UW’s biggest foreign donor is not in the oil-rich Middle East, but one closer to home

When looking for high-dollar gifts, the University of Wyoming found friends in the Great White North.

October 05, 20193 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When looking for high-dollar gifts, the University of Wyoming found friends in the Great White North. 

Over the past 10 years, Canadians have given UW $6.2 million in donations. No other foreign citizen or entity has given as much, although the Canadian donations are a splash in the bucket for the state’s only public university — which had annual expenditures approaching $500 million last year.

 The Cowboy State Daily requested from university officials information on all foreign donations made between 2008 and 2018 that were over $250,000. An attorney for the UW provided this list: 

  • Encana Corp. – Canada – April 18, 2008: $1.4 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – June 2, 2010: $400,000
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – June 20, 2010: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada – April 9, 2010: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada –March 20, 2009: $1 million
  • Encana Corp. – Canada –April 27, 2009: $400,000
  • Randall K. Eresman (CEO of Encana since 2006) – Canada – April 24, 2011 – $1 million

The Canadian contributions don’t raise eyebrows among people who have looked at foreign donations to American universities.

Other foreign donations, including those made by the governments of Saudi Arabia and China, have raised questions about the influence and motives of undemocratic regimes on American education. Calgary-based Encana is an oil and gas company that owned assets in the Jonah Field in Sublette County until selling them in 2014. 

As STEM and engineering students walk around campus, they’ll see the Encana Integrated Simulation Data Center and Encana Auditorium at the Energy Innovation Center. Although the company no longer manages any Wyoming projects, it is involved in energy production in other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

 Eresman, Encana’s CEO, is a 1984 UW petroleum engineering alumnus. He and his wife Shelly pledged the money to create the Eresman Family Engineering Endowment to help students from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology transfer to UW to pursue petroleum engineering degrees. Eresman went to NAIT and received a diploma in Earth Resources Technology before enrolling at UW. 

Jonathan Meer, a Texas A&M University professor whose research looks into charitable giving and the economics of education, said the connection between UW and Encana and Eresman seem natural since the company was doing business in Wyoming. 

“It probably helps with recruiting,” he said. “If you see the name of the company and some signs around the place, you might be more inclined to be willing to work there.”

Corporations donate money for a variety of reasons – such as for good will and to enhance their reputation, Meer said.

Jon Riskind, an assistant vice president of public affairs at the American Council on Education, noted that UW has been transparent about the foreign donations. 

“This all seems pretty routine, in terms of a university looking for support for a new or expanded program/field of study/facility from both private and public sources of funding, whether on a global or national or state basis,” he said. 

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