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New endowment elevates CMU engineering partnership program

Bighorn Consulting Engineers, Inc. owner Blaine Buck is a CSU Ram who’s increasingly surrounded by a mass of CMU Mavericks. His consistent hiring of engineering graduates and interns through the CMU/CU Boulder Engineering Partnership Program has made the Bighorn office a home away from home for Mavs. For years Buck, along with Bighorn's two other owners and operators, Mark Harrington and Shawn Brill, have hired numerous CMU graduates and interns, but this wasn’t always the case.

In the early 2000s Bighorn began to grow. The quality of the company’s engineering services earned the firm more and more business each year. With the additional work, the need for more high-quality engineers also grew. Bighorn searched the region for qualified professionals, but learned there was a shortfall of engineers throughout western Colorado. Buck and his team realized there was a significant need for local, qualified professionals to support important public and private projects throughout western Colorado.

As the struggle to hire local engineers continued, in 2008, Buck learned a number of community leaders were working with CMU to explore the potential for an engineering program partnership with CU Boulder. He quickly joined the advisory board becoming a de facto co-founder of the program. From that day, Buck and his company started filling the ongoing employee needs of the company. Today, Bighorn employs over 20 engineers and staff.

Since the inception of the engineering partnership program, Bighorn has remained a foundational partner serving on the advisory board. In 2022, Buck elevated his support beyond time, energy and effort and invested $25K in the program through the CMU Foundation’s endowment program. The monies went to form a permanent fund that will endow engineering scholarships at CMU in perpetuity.

“CMU appreciates contributions in the form of endowments,” said CMU President John Marshall. “Endowments are investments in the future providing resources for students on a permanent basis. The Buck family is an important partner of the Maverick family, and we look forward to working with Blaine and his team to grow the engineering program into the future.”

In response to his observations about the endowment, Buck explained why he decided to invest funds into the same program that helped Bighorn grow.

“We decided to start the endowment scholarship for CMU engineering and were able to give two scholarships right away with the money. As the endowment grows permanently into the future, hopefully the fund produces engineers for Bighorn and other local firms for a long, long time,” said Buck. “To provide that [education] through CMU and be able to live and work where you want to and go to school where you want is a cool thing. You don't have to go to a big place to get a quality degree. It's available here and now.”

Buck’s clients include commercial, educational, governmental and residential clients whose needs align with the program’s culture and quality. Engineering degrees offered at CMU through CU Boulder include civil, electrical and computer, and mechanical disciplines. CMU faculty teach the first two years of a student’s training, and CU faculty teach the last two years. The students remain in Grand Junction during all four years and are able to acquire jobs with local firms like Bighorn after graduation.

Some of the engineering students who interned with Bighorn even had a hand in developing recent projects on campus, such as the Center for Reflection and the Hotel Maverick. Buck plans to continue hiring CMU engineers and interns as the needs of his company continue to grow.

Recent graduate and former intern, Payton Sanders, is now a full-time employee at Bighorn. Sanders graduated in 2022 with a degree in mechanical engineering. During the spring semester of his senior year, he began his internship with Bighorn and was offered a job after graduation. He spoke highly of his experience and the knowledge he gained when working with the team.

“I was quickly given responsibility, projects and support to help me learn. I have been treated with respect and supported at every turn while I learned new modeling programs and trade fundamentals,” said Sanders. “The professionalism, workplace community, flexibility and support I have received made the acceptance of the position [at Bighorn] an easy decision.”

The sentiment is shared by another alumnus and current employee of Bighorn, Greg Waldorf, a full-time mechanical engineer who has worked on several projects throughout western Colorado.

“I had been given opportunities to work directly with clients and to manage a few projects. [Bighorn] took the time and risk to allow me to develop myself. While there are days when the work can be frustrating, the majority are filled with new challenges and opportunities that keep the job interesting,” said Waldorf. “Between the enjoyment I got from the job, the focus on continual education, the friendly and inclusive atmosphere and the opportunities for career development, staying on after graduation was a clear choice. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to both intern with Bighorn and to continue working here since graduation.”

Buck is schedule to participate in the programs upcoming Engineering Exploration Days on February 24 where he will provide remarks and share details about the partnership between Bighorn Engineering and the CMU/CU Boulder Engineering Partnership Program.


Written by David Ludlam and Madelynn Fellet