Couple Call on Their Experiences in Education, Industry and the White House
W. Dennis and Dawn Thomas of Westminster, Md., can share a lot about leadership. They’ve worked with some of the greatest leaders ever in politics, private industry and education, and they’ve demonstrated those qualities in their professional and personal lives.
And because both readily point back to their days as students at Frostburg State University for nurturing those qualities, they have decided to do their part to grow the leaders of tomorrow through the Dennis and Dawn Thomas Presidential Leadership Scholarship, established through a commitment of $50,000 to the Frostburg State University Foundation. The scholarship is designed to provide significant financial support to students who have qualified for FSU’s President’s Leadership Circle and who have an interest in public policy and public service.
“We’re both driven by a not uncommon experience – coming from a modest background,” said Dennis Thomas, a 1965 Frostburg graduate. “If a couple of people hadn’t reached out and helped us, our lives would have been very, very different. We want to offer the same kind of experience to someone else.”
His wife, who attended Frostburg from 1963 to 1965 but earned her degree from Towson, said so much of what has been important to them throughout their lives began when they were college students.
Dennis spent 20 years each in the political sphere and in private industry. He served U.S. senators J. Glenn Beall Jr. of Maryland and William Roth of Delaware. He met the former when the then-minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates spoke at Frostburg State College. Dennis was later a presidential appointee as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and then on the staff of President Reagan, ultimately becoming the president’s deputy chief of staff. After leaving public service, Dennis joined the Fortune 500 company International Paper, retiring 20 years later as senior vice president for public affairs and communications.
Dawn spent most of her career as an educator, starting out teaching social studies at the middle school level. After her son was born and her career took a few different turns, she circled back around and began teaching teachers, first at McDaniel College (Western Maryland) and later at American University, where she earned her doctorate.
“I tell my wife that she’s the one with the real job,” Dennis said, saying he couldn’t conceive of facing a classroom full of students, despite having dealt with CEOs, senators and a U.S. president. Many people can point to a teacher who has had a significant impact on their lives, he said; “There are a lot of people around who would say that person is Dr. Thomas.”
The Thomases are strong supporters of other leadership development programs at FSU, including the Sloop Leadership Institute, named in honor of the late FSU professor Dr. Richard Sloop. Dennis also sits on the board of the J. Glenn Beall Institute for Public Affairs at FSU to watch over the legacy and intent of his mentor and friend. Established by the senator not long before his death to encourage young people to choose lives of public service, the institute sponsors a number of educational programs that promote civic responsibility and awareness of governmental and political processes.
The newest of these leadership initiatives is the President’s Leadership Circle, a group of 20 students, chosen via application, nomination and interview from a diverse array of backgrounds and majors. They meet regularly to discuss issues, network with leaders and cultivate an understanding of how best to apply their leadership skills in the world.
The Thomases say that leadership can be found in any walk of life. “Leadership is what you do, what your mindset is irrespective of the job, being oriented to do things for other people.” Dennis said. “There are always opportunities to give back and do good things for people.”
The Thomases said they were moved to establish the scholarship after watching a presentation of other donors talking about their personal motivations to give back to Frostburg. It can be viewed at www.vimeo.com/10173616.
“It captured so strongly what we feel about Frostburg and how it clearly impacted our personal and professional lives,” he said.
The FSU Foundation is in the midst of a $15 million comprehensive campaign, Staking Our Claim: The Campaign for Frostburg, to raise badly needed funding for higher education in Western Maryland. Donations to the Foundation support student scholarships and programs, academic programs, faculty development and other critical University needs. For more information about supporting FSU, visit www.frostburg.edu/admin/foundation or call 301-687-4161.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity.