The UND College of Engineering and Mines is celebrating 30 years of distance education.

Outgoing dean Hesham El-Rewini said UND is the only university in the United States, and potentially in the world, offering a full suite of engineering programs for distance education students.

A number of students who are part of the distance education program were in attendance during a recent event to mark the milestone. Outgoing UND President Mark Kennedy spoke at the program and praised the College of Engineering and Mines for its work to bring engineering education to students near and far.

“There is no other university that can celebrate 30 years of distance education in engineering,” he said.

Kennedy said the students should be proud to earn their degree from UND and the College of Engineering and Mines because the school has been so innovative for so long.

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“It is an example of how innovation is through the very spine … of this college,” Kennedy said.

At present, the College of Engineering and Mines offers 28 certificate or degree programs online in a number of areas, including cyber security, computer science, data science, biomedical engineering, energy and unmanned aerial systems.

Arnie Johnson, a former professor who taught the first distance education course in the college’s history, started teaching in the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1988. He continued to teach select courses after his retirement.

Johnson spoke about the early days of the program when he would have to have a team of videographers come in to record him giving a lecture that was then sent out to the original 11 students. The program eventually went fully online by 2003.

“It was almost like a TV production,” Johnson said, noting that the technology kept improving over time to make the production of the classes easier for everyone.

There were a number of challenges involved in those early years. Getting clear footage of the class notes was sometimes difficult and there was a nearly three-week lag in classes. But he could have some fun as well, including giving scores of UND hockey games and updates on the frigid weather in Grand Forks during the winter months.

Tom Owens taught in the Chemical Engineering Department from 1968-2001 and also continued to teach courses after his retirement.

“It was an innovative program then and it’s an innovative program now,” Owens said, speaking about the history of the program.