Montana Tech Announces Distinguished Alumni Awardees

Montana Tech will honor two alumni with the Distinguished Alumni Award at the university’s 116th Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 14, 2016. This year’s awardees are: Jeffrey T. Chaffee and Tom Richmond.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to alumni of Montana Tech, who established a professional career of at least 20 years, of which five years have been in a responsible capacity, and who has either contributed in an outstanding manner to the furtherance of his or her profession and/or has been an outstanding contributor to Montana Tech.


Jeffrey T. Chaffee, P.E. B.S. Environmental Engineering, 1977

Jeff was born in Missoula, Montana, and grew up in the mountains outside of Clancy. He attended Clancy Grade School and graduated salutatorian of his class at Jefferson High School in Boulder in 1973. After a year at Montana State University, he transferred to the Environmental Engineering program at the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology (Montana Tech). Floyd Bossard, Chair of the Department, told him to work hard at his studies, and Montana Tech would take care of the rest. He graduated cum laude in 1977 with a BS in Environmental Engineering.

Jeff landed his first job in Butte with the Montana Energy and MHD Research and Development Institute (MERDI) and spent 2 years studying environmental impacts of coal-fired power plants.  The opportunity to pursue further education presented itself, and he was accepted to Oregon State University to pursue graduate work in civil/environmental engineering. He received his MS in June 1981.

While in Butte on his first job, Jeff met a registered nurse working at Silver Bow General Hospital on a blind date. He married Julie in December 1979 and she joined Jeff in Oregon, working in the Corvallis hospital while Jeff went to school.

The lure of Montana—and a poor job market on the west coast—brought them back to Montana and to an environmental engineering position with the Montana Power Company in Colstrip.  Working in a family friendly community with state of the art coal-fired power generating plants was a great experience for Jeff and his young family.

Following his work with MPC, Jeff was selected as the Air Quality Bureau Chief and then Administrator of the Air Quality Division of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.  During his eight years of service in state government, Jeff directed the monitoring, permitting and planning functions of the air quality program for the state of Montana. 

His next career move led him to Bison Engineering, an air quality/environmental consulting firm with offices in Helena and Billings. His 20 year career with Bison has focused on helping many of the industrial facilities in our region comply with air quality and environmental regulations. For the last three years, he has served as president of the firm. 

It took a few years to reflect and understand what Montana Tech provided: a strong education, a practical problem solving mentality, and a proud network of alumni and friends. In recent years, Jeff has been active with the Environmental Engineering Industrial Advisory Board, helping organize the Department’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, explaining the advantages of Tech to interested high school students, and presenting at Alumni Workshops for current students. He has also supported the Board’s efforts to fund annual and endowed scholarships for students. He enjoys these connections as an opportunity to give back.

Jeff and Julie live in Clancy and have two grown children, John and Carolyn. John is an elementary teacher in Helena and Carolyn (BS, Information Technology and Design, Montana Tech) is currently working on a master’s degree in Professional and Technical Communication at Montana Tech.

Tom Richmond B.S. Petroleum Engineering, 1971

Tom Richmond is a Great Falls native, attending grade school and high school there. He attended Montana Tech, graduating with a B.S. degree in Petroleum Engineering in 1971. Richmond worked for Phillips Petroleum Co., Great Falls Refining Division before taking a position at the U.S. Geological Survey's Conservation Division offshore operations office in Metairie, Louisiana. Tom moved with the USGS to offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Thermopolis, Wyoming before moving back to Montana as the Billings District Engineer. He joined the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation as Senior Petroleum Engineer in 1982 and was named Administrator in 1990. 

Richmond was Montana’s Associate Official Representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state groundwater program managers and oil and gas agency officials.   Tom has served as President of GWPC; chaired committees for both GWPC and IOGCC; and was co-chair of GWPC’s Risk Based Data Management Steering Committee that focused on hydraulic fracturing data management and supported the IOGCC/GWPC’s website. He has had primary responsibility for developing and managing programs and regulations and providing technical and procedural advice for the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. Richmond retired from the Board with 32 years of service in 2014.

Tom became a member of the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research Advisory Board in 2013. He ran for office in the Montana House of Representatives in 2014 and currently represents House District 56. His hobbies include woodworking and amateur radio and he is the current president of the Yellowstone Radio Club. Richmond and his wife of 47 years, Rene’, reside in Billings.