Training electrical engineering students to be great technology innovators is the lofty goal of every engineering school. A new laboratory at Case Western Reserve University to be built in the coming months—courtesy of two generous alumni—takes that goal a step further and moves the university to the forefront of engineering education.
The benefactors are alumnus and Cleveland-area engineer and educator Larry Sears, a 1969 graduate of the Case Institute of Technology, and his wife, Sally Zlotnick Sears, a 1972 graduate of Flora Stone Mather College and a 1974 graduate of the School of Library Science. Their $5.9 million gift will fund the new Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory at the Case School of Engineering. This facility will provide students with superior technical resources that enhance the school's core educational mission while raising the level of visibility of the department of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS).
The gift is the largest outright contribution from an individual in the history of the Case School of Engineering.
"The purpose of this facility is to provide Case electrical engineering students with an environment that will promote and encourage hands-on engineering and design," said Larry Sears, founder of Hexagram Inc., a Cleveland-based industry leader in wireless meter-reading systems for utilities. "The intent of the center is to create a permanent, well-funded, state-of-the-art space that is exclusively devoted to nurturing the creative intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit of our undergraduates."
With this project Sears returns to Case, where he was a teaching associate in the early 1970's and lectured in the exact spot where the new laboratory is to be located. He is now an adjunct professor in EECS, and teaches, 30 years later, a similar (but updated) undergraduate course in applied circuit design.
"As alumni of the Case Institute of Technology and Flora Stone Mather College, Larry and Sally Sears are wonderful examples of those who put a high priority on student experiences," said Robert F. Savinell, dean and George S. Dively Professor of Engineering. "In creating this center and its endowment, Larry and Sally are recognizing the importance of bringing talented students into the engineering school and how critical it is to be able to improve the laboratories at Case. We are grateful for the support of thoughtful and compassionate alumni like Larry and Sally."
The Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory will support all EECS circuits courses and will include a state-of-the-art lecture hall, upgraded equipment, renovated lab space and a student lounge and meeting area. In addition, specialized lab space will be available for senior projects, sponsored interdepartmental and inter-institutional programs and individual entrepreneurial activities and informal undergraduate projects.
Sears envisioned a modernistic, expansive, glass-encased lab with an associated student activity area. This would encourage interaction and collaboration among the students, and it would also provide an opportunity for prospective students on campus tours to observe undergraduate engineering activities.
"I want the new facility to serve as a vehicle for attracting talented undergraduates," Sears said. "When they come to our lab for a tour, I want students and their parents to come away with a feeling of 'Wow! The students at Case really get to do stuff.'"
The space will be staffed with full-time, accessible personnel whose sole responsibility is the education, guidance and mentoring of undergraduates "in the art and practice of hands-on engineering," said Norman Tien, Nord Professor of Engineering and chair of EECS. "Larry and Sally Sears' vision is to transform electrical engineering at Case and to raise its visibility nationally and internationally. With the establishment of the Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory, their vision will become a reality."
The entire third floor of Case's Glennan Building will be gutted and reconfigured to reflect the Sears' goal: a "sandbox" where students can "play and tinker" with technology and foster their innovation and creativity.
Frank Merat, associate professor and associate chair of EECS, said that the new center is a shared vision of a number of people.
"Larry is very interested in the ability of electrical engineering students to design real-world electrical devices, especially those involving circuits," Merat said. "Mehran Mehregany (Goodrich Professor of Innovation and former department chair) and others in EECS have been very interested in developing an entrepreneurial culture of Case students who can work with industry to solve real problems—this is the 'sandbox' part of the center. The two visions go hand-in-hand and are the basis of today's technology innovation."
An entrepreneur himself, Sears founded Hexagram Inc. in 1972. In 1995 Hexagram developed the STAR® Automatic Meter Reading System, which allows utilities to read their customers' meters from a central location. Hexagram has completed projects for numerous utilities, ranging from small municipal water systems to large investor-owned electric and gas systems. Today, more than 3 million meters are currently read by Hexagram AMR products.
In February 2006, Hexagram became an autonomous subsidiary of ESCO Technologies Inc. (NYSE:ESE).
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