Menard family multi-million-dollar gift to the Challey Institute supports national speaker series at NDSU

FARGO, N.D., — This November, the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth at North Dakota State University will bring to campus major thought leader Arthur C. Brooks, to help launch the Menard Family Distinguished Speakers Series. Brooks, professor of practice and public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Arthur C. Patterson faculty fellow at the Harvard Business School, will address students virtually.

“Renowned speakers, like Arthur Brooks, not only offer their experiences and years of knowledge but also help foster a curiosity that drives students to pursue more and build an innovative culture,” Lee Vetsch, graduate student in agribusiness and applied economics at NDSU, said.

The Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series is made possible thanks to the generosity of the Menard family, who made a $5.5 million gift to the Challey Institute at NDSU. The family’s investment will support a directorship, several new professorships, visiting scholars programs, and graduate and undergraduate fellowships that will allow NDSU students to gain an appreciation for the larger global environment within which business and innovation occur.

“Students, faculty, and the community will be able to engage and interact with world-class experts in these areas, generating additional ideas, thought, and research that will further our mission,” John Bitzan, Menard Family Director of the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth, said.

The Menard family’s gift, in combination with gifts from other donors to the Challey Institute, will enable faculty and students to tackle big questions while exploring ways to improve the human condition and create economic opportunity. An understanding of the globally-interconnected marketplace and the roles played by innovation and trade in generating prosperity will have a transformational impact on NDSU students who come primarily from North Dakota and Minnesota.

“Our hope is to empower as many people as possible to have the opportunity our family did to use their innate abilities to learn, contribute, and succeed,” the Menard family said. “By providing opportunities that help people realize their potential, we drive progress because the more people who are creating value for society, the stronger we all become — so it’s a win-win all around.”

John Menard Jr. is the founder and owner of Menards, the national home improvement chain. Menards’ headquarters is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Today, Menards has 325 stores and 41 manufacturing facilities located in 14 Midwestern states. In North Dakota alone, Menards has seven stores and two manufacturing facilities. Click here to read the family’s open letter to the NDSU community.

“Transformational philanthropic support, like the Menard family has provided the Challey Institute, allows North Dakota State University to serve its citizens at a scope never before possible,” NDSU President Dean L. Bresciani said. “The Menard’s investment also insulates the work of faculty from the vagaries of the state’s economy and positions them to produce outcomes changing the future of our state, nation, and world.”

Established in 2019 with a gift from Sheila and Robert ’67 Challey, the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth aims to advance understanding in the areas of innovation, trade, institutions, and to identify policies and solutions that enhance economic growth and opportunity. While the institute is housed in the College of Business, funding supports a wide range of multidisciplinary faculty from across eight colleges at NDSU. The institute’s mission is to impact every NDSU student.

“It is exciting to have the Menard family recognize and support the game-changing endeavor of the Challey Institute,” Robert Challey said. “Sheila and I are grateful to have this opportunity to support NDSU and the issues we care about in the world.”

Brooks is the author of 11 books, including national bestsellers, “Love Your Enemies,” “The Conservative Heart,” and “The Road to Freedom.” He is also a columnist for the Washington Post, host of the popular podcast, “The Arthur Brooks Show,” and subject of the 2019 documentary film, “The Pursuit,” now available on Netflix. He gives more than 100 speeches per year around the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

The Challeys are co-chairs of In Our Hands: The Campaign for North Dakota State University, a $400-million fundraising effort to lift up all of NDSU, its students, the region, and beyond. As of the end of June 2020, the campaign has raised more than $366 million.

The Brooks event is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at 3 p.m.

ABOUT In Our Hands: The Campaign for North Dakota State University

In Our Hands is a multi-year $400 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to lift up all of North Dakota State University. To find out more about the NDSU students and faculty impacted by philanthropy through this campaign, visit


The NDSU Foundation builds enduring relationships that maximize advocacy and philanthropy to support North Dakota State University.


Nicole Thom-Arens
Director of Communications 
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