BLAIR COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Two people came together to gift $250,000 to Penn State Altoona to establish the Robert and Virginia Bowman Scholarship for Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE).

Robert Bowman, class of 1969, and Jeffrey Bowman, class of 1973, made the donation in honor of their parents, Robert and Virginia Bowman. The scholarship will support full-time students enrolled or planning to enroll in the RTE program, according to Penn State University (PSU). 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.

Robert and Virginia Bowman (Image: PSU Altoona)

“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,” Jeffrey said. “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, PSU added. They both served during WWII — Robert for three years in the Army Air Corps in the South Pacific, and Virginia as a registered nurse in the Army.

It’s reported Robert worked for the railroad during his entire adulthood.

“He was quintessential company man, a dedicated employee,” Jeffrey said.

Robert started as a laborer and worked his way up through the ranks to become assistant general superintendent of the Samuel Rea Shops in Hollidaysburg. PSU said Robert’s father, Clarence Bowman, and grandfather, Charles Bowman, also worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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

Robert and Jeffrey, the two sons, began their college educations in engineering at the PSU Altoona campus in 1965 and 1969, respectively. Robert completed his degree in mechanical engineering in 1969, and Jeffrey received his degree in nuclear engineering in 1973.

“We believe this is an ideal way to give back by helping future generations of students prepare for successful careers,” Robert said. “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.”

PSU said 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 Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) Scholarship in memory of their parents,” Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, chancellor and dean of Penn State Altoona, said. “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.”

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PSU added that 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:

1. Keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being
2. Creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom
3. Impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship

To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit