Thompson Working Families Scholarship program at BGSU creates stewards of community service

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Over the past decade, the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program at Bowling Green State University has fostered a culture of giving back, inspiring students to become lifelong stewards of community service. 

Community service is a cornerstone of the scholarship program, which was created in 2014 to help high-achieving students overcome barriers to higher education. 

Since the program began, Thompson Scholars have completed more than 89,000 hours of service in Bowling Green, surrounding communities and their hometowns — a commitment that often continues beyond their time at BGSU. 

“The Thompson Working Families Scholarship program is a beautiful interpretation of the mission of BGSU as a public university for the public good,” said Fonda Heenehan, a coordinator for student engagement and programming for the scholarship program. “In addition to broadening access to higher education, the program is helping students develop an affinity for community service that they carry with them throughout their lives.”

The scholarship’s impact stands to grow even more with the recent historic pledge from its founders, Robert Thompson ‘55, ‘06 (Hon.) and Ellen Bowen-Thompson ‘54, ‘06 (Hon.), to extend the program into the next decade. 

More than 6,200 students will be supported by the enduring philanthropy and generosity of the Thompson family, the University’s most generous supporters.

The contribution will be the largest in BGSU 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.

“Our scholars truly embody the Thompsons' legacy of service in their commitment to making our world better through acts of kindness and service,” said Mary Kay Inkrott Hiser, ‘05, ‘06, director of Thompson Scholarship programs. “When students see the difference they’re making, they’re inspired to continue volunteering throughout their lives.”

With an innovative public-private philanthropic partnership approach, the program ensures all parties are invested in student success. BGSU 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.

Along with additional requirements, students in the program must complete 20 hours of service each academic year, though Heenehan said many go above and beyond the minimum.

The program encourages students to volunteer for opportunities that align with their interests and values, which Heenehan said helps them connect more deeply to the work they're doing and the difference they’re making.

“We want them to reflect on their own values and choose a service opportunity they’re passionate about,” Heenehan said. “It’s more impactful when students find those areas of interest and begin to think about the reasons various needs exist and how they can collaborate with community members and organizations to solve those problems on a broader level.”

BGSU sophomore Jordan Garner, who was the services initiatives chair for the scholarship program’s student leadership team in 2023-'24, helped organize volunteer events for Thompson Scholars. 

In that role, Garner collected reflections from students to help gauge the impact of various service opportunities.

“There’s a distinct difference between logging required community service hours and doing meaningful community service,” Garner said. “We want students to reflect on who they’re helping, what they’re doing for the community and anything new they learned from the experience. We think that’s a big part of people returning to volunteer time and again.”

Along with strengthening students' interest in giving back to their communities, service opportunities have helped shape students’ lives in other ways.

Recent alumna Abigail Cox ‘24, who graduated in April with a bachelor’s degree in tourism, hospitality and event management, discovered a passion for working in parks and recreation after volunteering as a Thompson Scholar at Simpson Garden Park in Bowling Green.

She said the initial volunteer opportunity fueled her desire to pursue it as a career and inspired her to obtain various certifications and attend conferences to broaden her knowledge.

“Through that experience, I really began to see my future career take shape. It was very formative,” said Cox, who is planning to move out West to pursue opportunities at national parks. “I’m so thankful for the opportunities provided through the Thompson Working Families Scholarship program, which helped me find my passion while serving others.”

Updated: 05/08/2024 10:18AM