The importance of having the financial resources necessary to attract the most promising students to the College of Engineering has never been lost on Engineering Dean Thomas W. Lester. “Engineering draws the best students. That’s just the nature of the engineering,” he says. “But it also takes competitive scholarships to help entice those students to UK.”
Toward that end, he and his staff created a merit-based scholarship program that would offer four-year scholarships to students in the College of Engineering. The program was designed to attract and retain high-quality students to the College and provide them with the financial resources needed to pursue an engineering education at the University of Kentucky. On October 20, 2011, the Dean’s Advisory Council renamed the program the Thomas W. Lester Scholarship Program after its biggest proponent.
Lester, whose tenure as the ninth dean of the College of Engineering is the longest in the college’s history, will step down from his post June 30. Upon hearing of the decision, Lester conveyed deep gratitude for the advisory council’s expression of thanks.
“I am gratified and honored that the advisory board members took this step in my honor. Students are the life blood of the College of Engineering. Our job focuses on helping them acquire an education in engineering and computer science and in uncovering new discoveries from which the students of tomorrow can benefit. I cannot think of a better investment than contributing to the education of tomorrow’s engineers and computer scientists.”
Advisory council member Earnie Robbins said renaming the program after the venerable dean of 22 years was a slam-dunk.
“When leaders leave their posts—whether in industry, the government or academia—they are routinely presented with tokens of esteem by their peers and those whom they have touched the most. So it was when we learned of Dean Lester’s decision to retire from his stewardship of our college. It wasn’t a question of if we wanted to do something to honor his legacy of service, but, rather, a question of what would be most meaningful to him? It was a relatively easy decision: a named scholarship program that would ensure the name ‘Tom Lester’ is perpetually attached to academic excellence.”
Fellow advisory council member Bill Sims echoed the prevailing sentiment that Lester had rightly earned such an honor.
“Dean Tom Lester’s advisory council wanted the College of Engineering to continue to build on the foundation of success it had observed Tom Lester successfully creating over his 22 years as dean. The building blocks of growth for that foundation continue to be dependent on attracting the brightest students and ensuring they have access to the college, unconstrained by financial limitations. In that regard, the advisory council thought there was no better way to commemorate and extend Dean Lester’s success than creating a solid undergraduate scholarship program in his name.”
The merit-based scholarships are $3,000 per year ($1,500 per semester) for up to eight semesters. Incoming freshmen with a minimum 29 composite ACT score, a minimum 33 math ACT score and a 3.5 high school GPA qualify.
Former UK president Lee Todd said Dean Lester’s achievements during his tenure cannot be underestimated and that the scholarship program will extend his legacy in ways that make a difference for students and the communities where they will work.
“The College of Engineering is competing for some of the very best students in Kentucky and across the nation. In this day of higher tuition, scholarships are absolutely necessary in order to attract this level of student. No dean of engineering in America has done a better job than Dean Lester of increasing engineering enrollment, recruiting top students and, at the same time, significantly increasing student retention in this very difficult academic discipline.”
Todd pointed out the significance of renaming the program after a man who clearly valued putting scholarships in students’ hands.
“Tom has done an outstanding job of using scholarship dollars to greatly enhance the college and it is only fitting that this scholarship program be named for him. He has had a lasting impact on the college and the Thomas W. Lester Scholarship Program will have a lasting impact on our state and nation. There is no better tribute for his 22 years of service at this institution.”
Since the announcement, advisory council members and friends of the college have donated over $375,000 to the Thomas W. Lester Scholarship Program. In addition, to commemorate the initiative, a plaque was placed in the Raymond Student Commons of the Ralph G. Anderson Building. The text of the plaque, followed by the names of the advisory council members, reads:
“On July 1, 1990, Thomas W. Lester became the ninth dean of the University of Kentucky College of Engineering. Over his twenty-two year tenure, he built on the legacies of his predecessors through his unyielding dedication to engineering education. Dean Lester’s accomplishments are defined by his commitment to attracting students to the engineering profession and creating educational opportunities that supported their academic success.
To that end, he assembled a highly respected faculty, a dedicated leadership team and developed world-class engineering facilities. In addition, his success in securing philanthropic support led to undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty professorships and endowed chairs. These vehicles provided resources that ensured a high-quality engineering education was in reach of those who aspired to earn an engineering degree.
In 2009, Dean Lester initiated a merit scholarship program to provide four-year scholarships to qualifying freshmen. It became the premier scholarship program for the college and was the catalyst for increasing the number of highly talented and gifted students enrolled in the UK College of Engineering.
On October 20, 2011, the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council committed resources to sustain the merit scholarship program and established the Thomas W. Lester Scholarship Program in his honor.”