High School Chemistry Teacher, Alum Gives Back to UM

April 25, 2022

Dr. Craig Pierson’s dedication to the University of Montana is more than one man’s desire to give back — it's a family tradition.

His late father, Dalton T. Pierson, graduated from the School of Law in 1932 before rising to serve as the U.S. District Attorney for Montana. Dr. Pierson’s own connection with the University began in 1950, when he attended preschool and enjoyed activities such as learning to ice skate on campus. Later, both he and his brother attended UM.



Craig and Mary Ann Pierson

Now, the high school chemistry teacher is bolstering UM scholarships and empowering the next generation to create cherished memories and shape their own bright futures at the University.

Most recently, Dr. Pierson made a commitment in his estate plan to establish two scholarship endowments in the College of the Arts and Media, one for high achieving music majors and one for accomplished journalism majors. The Dr. Craig Pierson Scholarships in Music and Journalism will help driven, talented UM students earn degrees and pursue meaningful careers in these fields. Because the funds supporting the scholarship awards will be endowed, they will continue to aid students for years to come.

Chemist Turned Teacher

Check out the slideshow of 12 items below:

  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson and his step-grandmother Beatrice, 1949 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson and his step-grandmother Beatrice, 1949
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson and his grandfather, Ed T. Pierson Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson and his grandfather, Ed T. Pierson
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson's father, Dalton T. Pierson, 1933 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson's father, Dalton T. Pierson, 1933
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson's mother, Bessie H. Davis, age 15 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson's mother, Bessie H. Davis, age 15
  • Slide Title: Dr. Craig Pierson, mother Bessie and brother Dalton II, 1951 Slide Caption: Dr. Craig Pierson, mother Bessie and brother Dalton II, 1951
  • Slide Title: Dr. Craig Pierson '67 Slide Caption: Dr. Craig Pierson '67
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson at a coin show, 1973 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson at coin show, 1973
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson skiing in Austria, 1970 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson skiing in Austria, 1970
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson at the Big Sky Centennial Ball Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson at the Big Sky Centennial Ball
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson figure skating, 1989 Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson figure skating, 1989
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson and his wife Mary Ann play handbells Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson and his wife Mary Ann play handbells
  • Slide Title: Dr. Pierson, center, accepts the 2016 Billings Catholic Schools Educator of the Year Award Slide Caption: Dr. Pierson, center, accepts the 2016 Billings Catholic Schools Educator of the Year Award

As a UM student, Dr. Pierson continued to build on the memories he made on campus in his youth. His fondest memories include Singing on the Steps, the traditional ceremony recognizing Distinguished Alumni and Homecoming royalty, meeting fellow members of the ROTC and learning how to ski at Snowbowl. The chemistry major graduated with honors and received a commission with the U.S. Army in 1968.

Dr. Pierson said his UM education gave him a competitive edge while he earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from Pennsylvania State University. After graduating in 1973, he began his nearly two decade-long career at ExxonMobil oil refinery in Billings, starting out as assistant lab supervisor.

It wasn’t until later that he realized his passion for educating high school students, during service as a substitute teacher. After earning his master's degree in education from MSU-Billings, he began teaching chemistry at Billings Central Catholic High School in 2001.

He said his students inspire his continued enthusiasm for his profession. He clearly maintains that passion — in 2016 he earned the Billings Catholic Schools Educator of the Year Award.

“It is so motivating to watch students excel in unique ways and pursue careers in diverse fields,” he said. “Watching them grow keeps me excited and committed to teaching.”

“Anyone Can Make a Lasting Impact”

Dr. Pierson exemplifies a passion for education not only in his classroom, but also through philanthropic support of UM.

In 1979, he funded the addition of an elevator to the School of Law to honor his father's memory and to improve accessibility in the building. In 2019, he made a significant gift to support Montana Access Scholarships, which provided need-based financial assistance to Montana-resident students.

More recently, Dr. Pierson’s lifelong interest in music inspired him to support a scholarship for UM students pursuing careers in music education, performance and composition. He grew up playing piano with encouragement from his aunt Gladys and often performed at competitions in the School of Music Recital Hall. He also met his wife Mary Ann through the Billings square and round dance community, and they both enjoy playing handbells.

The second scholarship Dr. Pierson established will support UM journalism students and promote trustworthy reporting across all media.

“My respect for broadcast journalism like NPR, as well as print publications like Mother Jones and the New York Times magazines, motivated me to support a profession that is critical to maintaining our democracy,” he said.

The Dr. Craig Pierson Scholarships in Music and Journalism will provide financial assistance to students in these fields and ensure the arts and journalistic integrity thrive in our communities.

“I hope to encourage deserving students to pursue these subjects, which are sometimes underappreciated,” Dr. Pierson said. “Cost should not deter them from working toward professions that widely benefit society.”

Through his giving, Dr. Pierson also hopes to create a legacy that will inspire students to give back to the institution.

“It’s not just corporate leaders who support UM in this way,” he said. “Anyone can make a lasting impact.”

Learn More

To learn more about making a legacy gift in support of UM, contact Director of Planned Giving Alison Schultz at
406-243-5121 or alison.schultz@supportum.org.