Douglas Differt Difference Makers (D3M) Endowed Scholarship moves to Phase II
Douglas Differt, P.E., is a former MnDOT deputy commissioner and chief engineer who now serves as a transportation consultant with more than 50 years of experience in the public and private sectors. Doug is the driving force behind the Douglas Differt Difference Makers (D3M) Endowed Scholarship.
Established to inspire and empower future students interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), D3M has raised $486,000 in gifts and $59,000 in matching funds to help finance the education of students at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College—students who will go on to become project leaders, troubleshooters and innovators in STEM fields.
“A vision without goals is a dream,” Doug said. “Goals without a vision are just hope. Sixty years ago when we began building the nation’s Interstate Highway System, we had the vision and goals to get the job done. We need that same approach to meet the challenges we face today.”
Doug added that maintaining the Interstate Highway System and other U.S. infrastructure requires a highly trained workforce with a broad range of skills and knowledge. D3M is a collaboration between higher education and industry designed to create educational pathways that meet student and employer needs. “D3M brings a strong vision and clearly defined goals together,” he said.
Gail Morrison, executive director of the Inver Hills Foundation, reported that initial fundraising represented Phase I of the scholarship project. “Phase II involves extensive planning by the D3M STEM Scholarship Committee related to mapping curricula, developing internships, distributing scholarship dollars, identifying critical workforce skills, increasing awareness of STEM career opportunities, and creating viable career pathways,” Gail said. “We have marvelous committee members who are both knowledgeable and dedicated.”
Gary Thompson, project development manager at KLJ Engineering and D3M Committee chair, noted that D3M represents a novel approach to endowed scholarships. “The people who contributed to the fund are not donors, but investors who need to attract more employees,” Gary said. “Industry can’t hire enough people to run plants and facilities. There’s a great demand for technicians at consulting companies and construction contractors, but the needs are different. D3M is designed to create pathways for students to meet those needs while launching rewarding careers.”
Christina Royal, Ph.D., provost and vice president of academic affairs at Inver Hills, serves on the D3M Committee. She’s excited to work on a project with so much promise. “Doug and Gary understand how an endowed scholarship with dynamic industry input can really help our students develop the right skills for the right careers,” Christina said. “Gail has done a wonderful job facilitating a very important STEM scholarship fund.”
Inver Hills Engineering program curriculum mapping
Members of the D3M Committee met March 28, 2016, on the Inver Hills campus for an Engineering program curriculum-mapping session. Steve Strom, Ph.D., dean of STEM at the college, reported that Doug Differt, Gary Thompson, Gail Morrision and Marc Loken, engineering faculty, attended the meeting along with industry leaders, including Kian Sabeti, WSB Engineering and Inver Hills Foundation Board member, Matt Settergren, KLJ Engineering, and Katie Toghramadjian, president of Isthmus Engineering, Inc.
“We would like to create two pathways for students in our Engineering program,” Steve said. “One would be the traditional pathway where a student graduates and transfers directly into an engineering program at a four-year college or university. The other would allow a student to step out through an internship and get experience working as an engineering technician. The student would eventually step back into the program, graduate and go on to a four-year to earn an engineering degree.”
Steve added that engineering firms are expressing a great need for AutoCAD technicians. “We are looking at ways to add AutoCAD to our curriculum along with career exploration, reading and navigating plan sets, and other engineering skill requirements,” he said. “The engineers at the session were impressed by the rigor of our current program.”
Above photo: (left to right) Marc Loken, Engineering faculty, Katherine Toghramadjian, president, Isthmus Engineering, Inc., Doug Differt, former MnDOT deputy commissioner, Gary Thompson, KLJ Engineering, Gail Morrison, Inver Hills Foundation, Steve Strom, Dean of STEM, Matt Settergren, KLJ Engineering.
More about Doug Differt
For more than 50 years, Douglas H. Differt, P.E., has worked to keep Minnesotans on the road through his leadership and civil engineering skills in the public and private sectors. Doug’s managerial expertise as a professional engineer is matched only by his drive, passion for community service, and a natural ability to define and solve the complex challenges presented by modern transportation.
As MnDOT deputy commissioner and chief engineer under two governors, Rudy Perpich and Tim Pawlenty, Doug was responsible for making sure massive construction projects as well as critical maintenance programs ran like clockwork.
“We have more than five thousand people working at MnDOT,” Doug said. “Only three hundred members of that workforce are civil engineers. Those engineers are supported by other highly trained experts, including chemists, biologists, welders, mechanics, construction managers, accountants, environmental scientists and more. Time was, on-the-job training would be enough to fill those positions. That’s no longer possible due to advances in technology. The work is just too sophisticated.”
The Douglas Differt Difference Makers (D3M) Endowed Scholarship was established to assist students interested in pursuing STEM careers. Scholarship dollars awarded through D3M will help fund the education of students at Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College. D3M is also designed to introduce students to career paths through internships and industry participation.
“We want to catch students early on and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” said Doug, noting that higher education is crucial in a knowledge-based, global economy. “The scholarships give students the opportunities they need to build strong careers in STEM. The benefits for society are tremendous.”
Doug pointed out that transportation infrastructure alone is an enormous economic engine. “For every million dollars expended in a transportation contract, more than forty good-paying jobs are created,” he said, adding that the money moves through a community seven times, bringing prosperity at every level.
Throughout his career, Doug applied a can-do attitude that earned him the nickname “Mr. Fix-It.” A Korean War veteran, Doug enrolled under the G.I. Bill at the University of North Dakota. He used that opportunity to earn a degree in civil engineering that launched a five-decade career in transportation that made a day-to-day difference in the lives of millions of people.
Because mentoring and community service are at the heart of his lifework, Doug knows the next generation of students must be given their chance to help make the world a better place to live.
“I came in when we first built the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower,” he said. “Our job now is to make sure we have an educational system that can prepare students for the future so that they can maintain and improve on what we built.”
To learn more about how you can make a tax-deductable gift* to the Douglas Differt Difference Makers Endowed Scholarship (D3M), contact:
Executive Director of Foundation and Community Relations
* Your scholarship gift may be matched through a special matching grant.