$1 million gift to create scholarships and upgrade engineering facilities

Longtime supporters Ronald and Martha Tirpak have directed support to promote affordability and bolster infrastructure

April 22, 2024

Editor’s note: A version of this article was first published on Penn State News.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ronald and Martha Tirpak know how to get projects off the ground. The Pennsylvania natives were both the first in their families to attend college, and even when Ron hit a financial setback — a required summer term after his junior year prevented him from earning enough wages to cover his final year of tuition — he persisted by taking an alternate route on his road to graduation: a six-month detour through the Department of Highways. The job paved the way for him to graduate from Penn State’s College of Engineering in 1963 with degrees in sanitary and civil engineering.

The couple married three years later and went on to build a still-thriving civil engineering firm in Summit Hill located in Carbon County, Pennsylvania.

Now, the Tirpaks are using their own experience as a blueprint to guide their philanthropic vision as they help to build Penn State’s future. The couple has stepped forward with a $1 million commitment to expand affordability through scholarships and to ensure the College of Engineering has access to modern, state-of-the-art facilities. The gift builds upon their past support of the College of Engineering and includes an estate commitment that is projected to make a transformational impact on future Penn State STEM students.

“Ron and Martha have devoted their lives to building public infrastructure in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, where their efforts have benefited the entire community,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi. “Now, they have amplified their already robust philanthropic support of the University with a gift that will significantly strengthen the College of Engineering and create new scholarships across multiple units that will empower hardworking young people to fulfill their dreams of coming to Penn State. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Tirpaks for their generosity and for their inspiring vision of a stronger, more accessible University.”

The bulk of their commitment will be directed to support the Engineering Collaborative Research and Education Building, a 290,000 square-foot engineering facility that is anticipated to open in Fall 2024. Once completed, it will house 51,000 square feet of space in support of research, and its nine active learning classrooms will provide the largest capacity of classrooms of any building at University Park. The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department will be among the units that will relocate to the new building. In recognition of the critical role the couple played in bringing the project to fruition, the Multipurpose Open Seating Space, located on the southeast side of the first floor, will be formally named the Tirpak Lounge.

“Equipping engineering students with the skills and expertise to succeed requires a robust and modern infrastructure, and the Tirpaks’ gift has played a tremendous role in funding the facilities that will make learning and research possible for decades to come,” said Tonya L. Peeples, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. “I am pleased the Tirpak Lounge will bear their name as a reminder of their extraordinary generosity and dedication to lifting future Penn State engineers to success.”

The Tirpak’s philanthropic commitment will also create two new scholarships. The Ronald M. and Martha M. Tirpak Science Scholarship will be available to students in the Eberly College of Science whose home address of record is in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. First preference will be given to students who are planning to major in pre-medicine. The Ronald M. And Martha M. Tirpak Information Technology Scholarship will benefit undergraduates in the College of Information Sciences and Technology from Carbon County. Both scholarships are permanently endowed and will be awarded annually, with the possibility of renewal for students who remain in good academic standing.

These new endowments deepen the Tirpak’s existing philanthropic legacy, including the Ronald M. and Martha M. Tirpak Civil Engineering Scholarship, which assists students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The couple plans to provide additional support to each of these endowments, as well as to THON, through provisions of their estate. In recognition of their gifts to the University, the Tirpaks were welcomed into the Mount Nittany Society in 2007, the Atherton Society in 2019, and the Laurel Circle in 2024.

“Carbon County has really struggled over recent decades to attract industry and business, so many of its residents don’t necessarily have the resources to cover the tuition of a world-class institution like Penn State,” said Ron Tirpak. “Our goal in making this gift was to open doors for young people in Carbon County, especially for those entering STEM fields, who might otherwise be intimidated by the financial barriers to entry.”

A further portion of their new gift will power the creation of the Ronald M. and Martha M. Tirpak Blue Band Legacy Fund, which will provide funds for the purchase of new and replacement band instruments. Their decision to channel support to the Blue Band was born out of their family’s longstanding appreciation for music.

“Our children and grandchildren all played in band or orchestra,” said Martha Tirpak. “In fact, in high school, Ron played trombone and I played percussion. We’ve been longtime fans of the Blue Band and always stay to see the drumline after football games, so this gift was a way of signaling our appreciation and support for all they do.”

Ron Tirpak was born in Summit Hill and attended Penn State Hazleton for three semesters before coming to University Park to finish his bachelor's degree in sanitary and civil engineering in 1963. He joined the Department of Highways after graduation, where he spent 18 years, 10 years in the position of district bridge engineer in Allentown District Five. He left the Department of Transportation in 1980 to found his own firm, Carbon Engineering Inc., which today continues to offer a wide range of services in the field of municipal and environmental engineering. He led the firm until his retirement in 2013.

Martha Tirpak was born in Lansford, Pennsylvania, just one mile northwest of Summit Hill. She attended what was then known as East Stroudsburg State College, where she earned her degree in early childhood education in 1965. Martha taught for four years at the Lehighton Area school district, before becoming a substitute teacher at the Panther Valley school district after their children were in elementary school. She made the professional pivot to join her husband when he launched his civil engineering firm.  

The couple’s children, R. Michael Tirpak II and Kristin Tirpak Haas, are both graduates of Penn State, with bachelor's degrees, respectively, in structural design and construction engineering technology in 1992 and microbiology in 1994. They assumed ownership of Carbon Engineering Inc. just over a decade ago upon their parents’ retirement.

The couple remains active as volunteers within their community. Ron serves as vice president of the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corp. and chairman of the Carbon County Industrial Development Authority. Martha is president of the council at Trinity Lutheran Church of Lansford.

“The Carbon County area has been very good to us,” Ron Tirpak reflected. “We wanted to pay forward our success to the next generation, so that we can unlock opportunities for every person who is eager to work towards a brighter future, and we are proud that Penn State is here to make that future a reality.”

Donors like Ron and Martha Tirpak advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients, and communities across the commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting raise.psu.edu.


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