Fifty years after John Lawser graduated from the University of Michigan, he and his wife, Sarah, found themselves back on a rattling blue bus, weaving through the streets of Ann Arbor toward North Campus for an alumni reunion. Seated next to Sarah was a current student, and they struck up a friendly conversation. The student talked about her experience being the first in her family to go to college, which moved Sarah so much that she and John decided it was time to do something more.
John and Sarah Lawser have been longtime donors to the university. After that conversation on the bus, they decided to formalize their giving into an official fund. The John and Sarah Lawser Scholarship has supported U-M EECS undergraduates ever since.
John earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering, and Sarah earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and educational research, all from the University of Michigan.
John and Sarah knew each other while attending high school in Dearborn, MI, but they reconnected during their undergraduate years at Michigan, and were married for fifty-five years. John passed away last summer, and Sarah contributed a significant additional gift to their scholarship fund in his honor.
“Both of us felt that having a Michigan experience and those Michigan degrees meant a tremendous amount in so many different ways,” Sarah said. “I knew John always wanted to give more to our scholarship, and last summer I welcomed the opportunity to honor him this way.”
Both of us felt that having a Michigan experience and those Michigan degrees meant a tremendous amount in so many different ways.Sarah Lawser
Many students have written to the Lawsers over the years expressing their appreciation. Sarah said it was particularly touching to read messages from students who had been supported by the scholarship for several years and who wrote about how this helped empower their dreams.
In 1970, John became an engineer at Bell Laboratories (later AT&T Labs Research), where he worked for forty-three years. John was recognized in 1991 as an AT&T Fellow for significant contributions in the design, development, and implementation of their common channel network. In later years he worked on developing the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. After graduating, Sarah worked at High Scope Educational Research Foundation, in MI, followed by a career at Prudential in NJ.
John and Sarah raised their two daughters in New Jersey, but they never lost their connection to Ann Arbor. They returned often to visit family and friends still in the area, enjoy a meal at the iconic Pretzel Bell restaurant, and to cheer at the Big House for Michigan football.
“Our oldest grandson, now 18, was at his first Michigan football game when he was eight years old,” Sarah said.
More recently, John, an avid amateur radio hobbyist, donated all of his high-quality equipment to U-M’s Amateur Radio Club.
A high priority for both John and Sarah was to provide a college education for their children, and later to help support their grandchildren. Their daughter Susan is now a professor of engineering at Smith College, and their daughter Amy is a medical doctor specializing in oncology. Their grandchildren, whose ages range from 13 to 22, have interests and college plans that include computer science, history, political science, and engineering.
“John and I have been grateful that we could help support current and future U-M students to follow their passions and achieve their goals, for education enables opportunities for a purposeful life,” Sarah said. “U-M set us up to have successful, enjoyable careers, and giving back to enable others the same opportunity has been a top priority for us as we transitioned to our retirement years.”