Delaware County native Robin Thorne is living the good life as CEO of her own construction and engineering consulting firm, CTI Environmental in Long Beach, Ca., and receiving accolades for her business acumen, community work and social activism.
It is a very different life from the one she faced 22 years ago as a single parent with an infant son. Thorne had held various clerical positions with government agencies since graduating from high school eight years earlier.
But after several setbacks in the late 1980s, Thorne was unemployed, living at home with her parents and relying on welfare for the first time since entering the workforce. “I was at a transitional point in my life,” she said. “I was a single parent and needed to make some decisions regarding my future.”
After some consideration, Thorne decided to attend Community College of Philadelphia, where she found support services that helped pay transportation expenses and provided a day care subsidy for her son while she attended classes. “It was a rare opportunity for a second chance,” she said.
Thorne started with a single class in 1990. Four years later, she received an associate’s degree in Engineering Science and transferred to Drexel University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Thorne then went to work as a manufacturing engineer with FXI Inc., a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of polyurethane foam. She soon became fascinated by the environmental regulations surrounding the chemicals used in producing the foam. In 1999, the company transferred Thorne to its California facility, where she oversaw environmental and safety operations.
Thorne, now 45, did not forget the place that had provided her “second chance.” Six years ago, she established the Ryan L. Thorne Technical Achievement Scholarship in honor of her now 22-year-old son. The scholarship benefits an outstanding Community College of Philadelphia student on track to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a science, mathematics, engineering or technology curriculum at a four-year institution.
Thorne was working as a risk management consultant when she started CTI as a sideline business in 2009. “That first year we spent a lot of time getting certified and building a marketing strategy. The second year was when we obtained a large contract,” Thorne said. It was then that Thorne decided to make CTI a full-time endeavor. The decision proved sound. Thorne anticipates that CTI revenues will increase by 20 percent over last year. As CEO, Thorne is primarily responsible for the marketing and business development of CTI and sets its strategic direction. CTI employs a staff of five and hires subcontractors as needed, Thorne said.
Last year, CTI was recognized by the California Black Chamber of Commerce as its 2011 Small Business of the Year in Southern California. Thorne was then honored as a Woman of Distinction in Environment by the Long Beach chapter of Soroptimists International, a volunteer organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls.
Seemingly tireless, Thorne has twice traveled to South Africa, where she established another consulting business, SheTech International, LLC. This business helps her share her knowledge about environmental and sustainability issues, and work with local women to provide affordable and clean drinking water to the urban poor. She also serves on the city of Long Beach’s Sustainable City Commission and volunteers with the Long Beach African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Mombasa-Long Beach Sister Cities Association and the African Urban Poverty Alleviation Program.
Looking back on those early struggles in Philadelphia, Thorne said, “I did not survive that just to exist. I was meant to do something great in this life.”
Michael Thompson well remembers his days as a member of the Colonials men’s basketball team at Community College of Philadelphia in the 1990s. Those memories brought the Arlington, Va., resident back to the College a year ago to seek help for his most recent project—a reality show in which down-and-out athletes would be given a second chance at success.
The program, called "Reset," would be a weekly sports-celebrity, character-driven reality series with the appeal of “Dr. Drew,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Survivor” all rolled into one. “There are countless stories of individuals who had it all, then lost it all,” Thompson said. “I thought, ‘Why not make a reality show about how to help them make a comeback?’”
While still pitching his idea to various studios and networks, Thompson wanted to create buzz about “Reset” using social media outlets. So, Thompson returned to Philadelphia and reached out to the College with an idea and his checkbook.
With the help of Institutional Advancement, Marian McGorry, Ed.M., assistant dean of Business and Technology; Wayne Williams, head of the department of Business Administration; and instructor Cory Ng, Thompson invited members of the Eta Sigma Chapter of the Alpha Beta Gamma International Honor Society to see who could best utilize social media to promote “Reset.” The first phase of the competition challenged teams to create the best social media marketing plan. In Phase 2, competitors vied to drive the most traffic to a social media site over the summer.
The scholarship awards of $500 per student were presented at the Alpha Beta Gamma initiation ceremony on Nov. 10, 2011. Thompson pledged an additional $5,000 to Alpha Beta Gamma to support administrative and operating expenses of the Alpha Beta Gamma Honor Society.
Thompson, 37, was a student at the College from September 1993 through mid-1995. The aspiring basketball player actually moved from Virginia to live with relatives in Delaware County so that he could attend classes here and participate in the basketball program. He eventually traveled to Europe in hopes of playing pro basketball. Thompson later returned to his home outside Washington, D.C., where he now owns a successful financial services company.