Creating Teachers who Lead
Burgum Foundation funds innovative program through UND College of Education & Human Development

The Burgum Foundation has provided a $250,000 donation to fund the University of North Dakota College of Education & Human Development’s Partnership for Rural Education in North Dakota program. The program provides 50% tuition assistance to teachers in a rural school district seeking a Master of Science in Teaching and Leadership from UND.

For the pilot program, nine master’s students are working and learning together in the Watford City School District in western North Dakota.

The Burgum Foundation was established in 2015 by Rick and Jody Burgum of Arthur, North Dakota, to continue their lifelong commitment to philanthropy. The goal of the Burgum Foundation is to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives and make communities stronger by encouraging education, good values and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Both Rick, ’68, and Jody, ’74, are graduates of the University of North Dakota.

Dr. Sherryl Houdek of the College of Education & Human Development said the Burgum Foundation’s financial commitment “means the world to our students. They are so excited. They could not believe that 50% of their degree would be paid and that they would be able to be in an innovative master’s program collaborating with teachers that they see every day.”

Houdek says the Watford City School District will also benefit from the program as the students work collaboratively on district-focused research to fulfill their degree requirements.

What follows is a transcript of an interview with Burgum Foundation Executive Director Katie Itterman, ’03, about the program and the Burgum Foundation.

What was it about the Partnership for Rural Education in North Dakota program that attracted your interest in providing funding?

We were interested in a program that would give rural teachers equal access and opportunity to masters level programming in their own school districts. We wanted them to have an opportunity to learn from phenomenal professors while continuing to teach in their schools and learn from their peers as part of a cohort. For us, this model is key because they are learning not just independently, but as part of a cohort that, in the end, makes their school district so much stronger.

How did you match up with UND on this particular program?

I met with Tom DiLorenzo (then UND’s provost) in May of 2019. He was a huge proponent of growing a program like this. Once we got in touch with Cindy Juntunen, dean of the College of Education & Human Development, she was totally on board and already had some thoughts. We had some ideas as well. I'd say the timing was just perfect. This program fits nicely with the goals of the Burgum Foundation to be very focused on education, the community and rural North Dakota. It is a nice melding of everything that the Foundation stands for.

This is an unusual school year; what are you hearing so far from the pilot program in Watford City?

This program was in the works prior to everything that has gone on this year. Still, everything went off without a hitch for the fall start date of the program.

There are nine students participating in the program. The overall goal is to have between 25 and 30 through this first partnership with Watford City. I think the most exciting part is that even with everything COVID-related, the interest from the district and the students to make this a priority and to get it underway was still there. That was really positive for us.

What other projects has the Burgum Foundation supported in its five-year history?

The foundation has three main areas in which it gives. The first is education, which makes up the majority of all our funding and is based on rural North Dakota needs. And within that, we support mental health services for young people and teacher leadership programs. Secondly is entrepreneurship and then, third, we have a mission bucket, which is disaster relief, homeless support and the like.

But education is really our key focus and it has been phenomenal. We do all programming; no buildings or anything like that. We have done teacher leadership academies in at least 15 different schools and our mental health programming is in 11 schools right now.

How would you describe the philanthropic nature of Rick and Jody Burgum?

I think that they are some of the most generous people that I've come in contact with. They don't seek attention. The only reason that we're ever in the news is to help encourage others and share our stories in hopes that others are inspired as well. They believe so strongly in our rural communities and the values that small towns instill in our young people. They also believe that anyone from any background, rural or urban, should have the same opportunity to pursue education and receive the same high-quality education experience. That is what they really focus on.