bookmarks on a black table cloth say GVSU Thompson Scholars

Philanthropic Detroit couple opens doors to education for 400 new students

Bob and Ellen Thompson fund the university's largest scholarship program

Nearly 400 new students have enrolled at Grand Valley this year largely because of the generosity of a Detroit couple who have expanded access to education for students from working-class families.

The new students create a current cohort of 1,250 Thompson Scholarship recipients at Grand Valley. It's the university's largest scholarship program, funded by Bob and Ellen Thompson and their foundation. 

The Thompsons established their first scholarship program for Grand Valley students who graduated from Detroit's University Prep Academy in 2008. They have since expanded programs to include transfer students, first-year students and sophomores who meet the criteria.

students seated in chairs in rows in Kirkhof Center listen to a presentation
Thompson Scholars new to the program attend an orientation session in the Kirkhof Center.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Orientation sessions were held in early September for new scholarship recipients, like Laila Adams, who is studying communication sciences and disorders. Adams said prior to receiving a Thompson scholarship, she was accumulating some debt and using a few smaller scholarships to pay for tuition and other expenses.

"I'm still amazed that this takes care of the bulk of my tuition," Adams said. "They are helping so many students bridge the gap of affording college. I know it has been frustrating for me to figure out the money aspect of attending college."

students work at round tables on a volunteer project
Thompson Scholars work on a project for Kent District Library. Scholarship recipients are required to complete 20 hours of volunteer service each year.

Thompson Scholars are required to do 20 hours of volunteer service each year. Another scholarship recipient, Joshua Hayes, is facilitating events to help them do that in his role as a student employee in the Student Life Civic Engagement office.

Hayes, who is a legal studies major, said he has read about the Thompsons and hopes someday to meet them to extend his appreciation.

"I would like to thank them for all they have done for me and my family by providing this wonderful opportunity," Hayes said. 

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said what the Thompsons are doing — filling the gap in funding an education — is important for so many students and their families. 

"Having zero or low debt when a student graduates from college is a tremendous gift that Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their foundation have given to so many Grand Valley students," Truss said. "We are very grateful and appreciative of their generosity."

Thompson Scholars are pictured completing a service project for Family Futures.
Thompson Scholars are pictured completing a service project for Family Futures.


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