Thompson scholarships teach the value of helping others

By Matt Markey ’76

Scholarships are much more than a check with a name on it. For a growing number of Bowling Green State University students, when that aid comes from the Thompson Scholarship Programs, what they receive is essentially a passport to a future much brighter and more rewarding than they might have envisioned.

“Coming from a low-income, single-parent household, I see the Thompson Scholarship as something that changed my life,” said Jadyn Cline, a junior criminal justice major from Coshocton, Ohio, who attended River View High School. “It allows me to excel at my studies and not be constantly worried about my finances and how I am going to pay for everything. 

“Plus, the networking opportunities are amazing — I’ve been to the Ohio Statehouse with President Rogers — and for someone with a minor in political science, that is truly invaluable.”

The Thompson Scholarship for Working Families is one of the many philanthropic endeavors of Robert ’55 and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson ’54, a Michigan couple who met as students on the Bowling Green campus more than 60 years ago. The Thompsons provided a major gift in 2000 to help expand and renovate the University’s student union, they support the President’s Leadership Academy, and the scholarships they fund have dramatically expanded the opportunities for hundreds of students.

Thanks to the Thompsons’ significant increase in their philanthropic commitment to support students, the scholarship programs are anticipated to go to 1,200 scholars in the coming years.

“The generosity of Robert and Ellen Thompson has had a profound and immeasurable impact on Bowling Green State University,” BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “Their commitment to their alma mater has influenced its physical appearance, enhanced the student experience and has transformed and will continue to transform the lives of thousands of students.”

“For me, without the Thompson Scholarship, I would not have been able to come to Bowling Green,” said Sophia DeBord, a sophomore intervention specialist major from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who graduated from Woodridge High School. “The scholarship provided the big push for me to be here, and since then I’ve met so many amazing people involved with the program. A lot of my friends on campus are also Thompson Scholars.”

In addition to the significant financial assistance, the Thompson Scholarship includes regular interaction with an adviser, meetings to monitor academic progress and volunteer work. There is an emphasis on creating opportunities for the Thompson Scholars to connect, engage and serve throughout their time on campus at BGSU.

Janae Johnson, a junior from Euclid, Ohio, who attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, carries a double major in finance and management. She said that “personal” side of the program has made a huge difference in her college experience.

“The Thompson Scholarship is more than just the money; my favorite aspect is having a scholarship adviser and one-on-one attention,” said Johnson, who works with Mary Kay Inkrott, assistant director of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Services. “Being a first-generation college student, I was freaking out about a class, so she said let’s meet and figure it out. She took the time to understand me.”

Gabriel Sayer, a sophomore majoring in finance and business analytics, said the adviser connection is vital for him, as well.

“I’m very close to my scholarship adviser and she seems to really care about what is going on in my life, and not just academically,” he said. “There is a ton of support and camaraderie within the Thompson program, and I’m very grateful for all of those connections.”

Sayer, who works in the Office of Student Financial Aid and as a student ambassador, said he had the opportunity to spend some time with the Thompsons and he believes the scholarship program is an extension of their giving personalities.

“I saw the Thompsons eating lunch in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union and I sat down and had a nice conversation with them. They remember their roots and where they came from. They understand that people can struggle to adjust to college life, and struggle financially to make it all work,” said Sayer, who graduated from Bowling Green High School. “I think that’s why they are  trying to grow the scholarship program and add more recipients every year.”

Cecilia Castellano, vice president for enrollment management at BGSU, said the Thompson Scholarship Programs have evolved into the cornerstone of enrollment, recruitment and retention of current students at the University, as well as transfers and members of the military.

“Their support is very far-reaching. The Working Families Scholarship Program helps out students with high ability and low-income needs, but it also helps middle-income families,” she said.

“There also are programs for rising sophomores who have proved to be high achievers in college.” Castellano said the Thompson Scholarship Programs also have provided students with a clear path to graduation.

“The Thompsons really wanted to create programs that not only helped reduce family and student debt, but also assured that the students would be successful and complete a degree at BGSU,” she said. “We wrap our services around these students in many areas, and we assess the whole student experience and a program to support military students.”

The Thompson programs also encourage the students to engage in community service as an important part of their overall education.

“The Thompsons have showed all of us the value of giving back, and besides the things we do while we’re here, having this scholarship will allow me to give back more once I graduate,” said Cline, who works for the Office of Public Safety and also serves as a tour guide for the admissions office.

“As a Thompson Scholar, you feel like you are a part of something bigger.”