Nate Thomas Scholarship Endowment

Nate Thomas

Nathaniel “Nate” Thomas was the 1983 recipient of the Reginald Jones Award for his work in furthering the careers of more minorities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields than anyone in the United States. During his tenure at Illinois Tech, Thomas was the leading recruiter of minorities in STEM and produced more black engineers than all the other engineering schools in the state of Illinois combined. He developed and established a pioneering pre-engineering program called Early ID to identify talented underrepresented minority students capable of earning a STEM degree.

Thomas’s care and reach extended to students of all backgrounds. His trailblazing students went on to complete their degrees and make significant technological contributions in telecommunications, aerospace, manufacturing, architecture, computers, software, robotics, digital image processing, and more.


A $5,000–8,000 scholarship has been awarded to an undergraduate student each year since 2016. 

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Meet some of the people impacted by Nate

4A Alumni - Andrea Berry

“Nate Thomas exposed the possibilities of the world of advanced learning in technology, architecture, and business to hundreds of smart African American students who would not have normally had the opportunity to excel in those fields. He changed our lives through his mentoring and keen insight on our potential. He believed in us. I am forever grateful for his support which extended well beyond graduation.”

4A Alumni - Adam Schubert

“I first met Nate Thomas during my junior year (1975–76) of high school at Lane Tech College Prep High School. One of my classmates had encouraged me to check out Illinois Institute of Technology’s pre-engineering program. Prior to then, Illinois Tech had not been on my radar screen. I was aiming to be the first in my immediate family to go to college and I knew that I was interested in pursuing a career in chemistry. I quickly learned how Nate took a personal interest in everyone in the program. As someone interested in pursuing a degree in chemistry rather than in engineering, he arranged for me to work in one of the chemistry department’s research labs as part of my participation in the summer 1976 program. At the end of that summer, I learned that I was being awarded a full scholarship for my freshman year at Illinois Tech with that, I didn’t even apply to any other colleges.

Nate’s interest in me didn’t end with my enrollment in the fall of 1977. During orientation week, my assigned course schedule had all the standard freshman courses even though I had advanced placement credits for several of them. Not knowing where else to turn, I went to Nate for help, and he was able to get me registered in all the appropriate classes before orientation week was over. He continued to check in on me during the semester. When it was time for me to look for a summer job, he worked behind the scenes with the career center and I was able to land a position well-suited for my career aspirations, which helped me earn more than enough to cover my room, board, and books for the school year. I worked in that job every summer and Christmas break throughout college. 

After graduation, I went on directly to earn my Ph.D. at a large state university. As soon as I got there and saw the environment for the masses of undergraduates there, I immediately appreciated all the benefits I received by getting my bachelor’s degree. at Illinois Tech instead of a larger school. When I completed my graduate work, the relationships I formed in my summer job while at Illinois Tech lead to my being hired full-time by that employer and a career of over 33 years, up to my retirement from full-time employment. I firmly believe that Illinois Tech—and specifically Nate Thomas—played a key role in making all that possible.”

4A Alumni - Barbara Johnson

“As a high school senior, Director of Admissions Nate Thomas invited me to tour Illinois Institute of Technology and interview for a scholarship. While that scholarship didn’t happen, Nate found me a full-tuition scholarship which enabled me to attend.

Nate assembled a student support structure across the university. Placement Director Vince Luber arranged vital summer internships for many students. Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering Professor Dr. Lois Graham asked me to reactivate the IIT Society of Women Engineers Chapter and to host its first high school women in engineering day. Nate empowered me and many more to thrive in the Illinois Tech community.

After graduation, we stayed in touch. In later years when my family met Nate, my then teen-aged girls relished hearing his cheerful booming voice and appreciated his foundational role for their mom’s education and cybersecurity career.

Nate created a successful environment for student retention and career opportunities. A scholarship in Nate’s name is befitting to launch upper education for students who can make a difference in the world.”

4A Alumni - Michael Hill 2

“Nate Thomas saved a lot of lives. I mean that literally.

With the support of Illinois Institute of Technology President Thomas Martin, he assembled a team that recruited a diverse body of students. But the brilliance of what he’d done didn’t end with that, he exposed us to engineering as a profession and college in general. After we entered the university, he connected with us with the resources necessary for our success. He counseled me, guided me, and was my champion and my friend.

He did that for a lot of us. Because he did what he did, I have a successful, lucrative career. The community of students he and his staff built are the basis of my personal and professional network today. I cannot express what these people mean to me. I am grateful for them and the man who lead me to them, Nathaniel Thomas.”

4A Alumni - Dana Petroni

“My name is Dana E. Petroni, P.E., P.Eng and I graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree. in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1985 and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1988. During my last year of undergraduate studies and my graduate studies, I was employed by Nate Thomas in the Early Exploration Identification program at Illinois Tech as a tutor and administrator during the academic year and a teaching assistant during summer engineering programs.

My three and a half years of employment under Nate Thomas allowed me to refine my skills as an engineer and continue my studies as a graduate student. During my graduate studies, my true calling of finite element analysis was discovered and has been parlayed into a professional career that continues to this day.

Along the way I was able to help numerous students in various subjects that I eventually became an expert in. My professional success might never have happened without my time of employment under Nate Thomas.