Kem served on the board of directors of the MSU Foundation from 2002 to 2008 and is currently serving a third three-year term. Kem and Raines co-chaired MSU's scholarship campaign in 2002. In the same year, they also established an endowment, which funds the David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines Engineering Scholarship.

"David and Judith volunteer, they give and they recruit graduates," Stevenson said. "We are truly grateful for their generosity and for their commitment to our students."

Kem said he and Raines hope their investment in MSU students will make a real difference.

"I would hope that this gift will help students who don't have the confidence in themselves to keep on going to finish their education," Kem said. "I'm hoping it will help them get their degree and improve their life.