Illustration of Arthur and Roberta Bodwell

Endowed Scholarship Reflects Gratitude for a Dream Career

Arthur Bodwell ’64 always wanted to be an engineer. “My earliest childhood memories include building things,” he says, from Lincoln Logs and erector sets to myriad toy construction and design playthings. He was a good student in high school and excelled in math, he says, “but like many of my peers, I was the first child in the family to attend college, so when it came time to look at schools, the search process was a bit of a mystery.”

With the help of a guidance counselor, Bodwell began reviewing the limited college recruitment materials available at his high school. Thinking it would interest him, the counselor shared a brochure advertising WPI’s Techniquest—a one-week program allowing rising high school seniors to experience what an engineering education entailed. Students attended typical classes, participated in labs, and took tests. Bodwell thoroughly enjoyed the week and upon its completion, he was told he was a good fit for an engineering program.

We knew how the financial help I received as a student impacted the quality of our lives.

Never seriously considering other schools, Bodwell applied to WPI and was accepted. Like many college students, paying for college was a major concern for Bodwell and his family.

“My parents supported my goals, but as the parents of seven children, they did not have money to spare. Even in 1960, when WPI’s tuition was around $1,100 for the first year, the money I saved from summer jobs was not nearly enough,” he says. “Thankfully, my WPI acceptance came with a $300 scholarship.”

With his summer job and the continued financial support from the school, Bodwell thrived at WPI. His scholarship increased in his sophomore year, and he worked in the Morgan Hall cafeteria to pay for meals. After declaring his civil engineering major, he received full scholarships for his junior and senior years.

As Bodwell approached graduation, Professor Carl Koontz, then head of the Civil Engineering Department, asked him about graduate school. “I told him I had thought about it but would put it off until I could afford it. Shortly afterward, he told me he found a grant that would cover my graduate degree and a small living stipend. Flabbergasted and grateful, I accepted the grant and left WPI after five years with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in civil engineering.”

Bodwell says his years at WPI were some of the best of his life, explaining that the small campus, small class sizes, and easy access to professors were a perfect fit for his needs. “WPI developed a naïve, small-town kid who had not experienced much in life into someone who felt confident enough to venture out into the world and hold his own.”

Beyond the academic benefits of his time on campus, Bodwell’s personal life also flourished. “Between my junior and senior years, I married my high school sweetheart, Roberta. We spent our first two years together in Worcester, and it could not have been better,” he says. Bodwell retired in 2008, after 43 years in the construction industry. For a good portion of that career, he worked for a design/build firm specializing in collegiate athletic and recreation facilities—a dream career for someone who loved both sports and construction.

Never forgetting the help Bodwell received from WPI and how it impacted them, the couple agreed they would include a scholarship for future WPI students in their estate plans. “We knew how the financial help I received as a student impacted the quality of our lives,” he says, “so we established the Arthur R. and Roberta M. Bodwell Scholarship as our way of offering gratitude to the university.”

The scholarship supports civil engineering majors, reflecting Bodwell’s passion for civil engineering and his view that the world needs more high-quality engineers.

“Thanks in part to my WPI education, my family and I lived a very good life,” he says. “But life can sometimes be cruel; I lost Roberta to cancer in 2017. Following her loss, I began funding the scholarship to provide help earlier to those students who, like me, needed it to pursue their dreams. The self-sustaining fund, which is now fully endowed through my estate plan, will grow and support generations of young engineers in perpetuity. I could not be happier, and I know Roberta would be, also.”

Today, Bodwell lives in North Carolina near one of his daughters and spends his days playing golf and continuing his wood-turning and furniture-building hobbies. One of his great joys is receiving thank-you letters from the scholarship recipients.

“Their stories are remarkably similar to mine, some 60 years later,” he says. “Scholarship recipients have voiced deep gratitude for the help they received to pursue their dreams at WPI. This alone has proved the worth of endowing a scholarship at WPI.”

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