In the past 100 years, St. Paul-based engineering and architecture firm TKDA has cultivated a portfolio of national highways, structures and airports.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the firm and the University of Minnesota has been fostered through recruitment and on-campus projects. Now, a celebratory endowment fund will be established to strengthen the link between the two Minnesota entities.
The scholarship for engineering and architecture students is to be symbiotic, as TKDA CEO William Deitner hopes that with the money going in, more students will come out of the University with skills appropriate for companies such as his.
“There seems to be a shift away from engineering and architecture in the schools,” Deitner said.
“[The scholarship] is something that we think is going to maybe have benefits for us directly, but [also] for the engineering and architecture community overall in the future.”
Matched through the University’s President’s Scholarship Match program, the scholarship will provide one student $2,500 a year and will alternate between architecture students in the College of Design and engineering students in the Institute of Technology.
Beginning in 2011, the scholarship will be “perpetual,” Deitner said.
“Our business is all people,” he said, which is why educated engineers and architects are so valuable to the company’s success.
“We don’t manufacture widgets [or] things like that; it’s all about the staff and basically the intellectual property that each one of us is able to contribute.”
The University was chosen for the endowment because of its location in the heart of TKDA’s main market, Deitner said, and because it offers both specialties.
“It’s part of our community,” said Deitner, a 1979 University graduate.
The scholarship reflects a longtime relationship between TKDA and the University, including strong recruitment and internship opportunities.
One intern was Joe Mueller, who graduated from IT with a civil engineering degree in 2006.
Mueller has worked at TKDA since then as a graduate engineer, a position for recent graduates who are not yet licensed.
John Ahern, current vice president of TKDA’s aviation division, graduated from the University more than 20 years ago.
“Having grown up here in Minnesota, I love being able to drive around and tell my children that … we did the Como Conservatory,” Ahern said. “We did the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport [and] Robert Street Bridge — so many great projects.”
One recent project TKDA was involved in was the I-35W bridge rebuild, after the firm won a “design-build” contest run by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2007, Deitner said.
Like Mueller, Ahern had his first TKDA
experience before graduating, when he was invited for lunch and a tour of the company’s St. Paul office as part of a scholarship.
The company is headquartered in St. Paul, where its offices haven’t moved more than six blocks since its founding in 1910.
The firm began strictly as a rail company. Now, the company boasts highways, airports and railways as some of the projects from “border to border and coast to coast,” Deitner said.
The University Aquatics Center is a 1990 TKDA project.
Five divisions, among them aviation and surface transportation, allowed TKDA the diversification needed to weather the recession better than most competitors, Deitner said.
Nevertheless, the company shed 15 percent of employees during the worst 14 months of the downturn, he said. Now, the company has “turned the corner” and is hiring again.
With a century under its belt, Deitner said TKDA has become a household name in the community.
“People know us,” he said.