Rewarding Engineering Excellence

Robert Thomson (Engr ’50) attributed his success as a paper company executive to the training he received as a chemical engineering major at UVA. He left $3.3 million in his will to endow the Thomson Distinguished Professorship in Engineering and Applied Science to ensure that future generations of promising young engineering students—graduates as well as undergraduates—will benefit from working with exceptional researchers who are also gifted teachers and mentors.

“The future of our school depends upon our ability to hire faculty members who create knowledge to address society’s most pressing challenges while also training new engineering leaders,” said Craig Benson, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “The Thomson Distinguished Professorship will provide us with an opportunity to recruit such world-class faculty.”

A member of the Engineering School’s board of trustees, Thomson also created a merit-based scholarship for third-year chemical engineering students in 1993. In his later years, he derived much satisfaction from the stream of thank-you notes he received from scholarship winners.

This year, six students were awarded Thomson Scholarships. For Andrew Biedermann (Engr ’17), the scholarship reduced the amount of student loans he needed for his fourth year. “Not having to worry about loans is a relief and will help me stay focused as a graduate student,” he said.

This endowed professorship will help UVA secure outstanding faculty members ready to tackle pressing societal problems and train emerging leaders.

His fellow scholarship winner, Matthew Bradshaw (Engr ’17), agreed. “The Thomson Scholarship gave me the peace of mind to know that I will be able to afford another year at this great school,” he said.

Scholarship winners appreciate the validation of their hard work. “Receiving a scholarship like this makes students like me feel that the University is invested in us, that the University believes we can succeed,” said Meghan Pinezich (Engr ’17). Richard Young (Engr ’17), another scholarship winner and president of the Engineering School’s student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, added, “Getting a scholarship like this tells me that my professors believe in my ability to effect change and serve as a leader in my field.”

The recipients’ pride in receiving the scholarship is well deserved. “We take into account their GPA, resume, and feedback from faculty in making our selection,” said Robert Davis, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department. “We see the Thomson Scholarships as a way to recognize our best students.”

“Bob Thomson was deeply committed to the Engineering School,” said Jason Chestnutt, the University’s director of gift planning. “He felt that the school’s dual emphasis on technical excellence and communication skills provided the foundation for his career.”

Because of Thomson’s gratitude, many scholarship students will continue to benefit from his generosity—as they have for more than 20 years. Now, future students will be the beneficiaries of the outstanding faculty attracted by the newly endowed Thomson Distinguished Professorship.