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McComishes create first endowed department at SDSU

Karen and Dick McComish
Karen and Dick McComish

A Montana couple has endowed the McComish Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at South Dakota State University. The $5 million gift results in the university’s first endowed and named department, representing an exceptional and lasting investment. 

Richard “Dick” and Karen McComish have fueled countless philanthropic efforts at the university over the past three decades. Both are graduates of the Class of 1975, and the gift to endow the department was donated in recognition of Dick’s degree in electrical engineering. Along with Karen’s degree in sociology, the premier education that the couple received at State positioned them to excel in the energy industry. 

Electrical Consultants Inc. started from humble beginnings in a single office in Billings, Montana. With Dick’s engineering expertise and Karen’s administrative guidance, the McComishes’ leadership grew the company to a thriving corporation, encompassing over 950 engineers, surveyors and technical staff around the country. 

With their latest gift to SDSU, Dick and Karen wished to honor their alma mater and support the place that shaped their future careers. 

“The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science provided me a top-tier technical education that established direction for professional growth,” Dick explained. “However, this instruction provided much more. The environment at SDSU opened my mind to needs and challenges in the engineering profession, to accept nothing less than the best solutions, and to strive for innovation.” 

Through their work with the energy industry, Dick has witnessed firsthand the shortage of incoming graduates to fill the extensive gaps in the workforce. It’s the couple’s hope that their funding for the department will bolster recruitment and retention efforts. 

“The field today is technically complex, demanding and extremely innovative, offering new engineers lifelong opportunities for growth and satisfaction in helping society,” Dick said. “Higher education must provide us the best and brightest candidates to ensure future generations can expect opportunities as outstanding as those we have been fortunate to receive.” 

The perpetual nature of endowed funding ensures increased resources and opportunities for the department overall. Dick and Karen’s gift has created lasting support, enhancing the Jackrabbit experience for the many students following in Dick’s footsteps in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering. 

“The McComishes’ generosity will have an everlasting positive impact on the quality of education that our students receive and on growth of the department, in addition to allowing the department leadership and faculty to tread uncharted waters and invest in new initiatives with potentially high rewards,” said Sanjeev Kumar, dean of the Lohr College of Engineering. “This support will help us train our students who are ready to solve tomorrow’s challenges today through hands-on learning experiences, attain global recognition for innovation, and elevate SDSU as an R1 institution.” 

Dick believes that preparing those students with a rigorous and well-rounded education is more important than ever. Throughout his career, his line of work has identified the modern electrical power field as an arena in which engineers can make the greatest impact on society’s quality of life. The world is in need of bright minds to solve global challenges when it comes to energy solutions, and if that need isn’t met, populations worldwide could lose access to reliable power to which all have grown accustomed. 

Karen echoed Dick’s concerns with filling the pipeline of innovative graduates and added that their endowment aligns with one of the university’s core values: people-centered. As an institution, SDSU strives to create an environment where leadership is derived from service to others. In this case, future engineers that benefit from everlasting funding in the department will go on to serve individuals all across the power grid, making a worldwide impact. Though it’s a tall order, the McComishes believe that Jackrabbits are up to the task — starting with support fueled by the first endowed department at SDSU. 

“We’re excited and honored to be the first to endow a department,” Karen said. “SDSU has made great strides since we graduated and is a university to be proud of due to the innovations in education and success of its graduates.”