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Karen Wong, BS '17, with Pete Thompson.

Photo courtesy of: Pete Thompson

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Barbara Strom Thompson, BA '76, accepting the 2012 Alumna of the Year award.

Photographer: Chris Franz

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Scholarship honoring alumna Barbara Strom Thompson supports its first recipient


A scholarship established in honor of an alumna’s passion to lift up Ohio University brought a Virginia native to the bricks of Athens, Ohio.

This year, Karen Wong, a junior pre-optometry major, became the first recipient of the Barbara Strom Thompson Memorial Scholarship, an academic merit-based scholarship that supports out-of-state students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The scholarship was formed in honor of Thompson, a 1976 College of Arts and Sciences graduate who majored in English and died in January 2015 after a courageous, yearlong battle with ovarian cancer. The scholarship grew from a gift she and her husband Pete Thompson had established as a young couple.

“Barb had always hoped that those funds would be used to support scholarship awards to out-of-state students,” said Pete Thompson. “She knew firsthand how a geographically diverse student body would strengthen the student experience and liked the idea of playing a small part in achieving that goal.”

Supporting a student’s journey

As a first generation student, moving to Ohio and embarking on the college journey was a daunting experience for Karen Wong. Through this scholarship, the financial component of college became less intimidating.  

“I almost let money and the price of grad school for optometry bully me out of pursuing optometry,” said Wong. “My mom encouraged me to go for it and this scholarship helped make money less of an issue.”

Ultimately, no obstacle could interfere with Wong’s passion to help others.

“I’ve always liked the idea of taking care of someone,” said Wong. “I want to be able to provide care that’s critical for someone to operate on a daily basis.”

Wong initially envisioned providing care to others as a physical therapist and spent her summers volunteering at the Physical Therapy Center in Springfield, Virginia. Despite shifting her focus to optometry, Wong found the experience a valuable asset.

“I think we are so busy tediously ticking away, chasing daily aspirations, that we sometimes forget that up-close, personal human interaction is still very important,” she said. “It warms my heart to know that I volunteered my time and gave it to someone else.”

Sharing a Connection

Wong had the opportunity to meet Pete Thompson, Barbara Strom Thompson’s husband, for lunch this fall when he was in Athens. Through this interaction, Wong found a connection to Barbara Strom Thompson that exists beyond the scholarship.  

“I learned that Barbara had a wonderful spirit and spent almost all of her free time volunteering,” said Wong. “It was clear she also loved to give back to others.”

Barbara Strom Thompson was a tireless volunteer, both as a child development specialist in Washington D.C. and a proud OHIO alumna. She established Friendship Camp, a summer camp for girls in the District area that fosters leadership and social skills; co-chaired the Washington Area Women’s Foundation; served on the Maryland-based Parent Encouragement Program board; and served in multiple capacities for OHIO.

As a Trustee of the Ohio University Foundation, she founded and chaired ohiowomen (formally Women in Philanthropy), a project that engages all OHIO women seeking to impact current and future OHIO students and the University.  For her contributions and efforts, she was named Ohio University Alumni Association’s Alumna of the Year in 2012, “without a doubt, one of the highlights of her entire life,” said Pete Thompson.

Pete Thompson was comforted to witness Barbara’s lasting impact through Wong.

 “Meeting Karen was fun and it was a very moving experience to know that she was the first recipient of Barb’s scholarship,” he said. “I’m very proud that Barb’s name will be known to generations of students who receive her scholarship. She deserves to be remembered.”