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Bob and Ellen Thompson Pioneers of Charitable Initiatives



bob and ellen thompson pioneers of charitable initiatives

In the realm of the asphalt industry, one couple stands out for their remarkable contributions that have helped shape the future. Bob and Ellen Thompson spent decades making their mark as industry leaders and left an indelible legacy through their philanthropic efforts and commitment to nurturing generations of engineers and construction professionals.

A cornerstone in the Thompsons’ philanthropic journey unfolded in 1999, marked by a substantial $3.5 million donation for Michigan Tech Students. This generous contribution laid the foundation for two transformative initiatives: the Thompson Scholars program and the corresponding Pavement, Design, and Construction Materials (PDCM) Enterprise at Michigan Technological University.

The Thompson Scholars program offered invaluable support to 85 undergraduate students through scholarships. The initiative extended its reach to graduate students, while also equipping them with vital asphalt materials laboratory equipment. This investment not only eased the financial burden on deserving students but also enriched their educational journey.

pdcm enterprise alumni

In parallel, the PDCM Enterprise emerged as a pioneering concept driven by the Thompsons’ vision. This ingenious endeavor aimed to immerse scholarship recipients in a dynamic, business-oriented team setting, focusing on tangible realworld transportation infrastructure and materials projects. Distinct from traditional academic models, the enterprise embraced an entrepreneurial approach to education. It ventured beyond the realm of seeking singular, correct answers and embraced the complexity of open-ended questions intertwined with one another. Student teams were entrusted with the challenge of devising solutions that optimized project outcomes concerning both cost and performance. Those teams were evaluated as a team on their product from the proposal to the final report and presentation for the project they chose. Each semester students had several unique projects they were able to choose from. Projects included Regional & National Asphalt Mix Design Competitions, National Bidding Competition, Race Track Asphalt Mixture Design, and Pavement & Asphalt Mixture Design for Steep Grades, to name a few.

to celebrate 20 years since

To celebrate 20 years since the first graduating class of the PDCM Enterprise, a reunion was held Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023, during Michigan Technological University’s Alumni Reunion weekend. The reunion was a great opportunity to say hello to Bob Thompson and catch up with fellow alumni of the program. Alumni of the Thompson Scholars program/PDCM Enterprise are working throughout the United States at many different organizations, such as AASHTO, NIST, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Michigan Department of Transportation, Granite Construction, Michigan Paving & Materials (CRH), Rieth Riley, Z Contractors, OHM, Asphalt Pavement Association of Michigan, Payne & Dolan, NCE, Kimerly Horn, and the National Asphalt Pavement Association. As part of the reunion, alumni of the Thompsons Scholars program worked with Michigan Technological University to create a scholarship in Bob and Ellen Thompson’s honor, Robert & Ellen Thompson Student Fund, which aims to continue the Thompsons’ legacy of giving and changing the lives of Michigan Tech students pursuing engineering degrees with a focus on pavements and infrastructure.

The Thompsons’ influence doesn’t stop there. They understand the importance of expanding opportunities, which led to also establishing the Acott/Wilson Asphalt Industry Scholarship in 2019. This scholarship, named in honor of contributions by industry leaders, former NAPA President Michael Acott and former NAPA Chairman of the Board Peter Wilson and his family, extends their commitment to promoting education within the asphalt sector. The Acott/Wilson Asphalt Industry scholarship has provided more than $240,000 supporting 65 student scholarships at colleges and universities in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Students receiving the scholarship must be attending engineering or technical schools. The scholarship is managed by the NAPA Research and Education Foundation (NAPAREF) Scholarship Program, which was initiated in 1994, and aims to help ensure the success of the asphalt pavement industry through the education of tomorrow’s industry leaders.

“Program, which was initiated in 1994, and aims to help ensure the success of the asphalt pavement industry through the education of tomorrow’s industry leaders.”

To this day, the Thompson Foundation is still changing lives (around 5,200 to be exact). At Michigan Tech, the foundation has established the Working Families Scholarship Program in memory and honor of Tech graduates, Rollin A. Jones ’58 and James E. Lindstrom ’69, who served as vice presidents in the Thompson McCully organization. At other schools in Michigan and one in Ohio, the Working Families Scholarship expands beyond engineering curriculum, and each provides support to a member of a working family who might not be able to attend or finish college because of their family’s financial situation. Students receiving the scholarship not only need to meet certain criteria set for GPA, but they also must complete a required number of community service hours to continue receiving the support.

As the asphalt industry undergoes constant evolution, Bob and Ellen Thompsons’ unwavering dedication to education and programs showcasing the immense potential within the asphalt pavement industry positions them as true industry pioneers. Their enduring legacy radiates through the scholarship initiatives they’ve initiated, the wealth of knowledge they’ve disseminated, and the trail they’ve blazed by helping generations of leaders within the asphalt industry.

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