Philanthropy News

Legacy of Nathanial “Nate” Thomas Honored with $100,000 Estate Gift

By Brianne Meyer

PHOTO BY James Hill Jr.

An incredibly generous estate gift from the late James Hill Jr. served as a major catalyst to endow the previously established Nate Thomas Legacy Scholarship at Illinois Tech this spring.

Hill, a highly accomplished certified public accountant and expert financial professional who served as an Illinois Tech Life Trustee, passed away on December 23, 2021.

The first African-American auditor at Alexander Grant & Company, he opened his own firm—Hill, Taylor LLC—in Chicago in 1972, which eventually merged with Mitchell & Titus, LLP, where he retired as a partner. An engaged philanthropist and community supporter, Hill served a multitude of organizations in and around Chicago, including Illinois Tech.

Hill took great pride in helping future generations. As a trustee, he pushed Illinois Tech toward recruiting a more diverse student body into finance and business. He felt that he could help make a real impact at the university, and did so by funding an annual scholarship, in addition to supporting Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business.

Hill was deeply committed to creating a legacy that could last forever—one that protected the people and causes he cared most about. Through his planned gift of $100,000, Hill ensured that the Nate Thomas Legacy Scholarship would continue to grow, supporting Illinois Tech students well into the future.

During his 22 years at the university, Thomas held several positions and was instrumental in helping Illinois Tech expand outreach, recruitment, and campus services to African-American and Hispanic students, particularly within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. A true pioneer for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, Thomas was deeply committed to helping ensure a stronger and more inclusive university community. In 1974 Thomas established the Early ID Program to provide access and support to aspiring engineers, computer scientists, architects, and medical experts from diverse backgrounds. As head of minority affairs, he further expanded technical and scientific educational opportunities within African-American communities in Chicago.

Because of his service, Thomas was recognized posthumously with an Honorary Doctor of Engineering at Illinois Tech’s 155th Commencement in May 2024.
“At Illinois Tech, we are standing on the shoulders of more than a century of continuous, inclusive innovation,” says Illinois Tech Interim Vice President for Advancement Beth Campbell. “Both Jim and Nate saw the needs of our world and knew the potential of our community. This generous gift will help continue to build a future in which the generations that follow thrive—generations that will be our living legacies.”

In 2015 the Illinois Tech African American Alumni Association established the Nate Thomas Legacy Scholarship in recognition of the immeasurable impact that Thomas had at the university. Since then, an annual scholarship has been awarded to an undergraduate student each year.

After Thomas passed away in 2020, it became a long-time goal to endow this scholarship. In addition to Hill’s estate gift, other recent gifts supporting the endowment include an estate commitment from alumnus Michael Hill (CS ’82) and numerous gifts from Illinois Tech alumni and friends.