- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The University of Mary is developing a four-year engineering degree program in response to a growing demand for engineers in the western North Dakota oil patch.

Mary students who major in engineering currently have to transfer to the University of Minnesota for their senior year.

“When students do their internships and school east, it is a very rare thing they turn their eyes west when they graduate,” said Diane Fladeland, Mary’s vice president for academic affairs. “We knew it was important to keep our students here.”

Engineering companies in the region are struggling to find employees. Bismarck-based KLJ has dozens of open positions, according to recruiting engineer Michelle Miller.

“We definitely struggle” to fill jobs, she said. “The opportunity that the oil has brought, it has provided a lot of jobs for entry level and more experienced engineers.”

Mary will maintain its partnership with the University of Minnesota, but under its new program engineering students can choose to stay in Bismarck all four years. Students also will take University of North Dakota classes online while Mary works to expand its course offerings and spend summers at the Grand Forks campus using UND’s engineering labs. Mary hopes to raise money and have its own labs in three years.

Students can receive degrees through the new program starting next fall in these engineering fields: civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical and petroleum.

Graduates under the new option will receive two bachelor’s degrees - one from Mary and the other from UND, whose engineering program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Mary will work over the coming years to obtain accreditation for its own program, Fladeland said.

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