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Detroit couple increases scholarships to working families, Grand Valley students

  • Bob and Ellen Thompson

Posted on April 17, 2018

Hundreds of students at Grand Valley State University will get a financial boost thanks to the generosity of a Detroit area couple and their foundation. Bob and Ellen Thompson are increasing their investment in student success by expanding the Thompson Working Family Scholarship Program. This program is aimed at helping students who come from families who, despite working hard, cannot fund a child's college education.

They began the Thompson Working Family Scholarship Program (TWFS) at Grand Valley in 2011 with 15 students receiving $3,000 each year of their four-year program. More students were added each year. In 2017, an accelerated phase of the program began. The Thompsons requested Grand Valley increase the number of students getting the scholarship, and they added other colleges to the list as well. Grand Valley is now selecting 100 incoming first-year students and 25 Michigan community college transfer students to receive $5,000 each year for four years, and the number of student recipients will continue to grow.

"Bob and Ellen's passion for students and their commitment to giving is simply remarkable," said Grand Valley President Thomas J. Haas. "Students from hard-working families around the state will more easily see a Grand Valley degree in their future because of this $5,000-a-year award. The university has a long-term relationship with the Thompsons, and we're pleased and thankful they see we support students through to graduation, and they've decided we are responsible stewards of their gifts."

The Thompsons sold their company, Thompson-McCully, Michigan's largest asphalt paving company, after 40 years in business. Bob ran that business while Ellen began her career as an elementary school teacher. They both believe education changes lives. At the heart of their support for this program is Bob and Ellen's respect for the workers employed in their asphalt and concrete businesses.

"I see how long and hard some people work, and the dreams they have for their children," said Ellen Thompson. "We've been fortunate and want to help the students realize those dreams. I receive notes from those who have received Thompson scholarships, and they tell me they also want to give back some day. Bob and I know the investments we're making in these young people will pay hefty dividends in the future, not only in their lives, but in their communities."  

Results are important to the Thompsons. Since working with Grand Valley, they've seen the impressive graduation rates of students and the dedication of faculty and staff to student success. The cohorts of students moving through the TWFS program must reach an 80 percent, six-year graduation rate, and Grand Valley must provide financial and practical support. 

"I enjoy working with Bob and Ellen because they evaluate what we're doing for students," said Grand Valley Vice President for Enrollment Development Lynn Blue. "They see we have student success initiatives that include tutoring, a writing center and advising services. Our class sizes are small enough so professors get to know their students and are able to offer guidance. We are dedicated to student success at Grand Valley and so are the Thompsons. We think it's a wonderful partnership in which our students are the beneficiaries."

For more information about the Thompson Working Family Scholarship Program and other scholarships, visit