UM-Flint's School of Management names '77 grad as Outstanding Alumni Award recipient

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Steve Whitener posing with an award on stage.
Helping celebrate Steve Whitener (center) with his Alumni Award are (left to right) fellow School of Management advisory board members Sherri Stephens and Cathleen Hale, Yener Kandogan, interim provost and SOM interim dean, and Melissa Stephens-Farrell, major gifts officer with University Advancement.

Like many University of Michigan-Flint students, Steve Whitener worked his way through college, working nearly 40 hours per week at a local Kroger to pay for tuition. Yet despite his dedication in and out of the classroom, Whitener entered his senior year struggling to fund his academics and pay for groceries, gasoline and rent.

It was then that Whitener approached university officials about his plight. That similarly dedicated group of UM-Flint staffers helped him apply for a series of scholarships that helped Whitener stay in school and graduate in spring 1977 with a bachelor's degree in business.

He always remembered the support the university had supplied him.

"I was blessed by receiving a combination of scholarships, big and small," said Whitener. "I remember one in particular, a $50 scholarship from the Flint Women's Bowling Association. It proves that even small grants and scholarships can change the trajectory of people's lives. It is through the generosity of others that I made it to the finish line."

Whitener was recently awarded the School of Management's 2024 Outstanding Alumni Award at a ceremony on campus.

"When told I had been selected to be the recipient of this award, I was stunned and humbled," he said. "This was like no honor I have ever received. The evening of recognition made these feelings more complete when my 8-year-old grandson said, 'I'm proud of you, Grampy.'"

Following his time at UM-Flint, Whitener cultivated a long and successful career with stops at Westinghouse Electric Company, Eaton Cutler-Hammer, Pirelli International, and Anixter. Whitener also founded National Systems Installers, which provided infrastructure cabling services to various companies, in 1993. In 1999, he founded Nuspire Networks, which offers managed IT security services to companies, selling that multimillion-dollar company in 2016.

"UM-Flint gave me the confidence to believe in myself because logic told me, If I can make it through the University of Michigan, I am prepared for most anything," Whitener said.

Whitener has further expressed his gratitude to the university by establishing a pair of endowed scholarships, the Stephen A. Whitener Scholarship for Innovators and the Whitener Merit Plus Scholarship, which, according to their namesake, are "intended to leverage and support the talent on campus with two to three full-ride scholarships per year. Together, the scholarships have supported more than 50 students since 2017. 

"I quickly realized and pledged that because U-M scholarships got me to the finish line (of my education), that I would never forget … that I would pay it forward," said Whitener. "I remember telling my mother that someday I would, just like Charles Stewart Mott, give UM-Fint $1 million."

In addition to his financial support, Whitener often visits the downtown campus, serving as the chairman of SOM's Business Advisory Board while attending other SOM-centric events to speak with current students about his life, career and keys to entrepreneurial success.

"I have always been an entrepreneurial guy," Whitener said. "Business and commerce are intriguing and an exciting area of life and fortune. My advice to the students is to train their minds to look for opportunities and to use their education for the betterment of themselves and others. Seize opportunities before they evaporate because if you don't, someone else will."

Robb King is the director of marketing and communications at UM-Flint. He can be reached at [email protected].