Thompson Gift Announcement 202
Ellen Bowen-Thompson '54, ’06 (Hon.) and Bob Thompson '55, '06 (Hon.) are surrounded by Thompson Working Family Scholars and BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers after the announcement of the historic expansion of the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

In Photos: Historic Thompson Foundation, BGSU scholarship announcement

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The Thompson Working Families Scholarship program is expanding and extending into the next decade, supporting more than 6,200 students at BGSU.

Bowling Green State University and the Thompson Foundation announced on May 2 the historic expansion of their philanthropic partnership to provide nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in student scholarships at the University.

Bob Thompson '55, '06 (Hon.) and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson '54, '06 (Hon.) returned to the University to share their intent to increase their contribution to scholarships at BGSU, combined with their previous scholarship support, to total $121 million, with the possibility of an additional $30 million to extend the program past 2035. If realized, the Thompsons will have contributed $150 million to student scholarships at BGSU.

This contribution will be the largest in the University’s history, the largest single gift designated to student scholarships in the state of Ohio’s history and one of the largest non-endowed scholarship programs of its kind in the nation.

“This is a generationally defining gift for thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to earn a college degree,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers. “As a public university for the public good, access to higher education is at the very core of our mission, and we are incredibly grateful for the Thompsons’ unprecedented generosity in supporting student scholarships at BGSU. The impact of this gift is truly immeasurable.”

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Bob Thompson and BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers shake hands after President Rogers' remarks. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Ellen (Bowen) and Bob Thompson pose together during the announcement celebration in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Two Thompson Scholars react to the scholarship expansion announcement. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Pam Conlin, vice president for University Advancement and the president and CEO of the BGSU Foundation, Inc., welcomes the capacity crowd to the Lenhart Grand Ballroom. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)
Thompson Working Family Scholars stand to be recognized during the announcement event. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

In 2014, the Thompsons created the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program to help students from working families overcome financial barriers to higher education.

Beginning with 15 students in the first cohort, the Thompson Foundation pressure-tested the program over the last decade at BGSU, steadily extending and expanding its support as success metrics were met.

To date, 1,910 students have received Thompson Working Families scholarships at BGSU. With this gift announcement, more than 6,200 BGSU students are expected to receive Thompson scholarship support, from the program’s inception through 2035.

Chair of the BGSU Board of Trustees Drew Forhan '81 praised the Thompsons' focus on student success throughout all their philanthropic endeavors. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

During the announcement, Drew Forhan '81, chair of the BGSU Board of Trustees, thanked the Thompsons for their enduring generosity and overarching focus on student experience and success.

“No matter what the Thompsons have done, it always comes back to our students. Whether military and veteran students, PLA or Thompson Scholars, the Thompsons believe in the power of a Bowling Green education - one that is accessible, affordable and positions our graduates for success,” he said. “Bob and Ellen, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to share our deepest gratitude for you and for your generosity. We are better for it, our students are better for it, our University is better for it and so is our future.”

Scholars say 'thank you'

Two Thompson Scholars, newly graduated Steve Iwanek ’24 and theatre major Nykera Gardner, gave remarks about the impact that the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program has had on their academic careers and personal lives.

“A Thompson Scholar means to me the values of compassion, hard work, humility and grace. These are all values that make up, in my mind, a servant-leader mentality,” Iwanek said. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the Thompson Foundation and the entire staff with the Thompson Working Families Scholarship Program who have helped me have the most amazing student experience. I would not be the person nor the professional that I am today without the support and impact all of you have given to myself and also my family.”

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Steve Iwanek '24 credits the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program with helping to shape him into a journalism professional with a servant-leader mentality. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

“Becoming a Thompson Scholar was a key factor in what allowed me to stay at Bowling Green and continue my education here,” Gardner said. “I have so many incredible opportunities here at BGSU. I am always extremely proud when I get to tell someone that I am a Thompson Scholar, and I'm so incredibly grateful to be here. Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, genuinely, for making it possible.”

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Nykera Gardner, who is set to graduate in 2025 with her theatre degree, expresses her appreciation for the Thompsons and the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

Presidential remarks

President Rogers emphasized the historic generosity of the Thompsons, hailing the transformational and generational support for BGSU students, which opens doors for thousands who may not otherwise be able to access higher education.

“Thousands of students and alumni have shared in the BGSU story, and here's what I know: This institution is not defined by who we exclude. We are defined by the success of who we include. Take a look at the history of higher ed. Some institutions brag about their low acceptance rates and their high admission standards – elitism,” he said. “For them, higher education is about who they exclude. That is not who we are. We recognize the value of bringing people together. We remain committed to the success of anyone who has demonstrated grit and who is willing to work hard and learn.

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers gives remarks about the generosity of the Thompsons in front of a standing-room-only Lenhart Grand Ballroom in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

“I believe our University shares that same belief of the Thompsons, and that is we owe it to the thousands of future Thompson Scholars to believe in them, their ability and their future. That is how we move forward together. That is how we keep the momentum going. We must never be defined by who we exclude. We must always be defined by those we include.

“Bob and Ellen, we are deeply grateful for you and for trusting us. With this incredible opportunity, thousands of students will know the power of a Bowling Green education because of you and will create their own American dream.”

Bob Thompson ascended the podium and delivered remarks to the overflowing Lenhart Grand Ballroom with his trademark forthrightness and a touch of humor as well.

“My education at Bowling Green changed my life. I can't say enough about how impactful Bowling Green has been on me. The education I received gave me the confidence that was needed to build a successful construction business and live a contented and useful life,” he said. “I know and recognize the education has changed my life. I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for Bowling Green. If you remember one thing from this speech, please remember this: Whatever Ellen and I have done, or will do, for Bowling Green pales by comparison to what Bowling Green has done for us.”

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Bob Thompson emphasized the impact that his BGSU education has had on himself and wife Ellen. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

The Thompsons were treated to letters of thanks from this year’s Thompson Scholars as well as a video testimonial from the scholars. To conclude, they were surrounded by all the scholars in attendance as a Pinnacle Society crystal sculpture was presented to them on behalf of the BGSU Foundation and Bowling Green State University, in recognition of their extraordinary philanthropic support.

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
The Pinnacle Society crystal sculpture, molded from a 100-year-old oak tree that stands in the Bowen-Thompson Quadrangle, will be on permanent display in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

Pam Conlin, vice president for University Advancement and the president and CEO of the BGSU Foundation, Inc., presented the sculpture, noting it was molded from a century oak tree located in the Bowen-Thompson Quadrangle and “represents the rich history and solid foundation upon which Bowling Green State University is built and the soaring future this great University will achieve with support from donors like you.”

The sculpture will be permanently installed in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union.

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Ellen (Bowen) and Bob Thompson accept a crystal sculpture presented to them on behalf of the BGSU Foundation and the University as Thompson Scholars look on. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
Thompson Gift Announcement 2024

The Thompsons meet with their namesake scholars after Thursday's historic scholarship expansion announcement. (BGSU photos/Haven Conn '22)

Program innovations

With an innovative public-private philanthropic partnership approach, the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program ensures all parties are invested in student success. The University is committed to match the required Thompson scholarship funding, dollar for dollar, through University dollars and donor support for each student and ensure that students graduate in four years or less.

Scholarship recipients, known as Thompson Scholars, receive $11,000 each academic year through the program, covering much of the cost of tuition while still requiring a financial investment in earning their degree. Thompson Scholars must also commit to accountability metrics from the Thompson Foundation, such as maintaining academic progress and completing required community service hours.

The Thompson Foundation has worked closely with BGSU to measure the program’s success over the years, which has exceeded the required graduation expectations.

Thompson Gift Announcement 2024
The Thompsons are surrounded by their namesake scholars. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

Create good with us

BGSU is committed to raising matching funds for this program to make higher education accessible to as many students as possible. We are seeking individuals and foundations who wish to join the Thompsons in this bold, innovative philanthropic approach to change lives for the future. 

We invite you to be part of this extraordinary partnership by making a gift to the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program. With your help, we can create endless public good through the thousands of additional students who will graduate from BGSU thanks to this scholarship and go on to lead meaningful and productive lives. We can’t wait to see what they do with their BGSU degrees. Will you help them take their first step?

Create Good With Us

Thompson Scholars Steve Iwanek '24 and Nykera Gardner present a box filled with letters written by other scholars to Ellen and Bob Thompson. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 05/03/2024 10:22AM