Bob and Ellen Thompson, President Mantella stand with student scholarship recipients. Most wearing blue shirts that read GVSU.

Philanthropic Michigan couple gives additional $52 million to help college students

A Michigan couple is contributing millions in support of their commitment to change lives through education.

Bob and Ellen Thompson believe in education’s ability to make a significant difference in someone's life. Their latest gift of $52 million is to support Thompson Working Families Scholarships (TWFS) at institutions like Grand Valley that partner with the Thompson Foundation. The Thompsons already have contributed $33 million to TWFS and the additional $52 million means more than 5,200 students will receive support.

The Thompsons have partnered with Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley State and Michigan Technological universities and the Thompsons' alma mater, Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, according to John Cleary, CEO of the Thompson Foundation. Each partner university provides matching funds.

Since 2011, more than 1,050 GVSU students have received funding from the TWFS. In 2020, the Thompsons added an additional $19 million to this program. This is the largest private scholarship program at Grand Valley.

Domonique Palmer laughs with Bob and Ellen Thompson at a 2019 reception.
Domonique Palmer laughs with Bob and Ellen Thompson at a 2019 reception.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

It was Ellen’s idea to help what she termed as “working families" when the TFWS program started in 2011. When working with university representatives, Ellen recognized a gap in financial support for students. 

President Philomena V. Mantella said: “At Grand Valley, we have many students who are the first in their families to attend college, and we know education is a game changer, well, so is the incredible generosity of Bob and Ellen Thompson. Because of their focus on hard working families and students, more young people are receiving the support they need to prepare for their future.” 

The students who receive Thompson Working Families Scholarships must maintain a specified grade point average and commit to community service hours. Universities agree to provide resources to maintain high cohort graduation rates.

Mallory Bosma stands in the Mary Idema Pew Library.
Mallory Bosma, who earned a Thompson Working Family Scholarship, stands in the Mary Idema Pew Library.
Image credit - Valerie Hendrickson

Mallory Bosma, a Zeeland native, is majoring in social work. Bosma said receiving this scholarship allows her to make progress toward a debt-free degree. 

"Receiving this scholarship helps allow me to continue my degree without having to take any breaks due to not being able to pay tuition," Bosma said. "I want to pursue my master's degree immediately and having the opportunity to prevent debt makes that goal attainable. 

"With the help of this scholarship I am able to focus and spend substantial time on my school work. I feel very lucky to be included in the Thompson scholarship program."

Lynn “Chick” Blue, special advisor to the president, was instrumental in establishing a relationship with the Thompsons in the early 2000s. Blue echoed what she has heard from many scholarship recipients. 

“Bob and Ellen Thompson are truly making a difference for our students," Blue said. "They are taking away a roadblock and lifting a burden by allowing students to concentrate on their studies and college activities without so many financial worries.”

Bob Thompson has a message for scholarship recipients: "You can do things to help others, one-on-one, and make it happen. You're almost obligated by me to do that. Do what you can and someday I hope you'll look back and say, 'This changed my life.'" 


Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.