Father and son to receive engineering degrees at TTU on May 3

One proud father won't have to worry about finding a seat to watch his son graduate in Hooper Eblen Center at Tennessee Tech University this Saturday -- Jerry Thompson will be right beside his son, Jeffery, when both receive bachelor's degrees in engineering.

The timing gives Jerry a lot of satisfaction, after putting his education on hold while he got married and worked at a small engine shop for about 20 years. Jeffery watched his dad work all those years at Macon Small Engines, even working there himself on Saturdays. But a desire to be more than he was pushed Jerry toward TTU.

"I wanted to do more rewarding work, and to earn respect, I had to pursue a degree," said Jerry. "I interviewed at an engineering firm, and they told me I was one of the top two candidates and that it was basically a tossup. But they picked the other guy. He had a degree."

Jerry began his journey by working full time and going to school part time, but that soon reversed. His employer allowed him to work around his class schedule, encouraging him to keep at it. In the meantime, Jeffery entered TTU, motivated more by his dad's example than his words.

"His message was always 'do what you want to do,'" said Jeffery.

A chemical engineer who plans to go on to graduate school, Jeffery has already filed a provisional patent for a composite that will help develop purer drugs.

Rarely did their schedules allow them to make the 50-mile trip from home to campus together, but they've had a lot of shared experiences. Jeffery offered dad help with chemistry; he turned to Jerry for guidance in physics.

And though a generation older then most of his mechanical engineering classmates, Jerry found his place socially on the SAE Baja team. The team, which will compete right across the street from the Eblen Center on Saturday, embraced the experienced engine builder.

"I fit right in," Jerry said. "I'm able to look over the car and notice things I've seen before and show them tricks to assemble it easier."

And what about mom and wife, Elizabeth?

"She's been great," said Jerry. "But there have been a lot of times when she's probably been lonely because we've been so busy.

"And a lot of times, Jeff and I will get wrapped up in talking about engineering or classes using our own 'common language," and she'll ask us to stop and explain what we are talking about. She's smart and went to school herself to learn office management. We appreciate her patience."

Jerry and Jeffery Thompson will be a part of the largest graduating class in TTU's history, with more than 1,200 graduates.

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