MISSOULA – Before dignitaries broke ground on the new Missoula College building in August 2014, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom announced a pledge of $500,000 from local telecommunications company Blackfoot. Its generous gift of cash, services and equipment would fuel a quantum leap in technological opportunities for students, faculty and staff at the new Missoula College campus.
Now, two years later, Blackfoot has deepened its commitment to education in western Montana by pledging an additional $70,000, bringing its total contribution to Missoula College’s construction to $570,000. The company’s generosity makes it the largest private donor to the project.
“The future health and prosperity of Montanans depend on access to high-quality, cost-effective education and technology,” said Bill Squires, CEO of Blackfoot. “We are proud to continue to expand our partnership with Missoula College and the University of Montana with this additional pledge.”
The gift meets the need for network wiring infrastructure and other technology in the building while also providing a set of “dark” fiber-optic cables that connect the facility to the UM Mountain Campus, providing the college full access to the campus network.
UM Chief Information Officer Matt Riley said the new technology will put the college at the forefront of higher education.
“I think CIOs at other institutions would be jealous,” Riley said. “It’s not every day you receive a gift that meets the foundational IT infrastructure needs for an entire new building."
He says the collaboration between Blackfoot and UM has been wholehearted and thoughtful.
“Working with Blackfoot in planning the gift, then the details of implementation, has been nothing short of amazing,” Riley said. “We are closer partners now, with a jointly held goal of bringing the highest-performing wired network, wireless network and technology-enabled spaces to Missoula College, which is what our students will expect and deserve in the new space.”
Blackfoot has long been a committed partner in community development in its service areas and has been especially active in education. Each year, the company commits over $75,000 in charitable donations to education-related causes, including scholarships, computer training and facilities support.
The company understands long-term community success depends on collaborative support from partners like itself. Supporting Missoula College will help the college better address workforce needs for trained network technicians, among other industries.
“When donors make a gift to Missoula College, they’re making an investment in Montana,” said Shannon O’Brien, dean of Missoula College. “We are asking what private industry needs from higher education and from our students, and we are listening. I’m so pleased that Blackfoot has increased their commitment. It’s been a great partnership for us given their tech leadership in Missoula.”
The new Missoula College facility is expected to open in summer 2017 and will house a variety of training programs, including culinary arts, health professions and applied computing. The Blackfoot gift is part of $3 million in private funds committed to the project as a match to the $29 million put forward by the Montana Legislature to fund construction. Fundraising efforts are undertaken by the UM Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase philanthropic support to ensure UM’s excellence, access and affordability.