Steinar Opstad to deliver summer commencement address, receive honorary degree

The man called one of the University of North Dakota's greatest ambassadors in Europe will receive an honorary degree from the University during a Summer commencement ceremony at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, in the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

Steinar Opstad, an international communication, business and education leader from Norway, is scheduled to be the featured speaker during the ceremony, where he'll also be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters. Opstad will join the ranks of more than 200 UND honorary degree recipients over the last 99 years, including Crown Prince Olav of Norway in 1939, President John F. Kennedy in 1963, journalist Eric Sevareid in 1970, philosopher Mortimer Adler in 1983 and famed cardiovascular surgeon Michael E. DeBakey in 1990. UND presented its first honorary degree in 1909 to Webster Merrifield who served the University for 25 years, including 18 as its third president.

In 1991, Opstad founded the American College of Norway (ACN) in Moss, which is UND's sister college in that country. More than 1,000 Norwegian and American students and 20 faculty members have taken part in the educational exchange opportunity made possible by Opstad.

Opstad first pitched the idea of establishing a Norway-based college that would be closely linked to UND to President Emeritus Tom Clifford. Clifford quickly committed the university to the initiative, and as a result, propelled UND to become the top destination for Norwegian students in America and greatly increased UND's international student body at the same time. UND has played host to nearly 10 percent of all Norwegian university students in the United States since 1998.

"That is an impact on our university that is hard to measure, but with certainty, it is significant," said Bruce Gjovig, an entrepreneur coach and director of UND's Center for Innovation. "(Opstad) has been a wonderful advocate, ambassador, facilitator and supporter of many colleges, departments and programs at the University of North Dakota."

Gjovig said Opstad has been a good friend to the Center for Innovation over a nearly 20-year affiliation with the organization, allowing the center to establish entrepreneurial exchanges and business incubators in Norway. He also stressed a $4-million training contract that Opstad helped secure for the Air Traffic Control program at UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences from 1999 to 2003.

Opstad has been a lecturer at UND several times, most often, on communications, business and peace studies. He's been an active participant in the "Nordic Initiative," which has brought 88 delegations and prominent leaders from Norway to America. Many of those connections with UND and Grand Forks were personally sparked by Opstad.

He is trained in pedagogy (science of teaching), sociology and business with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism and communication from the University of Oslo. He received a Ph.D. in communication technology in 1984 from Columbia University in New York.

Opstad has helped developing countries strengthen their economies, social welfare and educational systems. Much of his time has been spent in Asia, working with the United Nations and other international organizations on a variety of projects. He mixed his expertise in business and communication with his passion for helping when he co-founded and chaired World View International Foundation in 1979. That organization has brought communication technologies, such as television, radio and the Internet to 31 developing countries and millions of people.

"I consider (Opstad) to be a true social entrepreneur in the best sense of the meaning of this type of activity," said Janet Kelly Moen, professor of sociology and peace studies at UND who has taken part in the exchange program with ACN. "I have been an observer, and sometimes participant , of and in his many and extensive activities to promote quality international educational exchanges, scholarship in the field of communication, entrepreneurship, and deep lasting ties between his region of Norway and UND, Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the upper Midwest in general."

Professionally, Opstad was vice president of the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, comprising about 20,000 private companies, from 1989 to 2002. He's well known for fostering high-tech ventures and a program called "Female Future," an initiative to increase the number of women CEOs and corporate board members. He also routinely advises members of the Norwegian Parliament on strategic issues.

Early in his career, he was a journalist, editor and publisher with the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, as well as vice president of Fred Olsen & Co., which did shipping for Timex Corp.

In addition to penning several journal articles, Opstad has written 10 textbooks on leadership, communication and dissemination of information. He's also authored six books on management, three books on communication, two books of fiction and one on education.

Opstad currently lives with his wife, Gudveig, near Sarpsborg, which is Grand Forks' newest sister city. The sister city designation with Grand Forks was Opstad's idea. A highlight of that relationship took place when more than 100 students from Grand Forks Red River High School marched in the Norwegian Constitution Day parade in Sarpsborg on May 17, 2007.

Opstad also was named an "honorary" citizen of Grand Forks.

"Opstad is no ordinary individual," Gjovig said. "Among his closest friends are kings, ambassadors, corporate presidents, members of parliaments and international people of distinction like Thor Heyerdahl and Arthur C. Clarke. He is a citizen of the world who has come to care deeply about the University of North Dakota."