Fall 2011 Michigan Tech Magazine


By Marcia Goodrich

Rising to a challenge, expanding horizons

Of the challenges facing higher education, perhaps the greatest is cost. While Michigan Tech works to contain costs, the reality is that many students still struggle to afford a university education.

Fifty years ago, plenty of students were able to work their way through school, thanks to generous state support that kept tuition low. Since then, however, states have shouldered an array of expensive new responsibilities, and funding for higher ed has withered, particularly in the face of the current economic downturn. Plus, a technological education is inherently more expensive than the average college degree program.

Wouldn't it be great if we could make college as affordable as it was in 1961? The fact is, we can. Scholarships and fellowships have the power to turn back the clock, which is one reason why they are a top priority of the Generations of Discovery Capital Campaign. The Michigan Tech Alumni Association has responded by establishing its new Traditions of Giving Fellowships and Scholarships.

Scholarships do more than make college affordable. They can also attract superior students and encourage them to expand their horizons. And, they can influence the future. In a world gravely in need of solutions, women are sorely underrepresented among certain problem-solving professions. To expand the pool of talented scientists and engineers, two Tech graduates, Martha Sullivan and Gerald Van Voorhis, have established scholarships designed to lure more qualified women to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Traditions of Giving Fellowships and Scholarships

Sponsored by the Alumni Association, Traditions of Giving is providing $30,000 a year for three years, beginning in fall 2011: $10,000 for graduate fellowships and $20,000 for undergraduate scholarships each year. The awards, for incoming students, will be $1,000. The fellowships and scholarships are funded via an endowed fund of the Michigan Tech Alumni Association, which was built over the years through the generosity of alumni and friends.

In addition to providing financial help, the Alumni Association Board of Directors will welcome the scholarship recipients to the University and encourage them to connect to the alumni network and get involved in alumni events.

Martha Sullivan Endowed Scholarship

In 1980, when Martha (Newman) Sullivan received her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, there were barely a handful of female engineering students. That didn't hold her back.

"My experiences were overwhelmingly positive," she said. "Because there weren't many women engineers at the time, it was a pretty close-knit group. And there were a few instructors who were very supportive, especially my thermodynamics instructor, Professor Duane Abata."

After graduation, Sullivan began a career at Texas Instruments, rising to the position of vice president of its sensors and controls business. When TI spun the division off, Sullivan became its president and COO. Sensata Technologies develops sensors used in internal combustion engines. "That was an interest I developed at Michigan Tech," she said.

While their numbers are slowly rising, the proportion of female to male students has not changed dramatically since Sullivan was a student. To accelerate that change, she has promised to match dollar for dollar the first $250,000 in donations to support an endowed scholarship that focuses on female engineering students, mechanical engineering majors in particular.

"It's a cause that's near and dear to my heart, being a female ME grad myself," she said. "There are still many obstacles for women before they even get to the point of pursuing an engineering degree, and my desire is to remove one possible roadblock, the financial one."

Gerald and Mary Lou Van Voorhis Endowed Scholarship

Gerald Van Voorhis launched his career in mineral exploration from the solid foundation of his Tech education, earning his bachelor's in geophysical engineering in 1960 and a master's in geophysics in 1964.

"It was good, solid, practical, useful," he says of his Michigan Tech education. "It was meant to prepare."

He spent the early part of his career with Kennecott Copper and moved on to an executive position with ASARCO.

Then he and two colleagues formed a new business venture to explore for copper, silver, and gold in Peru. Bear Creek Mining Company was born.

"The company grew and became quite successful before I decided to sell out of it," Van Voorhis says. He wanted to give back to the University that had provided him with such a solid education, so he worked with Michigan Tech development officer Nathan Ruonavaara '94 to arrange a gift of Bear Creek Mining stock valued at nearly $205,000, in addition to a pledge of $24,000 in cash. The gift was later earmarked for a new scholarship designed to benefit students pursuing degrees in STEM fields, with preference given to women.

Now living in Park City, Utah, with his wife, Mary Lou, Van Voorhis hopes the gift will help others embark on careers as remarkable as his own.