Robert and Virginia Bowman Scholarship established at Penn State Altoona

Robert and Virginia Bowman

Robert and Virginia Bowman, namesakes of the Robert and Virginia Bowman Scholarship for Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) at Penn State Altoona. The scholarship was established thanks to a gift by the couple's sons Robert and Jeffrey Bowman. 

Credit: Provided

ALTOONA, Pa. — Penn State alumni Robert Bowman, class of 1969, and Jeffrey Bowman, class of 1973, have made a $250,000 gift commitment to establish the Robert and Virginia Bowman Scholarship for Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) at Penn State Altoona. The scholarship honors the lives of their parents, Robert and Virginia Bowman.

The scholarship will support full-time students enrolled or planning to enroll in the RTE program. The goal of the fund is to benefit and help sustain students with demonstrated academic excellence and a strong commitment to a career in rail transit.

“When we first heard about the RTE program at Penn State Altoona, we believed it was the perfect opportunity to express our gratitude to Penn State Altoona for the education we received in preparing us for our careers in engineering,” said Jeffrey. “It also enabled us to honor the legacy of our parents and to celebrate the essential role of railroading in our family’s history and the city of Altoona.”

Robert C. Bowman and E. Virginia Smith were born and raised in Altoona and married in 1943. They both served their country during World War II: Robert for three years in the Army Air Corps in the South Pacific, Virginia as a registered nurse in the Army.

Except for his three-year service in the Army, Robert worked for the railroad during his entire adulthood. “He was the quintessential company man, a dedicated employee,” said Jeffrey. Starting out as a laborer, Robert worked his way up through the ranks to become assistant general superintendent of the Samuel Rea Shops in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. His father, Clarence Bowman, and grandfather, Charles Bowman, also worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Railroading was deeply rooted in Virginia's family, as well. Her father, Charles Smith, was an engineer on steam locomotives; her brother, Jack Smith, a fireman on the railroad; and her grandfather, John Westley Rutter, a Civil War veteran, had a 45-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad as a conductor.

After the war, Robert and Virginia built a house in the East End of Altoona and raised their two sons. One of their top priorities was providing a quality education as a foundation for a rewarding career.

Robert and Jeffrey began their college educations in engineering at the Altoona campus in 1965 and 1969, respectively. Robert completed his degree in electrical engineering at the University Park campus in 1969. Jeffrey received his degree in nuclear engineering in 1973, also from University Park.

“We believe this is an ideal way to give back by helping future generations of students prepare for successful careers,” said Robert. “We are excited to endow this scholarship program and are impressed with the level of industry support the RTE program is receiving. We believe the future of railroading in the United States is bright and that the scholarships provided by this endowment will help attract talented students and support them as they prepare for productive careers in the railroad industry.”

Robert and Jeffrey used this $250,000 bequest to take advantage of the Legacy Challenge, which provides a University match of $10,000, to be directed immediately to annual scholarships over a four-year period, when donors commit to a new planned gift of $250,000 or more toward an endowed scholarship. The Bowman brothers will further activate this gift by adding $16,000 each year, and students may begin to receive awards as early as the fall semester of 2022.

“We are thankful for Robert and Jeffrey’s gift to establish the Robert and Virginia Bowman Rail Transportation Engineering Scholarship in memory of their parents,” said Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, chancellor and dean of Penn State Altoona. “This scholarship will provide permanent funding for students who are interested in our college’s RTE program. Robert and Jeffrey’s gift will reduce the cost of students’ education while also providing them with more time to focus on their academic pursuits. We are sincerely grateful for Robert and Jeffrey’s support of our RTE students.”

This gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit