Tom Mehlhorn (BS NERS 74, MS 76, PhD 78) and his wife Noelle (BA Speech Pathology and Language ’75, MS ’76) have made a major gift to endow an undergraduate scholarship fund. The scholarships will be awarded to students based on merit and need.
Mehlhorn, the superintendent of Plasma Physics at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., grew up in Detroit. He was the first in his father’s family to attend college.
“I was that kid who followed the space program and built and launched model rockets,” said Mehlhorn, who initially was accepted to UM’s Physics department. He switched his acceptance to the College of Engineering, where he met then upper classman (and current NERS professor) David Wehe, who influenced Mehlhorn’s decision to pursue nuclear engineering.
In the second semester of his sophomore year, Mehlhorn was awarded a merit-based scholarship through the College of Engineering. “That made a huge difference to me and my family,” he said.
The University of Michigan is also where Mehlhorn met his then-future wife, Noelle, who was preparing for a career in audiology. She, too, earned a scholarship for her graduate degree.
Upon receiving his PhD in 1978, Mehlhorn joined Sandia National Laboratories. He held several positions of increasing responsibility during his 31-year tenure. In 2009, he joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, where he heads the Plasma Physics Division and oversees the organization’s broad experimental and theoretical research program.
Mehlhorn has stayed actively engaged with the NERS department and the College of Engineering, returning to campus regularly. In 2004, he received the Alumni Society Merit Award in NERS. He recently completed a six-year term on the College’s Alumni Board, and he chairs the NERS department External Advisory Board. He has conducted sponsored research with faculty and students and has recruited and placed many UM graduates.
“Michigan produces some of the highest quality students,” said Mehlhorn, who speaks from experience. “Attending the University of Michigan really was transformational for me.” Thanks to the new scholarship fund the Mehlhorns’ generous gift will endow, countless future students will have similar opportunities.