Cowger family shows that any gift makes an impact

May 30, 2014

“We have to grow this great institution and the way you do that is by building and doing new things and get people to see that it’s a growing and thriving institution,” Cowger said.

Kay and Gary Cowger '70.

Published in the Spring 2014 issue of Kettering Magazine

In 1987, Gary Cowger ’70 gave his first gift to Kettering University – a $10 donation to the University’s endowment. Fast forward almost 25 years and Cowger’s contributions and service have grown significantly and most recently came in the form of a $ 356,747 gift for a renovated space for the Kettering University Board room. The board room will be renamed named the “Gary and Kate Cowger Board Room” once the renovations are complete.

“I think it’s a visible sign of support for the institution,” Cowger said. “You want to see it grow and flourish in the future. There’s no other way to do that than investing your hard-earned cash.”

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This latest gift adds to Cowger’s list of contributions to Kettering University. His past contributions have included the Gary and Kay Cowger Endowed Scholarship Fund, which provides support for female engineering students who demonstrate financial need and academic achievement. He has also supported Kettering’s general endowment.

“We have to convince the alumni that this is a growing institution,” Cowger said. “We have to grow this great institution and the way you do that is by building and doing new things and get people to see that it’s a growing and thriving institution.”

Cowger received his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in 1970, his master’s degree in management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, and he holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Lindenwood College (2002) and an honorary doctor of engineering from Kettering University (2007).

After graduating from Kettering in 1970, Cowger worked at General Motors for 45 years, most recently as group vice president of Global Manufacturing and Labor Relations. In this position he was responsible for directing all of GM’s manufacturing, manufacturing engineering and labor relations activities worldwide, and was a member of the Automotive Strategy Board and the Automotive Product Board. Cowger’s inspiration to give back to the school stems from his relentless belief in the value of Kettering’s co-operative model.

“Kettering is a jewel for the quality of education it gives young folks and in the whole co-op experience where you come out as a practicing engineer and not as a theoretical engineer,” Cowger said. “And you come out with a job with people knowing your capability and helping mentor your capability. That institution is well worth protecting and supporting.”

Initially, Cowger didn’t have Kettering on his radar when searching for colleges to attend as he was focused on going to Kansas State to play baseball. His high school counselor and mechanical drawing teacher urged him to consider the General Motors Institute because he showed promise as an engineer. Even then, only when Cowger’s father informed him that he would make a “better engineer than a baseball player,” did he officially enroll at Kettering.

Cowger is now retired from General Motors. He serves Kettering as a member of the Board of Trustees, a role that he has maintained since 1999. His initial $10 contribution continues to grow as does his legacy at Kettering.

“Ten dollars can be a significant contribution when you’re running on about $50 extra a month. There is no right size gift,” Cowger said. “Those of us who have been lucky enough to be successful and create some wealth over the years need to give what we can to keep the University going forward.”


Written By Josh Yecke | Contact: Patrick Hayes - phayes@kettering.edu - (810) 762-9639