Thole scholarship continues to support underrepresented groups in engineering


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a new cohort of recipients, the Professor Karen A. Thole Annual Scholarship for Diversity in Engineering continues to support underrepresented students in engineering and encourage a more equitable workforce.

The scholarship was established in 2019 by John J. Brennan, who earned his master of science in nuclear engineering from Penn State in 1965, to honor Thole’s work.

The scholarship provides $5,000 to an academically exceptional undergraduate student in the College of Engineering for one year. This year, the fund has bestowed support to two more engineering undergraduates: Gwen Cullen, a second-year student, and Molly Smock, a first-year student. Haylee Womer was awarded the first scholarship in 2019.

Cullen, who also earned the scholarship in 2020, said she feels honored to be chosen.

“In my future career, I hope to use my skills as an engineer to make the world a better place,” she said. “I’m not sure on how that will look, but I’m excited to find out!”

The scholarship is named after Karen A. Thole, distinguished professor and former mechanical engineering department head. Her diligent efforts to diversify and support gender equity in the program are further cemented with the creation of this scholarship, according to Brennan.

Brennan has previously served on the advisory board for the Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education and was named an Outstanding Engineering Alumnus in 1998. Brennan’s support also established the John J. and Jean M. Brennan Clean Energy Early Career Professor, which supports an outstanding faculty member whose research is focused on helping eliminate the world's dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition to sharing her name with the scholarship, Thole also is actively involved with the professional development of the recipients by acting as a mentor and encouraging and supporting their education and careers.

“Obtaining a scholarship is a privilege itself, but after meeting Dr. Thole, I am even more honored,” Cullen said. “She is a true inspiration to all engineers and, most importantly, women in engineering. She is someone I can look up to and who I can rely on for advice.”


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