Many grandparents are thrilled to see their grandchildren go off the
college. Edwin and Barbara Zimmermann are no exception. That experience
sparked their desire to help students studying mechanical engineering at
They attended NDSU long before they became grandparents. They know a
college education can be life changing and want to help students achieve
Edwin grew up in Casselton, North Dakota, and Barbara Vennerstrom lived in
Chicago. They each moved to Fargo in the late 1940s. They attended the same
high school but did not meet until their college years at a wedding. Edwin,
the best man, and Barbara, the maid of honor, started dating soon after.
Affordable tuition coupled with the ability to save money by living at home
made NDSU the logical choice for both Edwin and Barbara. He discovered he
had an aptitude for mechanical engineering, while Barbara wanted to study
home economics with an emphasis on food and nutrition.
"NDSU did a good job in preparing me for my career," Edwin said. "The
academic work was certainly what was needed to get a job in mechanical
engineering and the extracurricular activities helped my organizational
skills. The whole college experience was enjoyable and worthwhile. I
learned a lot and was ready to go to the next stage of life."
Following Edwin's graduation, the two married and moved to Michigan, where
Edwin began work at Chrysler. The company offered a co-op program in which
Edwin could earn a master's of automotive engineering while working.
Barbara, who was a year younger than Edwin, completed her bachelor's degree
in home economics at Wayne State University in Detroit. Barbara used those
skills as a stay-at-home mom, raising four children and doing volunteer
Edwin built his career in the field of transmission and engine
manufacturing. Nearly 40 years later, he had risen to executive vice
president of New Venture Gear, a joint venture of Chrysler and General
The Zimmermanns wanted to give something back to society.
"We talked about a good way to do it, and came to the conclusion that we
wanted to help intelligent, hard-working students with financial need to
get an education in mechanical engineering," Edwin said. "Good for
students. Good for our country."
Edwin's career took them away from North Dakota, but the Zimmermanns always
felt a connection to NDSU, with Barbara fondly remembering her high school
and college years in Fargo. "I was always aware of the sense of pride and
professionalism the Home Ec faculty instilled in us during those years,"
Barbara said. In addition, Edwin's parents, sister and brother-in-law are
In 2015, Edwin and Barbara established an endowment to provide competitive
scholarships based on academic achievement for NDSU mechanical engineering
students, with preference given on the basis of financial need. Their $1
million gift was matched with $500,000 from state funds through the Higher
Education Challenge Grant. Each year, five juniors and five seniors will
each receive approximately a $5,000 scholarship. And those receiving the
scholarship as juniors are eligible as seniors if they continue to meet the
These scholarships meet an important need not only for students, but also
for NDSU. The Mechanical Engineering Department has seen a dramatic
increase of undergraduate enrollment and the endowment helps increase
scholarships to support the students.
NDSU has increased enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students to
meet the workforce needs of the region. Mechanical engineering graduates
are in high demand throughout the state with companies such as John Deere,
Doosan and Bobcat Co. and Basin Electric Cooperative, in addition to many
smaller companies that are developing innovative technologies that benefit
the state's economy.
Edwin and Barbara are helping students in the mechanical engineering
program achieve their dreams and create solutions to real-life problems.