“We want to pay it forward”: Adnan Rukieh and Becky Folds First Gen Endowed Scholarship Fund

Reflecting on his experience, an alum funds other first gen students

First generation Aerospace undergraduate students will get important scholarship support thanks to a newly endowed scholarship from Adnan Rukieh (AE ‘81) and Becky Folds. The scholarship will be given annually to a first generation student studying Aerospace engineering to defray costs and provide experiential student opportunities.

The Adnan Rukieh and Becky Folds Endowed Scholarship Fund is inspired by Adnan’s experience as a first generation college student at U-M.

Studying engineering was a childhood dream of Adnan’s, inspired like many of his generation by the heyday years of NASA’s growth and exploration in the 1970s. With a top aerospace engineering program essentially in his backyard, the Muskegon, MI born student was able to realize this dream thanks to a State of Michigan academic scholarship based on high school performance and financial need. 

“I have fond memories of 3 AM study sessions with friends working on thermodynamic problems,” Adnan recalls. He was inspired by his Engineering Humanities class to dive into an extra year of studies, pursuing a dual degree in LSA. The extra year allowed him to expand his Aerospace courses to include Space System and Aircraft Design. Those courses, taught by Harm Buning and Ed Lesher, were unforgettable highlights of his years in Aero. 

Right before graduating, a government imposed hiring freeze shelved his planned position at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Despite this setback, Adnan was able to fulfill his dream of working in the space program by pivoting to a role with Lockheed Martin as a NASA contractor at Johnson Space Center.. While at JSC, Adnan worked on the autopilot landing system and flight manifest office for the space shuttle program. 

“My work on the shuttle system tapped into many different disciplines of my U-M education,” he comments. Adnan took a leave of absence for an MBA at Northwestern University and entered the world of marketing, strategy, and academia. “From there I never went back to Aero, so it became less of a vocation and more of an avocation.”

As they found their way into retirement, Becky and Adnan were ready to give back to their undergraduate institutions in a way that was meaningful to them.

“At U-M, my scholarship covered tuition, but even then, as a first gen student, some experiences were hard to partake in financially. I could tell there was a gap between me and my classmates whose parents had gone to college. I knew there was information – and experiences – I was missing,” says Adnan.

“Our intent was funding and endowing a scholarship to alleviate the issues many first gen students face. They have enough to worry about bridging the gap to college, starting a challenging engineering curriculum, and so many unknown factors, so cost and financial aid should not be something that they should worry about. We want to take one element of concern off the table for them.”

Becky comments, “We find ourselves at a place where we’ve thought hard about how we want to give back and what we want our legacy to be. Our undergraduate experiences were so foundational for us that we wanted to help others receive the same foundation we’ve had. There are a lot of things we could have done, but this was very meaningful for us.”

Adnan’s U-M experience was important to him, one that continues every year with the season football tickets he’s had since graduating in ‘81. Becky is an honorary Wolverine, sharing in tailgates, homecomings, and football games over the years.

They were back last fall, meeting first gen students and touring campus with an Aerospace engineering student, to see for themselves the impact their gift can have. “The Aerospace industry is in the midst of exciting, phenomenal change. We want to make being a part of that possible for students who may not have the chance otherwise.”