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BOZEMAN — A Montana State University alumnus who built a successful 34-year career at Conoco and his wife have announced a gift of $1 million to Montana State University.

The gift from David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines will be used to fund the MSU Presidential Award for Emerging Scholars.

MSU President Waded Cruzado said the gift is designed to recognize students who exhibit great potential, rather than prior academic performance, scholarly research, campus involvement or financial need. Faculty members will nominate students for the award.

Kem said students often need extra encouragement and support.

“I think a lot of young people don’t realize the potential they have in themselves,” he said.

Kem grew up in Columbus, attended the University of Montana for one year and then transferred to Montana State after deciding to pursue engineering.

But it wasn’t always easy for Kem at MSU. Part of his second year was rough enough academically that he considered dropping out.

“I didn’t do well in my classes at that time, and I got to the point where I was really discouraged,” Kem said. “I considered dropping out of school and going into the military. Fortunately, I found classes more to my liking, and several of my professors really helped me and encouraged me to work hard.

“Life got a lot better after that.”

After graduating from MSU in 1967 with a degree in civil engineering, Kem began his career in the oil industry. He worked as an engineer at Continental Pipe Line Co., a subsidiary of Conoco, and eventually progressed through the management ranks.

Kem later was general manager of crude oil supply and trading and president of refining marketing in Europe. He served as chairman of the board of Conoco’s refining, marketing and distribution company in the United Kingdom. And he was instrumental in Conoco’s expansion into central Europe and the Caspian/Black Sea region.

He also often recruited MSU graduates to work at the company. Almost without exception, he said, they did well and stood out for their good ethical foundation and willingness to work hard.

Raines, who graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, worked for Conoco in operational positions and later in developing and teaching leadership and career development programs for Conoco worldwide. She retired in 2002.

The president of the MSU Foundation, Michael Stevenson, noted that Kem and Raines have been strong supporters of MSU for many years.

Kem served on the board of directors of the MSU Foundation from 2002 to 2008 and is serving a third three-year term. Kem and Raines co-chaired MSU’s scholarship campaign in 2002.

In the same year, they also established an endowment, which funds the David O. Kem and Judith L. Raines Engineering Scholarship.