Siena College has officially opened Thompson Trail. Much like its namesake, the late Dell Thompson, Ed.D., the 750-foot walkway is a strong, sturdy structure that connects the Siena College community. That was Thompson’s goal for more than 30 years.
“Dell was the bridge between alumni and the college,” said Vice President for Development and External Affairs David B. Smith ’79.
Thompson was among the first non-friars to take on a leadership role at the College. In 1970, he was hired to be Vice President for Student Affairs. Three years later, he became Vice President of Development. Thompson left Siena to pursue other opportunities, but became a member of the Board of Associate Trustees. In the late 1990s, he returned to Siena to run the planned giving and major gifts programs and before retirement, Thompson guided the College through the Middle States accreditation process.
Thompson is the architect of Siena’s development operation and his success as a fundraiser enabled the campus to grow.
“He could make people understand how what they could do would greatly benefit the College. He could create that sort of bridge between the potential donor and the College community,” said Dell’s widow Audrey Thompson.
“Dell would love the idea of having Thompson Trail named after him because students are going to use it," said Smith.
Audrey Thompson said her husband would be touched and humbled by the honor. “I thought ‘Oh that’s just exactly something that he would love,’ because it facilitates, obviously, student ability to participate in the College,” Thompson said.
Thompson Trail is a sustainable structure that includes recycled composite decking and energy efficient lights. Along with saving the students a few steps, 300 feet to be exact, it is uniting the north and south ends of campus. “I know it sounds simple, but it’s a quicker walk, so people aren’t opposed to going down campus to go to different events,” said Residence Hall Association Representative Julie Daniel ’12.
Siena leaders also expect the bridge to cut down on the amount of traffic on campus. “We’re hoping that students will both walk and perhaps use bicycles more than they have in the past,” said Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management Mark A. Frost.
Thompson Trail is practical, pretty and serene, which is why it provides people with a unique opportunity to de-stress and connect with their surroundings. “I’ll walk over the bridge and I’ll see a Downy Woodpecker or I’ll walk over the bridge and I’ll see a whole bunch of passing songbirds,” said Environmental Studies Major Kristen Glass ’13.
Director of International Programs and Study Abroad Br. Brian Belanger, O.F.M., Ph.D. said, “It gives us that opportunity of removing ourselves from the stress of the academic life, of the activity and to say ‘I have a couple of moments when I can step into quiet and silence and solitude and nature because that balance is so important.”
Professor of Economics James F. Booker, Ph.D. spent years working with fellow faculty members and college administrators on the planning and design of the bridge. The minimally invasive structure allows environmental studies, ecology and biology students and professors to conduct field research in a functioning ecosystem that includes various plants, birds and insects living in the wetland. “We can now see the area in which they do their work in a way that wasn’t possible before. It helps us share around students and faculty, the great work that does go on around the campus,” Booker said.
Student Senate President Alexander R. Mazza ’12 said, “The things you notice while you’re in your lab or that your ecology professor is pointing out will be things you notice every day, so it will also reaffirm what you’re learning.”
“Siena is highlighting some of the natural resources here on campus,” said Professor of Environmental Studies Jean C. Mangun, Ph.D. “Having a board walk that takes us up and over this sensitive ecological area really facilitates that kind of experiential learning.”
The commitment to providing opportunities for students to become truly engaged in their academic pursuits is what motivated Audrey and Dell Thompson to donate their time, talent and treasure to Siena College. Thompson is pleased that her husband Dell’s legacy will live on through the experiences shared, eyes opened and discoveries made along Thompson Trail.
“The money provides a pathway for students to access education. And to me that trail, and that bridge, is the perfect picture of what he was doing,” Thompson said.