Dean's Circle Spotlight: Investing in Ideas, and Access

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Tom and Susan ’73 Scholl. Photo by Greg Fiume.

Tom and Susan ’73 Scholl are idea people.

Longtime entrepreneur, investor, and one of Maryland Engineering’s most generous philanthropists, Tom helped to brainstorm what the E.A. Fernandez IDEA Factory could become: a place “where the imagination can run wild,” he says—where ideas are nurtured, and problems are solved through the entrepreneurial process.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find the Scholl name welcoming you to the first floor of the IDEA Factory, a space dedicated to student innovation, competition, and entrepreneurship. Named the Tom & Susan Scholl Center for Student Innovation, the first floor includes a student coworking, design, and build space called the ALEx Garage; the Angel P. Bezos ’69 Rapid Prototyping Lab; the Startup Shell; and xFoundry@UMD offices. The Scholls say they look forward to a new generation of entrepreneurial Maryland engineers: “To take an idea, turn it into a design, prototype it, see if it works—to bring an idea to fruition? That whole process is worth living your life for,” Tom says.

He should know. A man of diverse interests, Tom grew up in Indiana, wanting to be a scientist or inventor. Equally at-home in his basement ham radio lab as in the library stacks, he enrolled at Purdue University as an electrical engineering major before changing to philosophy and literature.

The Dean’s Circle

recognizes those who have given $100,000 or more during their lifetime to the Clark School. To learn how your charitable donation can make a significant difference in the future of the Clark School, contact Jennifer L. Schwartz, chief development officer and assistant dean for advancement, at or (301) 405-0317.

His varied aptitudes served him well. After receiving his degree, Tom landed a job at the CIA as a systems programmer and taught himself to code by reading computer manuals. From there, he wrote microprocessor software for a satellite company that became Hughes Network Systems, and worked his way up to senior vice president of engineering. In 1990, Tom founded Maryland-based Telogy Networks, then the world leader in embedded Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software, which was acquired by Texas Instruments in 1999. Since then, he has been involved in the creation of more than 60 startups, including three of his own current businesses: investment company Great Falls Equity Partners, satellite communications company eSAT Global, and WaveArray, developer of an electronic technology designed to keep boats free of barnacles. “It’s all over the map,” says Tom of his portfolio, which he says keeps things interesting.

Born and raised in Maryland, Susan studied advertising and applied design at UMD, where she learned to “think creatively to solve problems in unusual ways,” she says. She used those lessons in her career, where she worked on the (literal) drawing board for graphics studios before taking a job as an art director at a publishing house. As a member of the Art Director’s Club of Metropolitan Washington, she won awards for print publication and advertising design.

Tom and Susan have two sons, William and Tommy ’16. With a desire to pass down the family legacy of giving, in early 2024 the Scholls established the need-based Tommy Scholl Study Abroad Scholarship in Engineering. “In this era of globalization,” Tom says, “Tommy and I thought study abroad would be a great enhancement to what Maryland Engineering students bring to the table.”

Tom serves on the Clark School’s Board of Visitors and received the inaugural Glenn L. Martin Medal in 2014 along with an “alumnus for life” designation. Among the Scholl family’s other gifts to support Clark School faculty and students, the Susan Hitz Scholl ’73 Endowed Scholarship, established in 2014, provides a need-based annual award to a Clark School undergraduate. “They’re so driven and energetic,” Susan says of the students she’s sat with at scholarship luncheons. “I’m impressed with what they’re getting out of the Clark School. I just love encouraging their success.”

— story by Rebecca Ruark

Published April 10, 2024