In 2016, Toyota Research Institute (TRI) made a $22 million commitment to partner with the University of Michigan on research. As part of the research agreement, TRI committed to support the University through philanthropy, starting with a $1 million gift in late 2016.

Understanding the needs and interests of TRI, John McLaughlin, Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at the College of Engineering, knew many of TRI’s goals and objectives aligned well with priorities within the College of Engineering. “They are concerned with diversity in the research pipeline, and the College of Engineering is passionate about building diverse and inclusive programs.”

McLaughlin presented two programs to TRI, and they readily agreed to commit $500,000 to each program. The first, the Bridges to the Doctorate program, provides fellowship support for top domestic master’s students from diverse backgrounds with a strong interest in transitioning into a Ph.D. program and the academic potential to do so. After successfully completing the Bridges program, the newly minted Ph.D. students then receive 5 full years of funding as Rackham Merit Fellows.

The second funding program provides scholarship support for students from Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark University, our dual-degree partner schools who are part of the Atlanta University Center consortium (AUC). The AUC is the world’s oldest and largest association of historically black colleges and universities. Through the AUC’s Dual Degree Engineering Program (DDEP), students receive both a BS from the HBCU and a BSE from U-M.

John Leonard, Vice President for Research at TRI states, “Improving the size and the diversity of the U.S. engineering talent pipeline is key to creating future technology and societal innovations. TRI is very excited to help these talented students pursue their dreams and graduate degrees in engineering.”

Perry Francois-Edwards, one of the students supported by this gift, shares, “Since my first day at Morehouse College, I was unsure of how I would continue through the rigorous challenge of obtaining two bachelor’s degrees from two different institutions while also staying afloat financially. However, with the help of the Toyota Research Institute, my uncertainty is fading. The belief and trust the Toyota Research Institute has in the academic development of the DDEP students at the University of Michigan is remarkable. Such a contribution allows for the DDEP students to see their worth and continue to strive for excellence in all endeavors.”

McLaughlin shares, “It’s exciting to see the impact these programs have on not only the students but on the College of Engineering as well. We are thrilled to see a technical collaborator like TRI so committed to supporting our community through these diversity initiatives. The impact they will have on campus is important, but the continued implications for a diverse and inclusive workforce are immeasurable.”