Engineering alumnus gives back “to a place that so richly gave” to him
Ron Thomas likes a challenge. During his 40-year career as an engineer and company executive, Ron was asked to solve complex problems. His tireless pursuit of solutions led him to a very successful career, including holding five patents.
When it came to the challenge of pursuing graduate-level education, Ron sought—and received—a master’s in electrical engineering, an MBA and a Ph.D. all from Arizona State University.
“With each degree I was able to achieve more and more in my career. I gained not only knowledge but also experience from my time at ASU,” says Ron.
Born in Lawton, Okla., Ron’s father was a lawyer and politician and his mother a school teacher. He was one of five children including a twin sister, another set of twins and an older sibling. “Because we were so close in age, we were all in college at the same time. My father was very thankful for the scholarships we received!”
Early in his undergraduate years at Oklahoma State University, Ron knew he would pursue a career in math. “I wanted to have a hands-on job and engineering fit the bill. At the time I graduated, it was a very sought-after profession. I had over two dozen job offers.”
One of these opportunities was from Sperry (now Honeywell Flight Systems Group). Ron was sold when he flew to Phoenix in the middle of December. He enjoyed 18 years with the company and worked his way up the ranks. While continuing to work full-time he earned a master’s in electrical engineering (’77) and an executive MBA (’84). “Having these degrees allowed me to advance,” says Ron.
His next eight years were spent in Indiana with the Swiss company, Landis & Gyr, as vice president of their North American division. Under his direction, the company’s product line was converted from electromechanical to digital electronics, gaining a considerable market share.
Preparing for the future, Ron earned a Ph.D. in system engineering (’95). After looking at some programs close to home, he applied to ASU. “There were a lot of things that appealed to me about returning to ASU—mainly the warm weather and the wonderful faculty I knew from my time there.”
He felt fortunate to receive a full fellowship and scholarship. “With my fellowship I could give 100 percent to my studies on a full-time basis.
I didn’t have to worry about day-to-day expenses. I was able to study other tangential things so I learned twice as much.”
As part of his fellowship, Ron consulted with Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon). He joined Raytheon after completing his doctorate. “It was a highly technical and challenging environment—they really pushed me.”
“As part of my responsibilities, I acted as campus manager and was instrumental in helping link the school and Raytheon in both recruitment and research,” says Ron. “The men and women coming out of ASU were smart and focused. I was very impressed with them.”
After 15 years with the company, Ron retired in May 2011. Ron is now focused on his retirement and doing things he loves such as hiking, traveling and playing tennis. Volunteering is another way he stays busy. Ron maintains close ties to ASU, attending sports events and through a graduate fellowship he has established in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Ron hopes to support students who are in mid-career and may not have the funds to come back full-time. “I’ve seen people never finish their degrees because of family and work obligations. It is natural that I want to help someone like I was helped.”
In order to endow the fellowship for years to come, Ron has also included ASU in his estate plans. “I want to give back to a place that so richly gave to me. I feel fortunate to be able to do that.”