Michigan Technological University’s 2023 Alumni Reunion provided a golden opportunity for Pavement Enterprise Team members and Thompson Scholars Program recipients to gather with co-benefactor Bob Thompson to share memories and reflect on the impact the initiatives had on their careers.
The Pavement, Design, Construction, and Materials Enterprise — active from 2000 to 2008 — was one of the earliest teams in Michigan Tech’s Enterprise Program, an innovative real-world learning experience heading into its 25th year. The team and the Thompson Scholars program were founded jointly thanks to a $3,570,890 gift from Bob and Ellen Thompson in 1999. Given in two parts, with funds to start and run the enterprise team and funds to support scholarships, the overall goal was to recruit graduates into the pavement industry to relieve a workforce shortage. To that end, a board of industry leaders helped advise the team.
Many of the 85 students who graduated from the program were on hand to connect at the reunion.
Brett Stanton ’03, one of the program’s first graduates, helped organize the gathering at Hancock Beach. Stanton worked for asphalt contractors for 15 years before joining the Asphalt Pavement Association of Michigan as its executive director in 2020.
“Tech’s Enterprise Program set us up for future success,” Stanton said. “We would work on projects and present our findings to the board like we were on ‘Shark Tank.’ They showed no mercy in their comments on our work, but it really prepared us. The connections made through that program have carried into my career. I still talk to many of the board members and my classmates on a weekly basis.”
Bob Thompson said he enjoyed talking to the students impacted by his gift. “I believe I spoke with all the former scholars present at the reunion,” he said. “I have never been with people that I felt more comfortable with. They were all Ellen and I had hoped for. They had impressive answers to where they are in their careers, and they spoke with pride about their mates and children.”
"The reunion was a special day that I will remember. The money for their education was well spent."
Audra Morse, dean of the College of Engineering and former chair of MTU’s Department of Civil, Geospatial, and Environmental Engineering, highlighted the success of the program, which saw 90% of the participants earn degrees.
“I firmly believe the Pavement Enterprise and the Thompson Scholars Program accomplished Bob and Ellen’s vision, which was to produce civil engineers interested and prepared to be leaders in the asphalt paving industry,” said Morse. “But he accomplished so much more than that. He created a community of Michigan Tech alums thankful for their Michigan Tech education and passionate about asphalt.”
Steffanie Pepin, who graduated in 2010, worked on four different projects during her time on the Pavement Enterprise. She is currently a civil engineer for GEI Consultants in Marquette and a student in Tech’s online master’s program in civil engineering.
“The program helped shape my career because I got to know a lot of people in industry,” she said. “I also met my fiancé Andrew (Mansfield ’10) through the program.”
Several program alumni, in gratitude for the scholarship funds they received, have created a scholarship program to continue the Thompsons’ work. The Robert and Ellen Thompson Student Fund will support students who are pursuing degrees in industries related to pavement.
The Thompson Foundation continues to support Michigan Tech students through the Working Families Scholarship Program, established 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. Established in 1959, it had grown to be Michigan’s largest asphalt paving company before the Thompsons sold the business in 1999, sharing sale proceeds with employees and forming the Thompson Foundation.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.