Case Western Reserve University has received a $1 million gift from Barry A. Romich (CIT '67) to name the Prentke/Romich Laboratory at the Case School of Engineering.
"I want today's undergraduates to have a place to go to build things," says Romich, who got his own start in hands-on engineering by "tinkering" in the student shop of Bingham Hall in the '60s. The result was the start of what is now a leading international manufacturer of assistive technology to address the communication needs of people with severe speech disabilities.
In 1966, while a student at Case, Romich co-founded the Prentke Romich Company with Edwin Prentke (CIT '26), whom he memorializes through this gift. The two had become acquainted when they collaborated with James Reswick, Ph.D., and Charles Long, M.D., at the Engineering Design Center at Case Institute of Technology on federally-funded research to investigate the control of upper-extremity-powered orthoses. Among the new firm's early projects were a device to limit the acceleration of powered wheelchairs and the first communication device for stroke victims.
"It was a blessing to know Ed. He had the business experience, and I had the recent formal, technical training," Romich recalls. "We both had the ability to put ourselves into the place of the individuals we were serving. These were high-level spinal cord injury patients—many of whom were close to my own age at the time. We worked to give them the tools they needed to move beyond their physical limitations and reconnect with society."
Headquartered in Wooster, Ohio, the company completed the process of ownership transition to an employee stock ownership plan in 2008. Romich has since used the Romich Foundation as a vehicle to support responsible charitable distribution of his previously owned stock.
In addition to his desire to memorialize Prentke, Romich was inspired by the leadership gift of Larry M. Sears (CIT '69) and Sally Zlotnick Sears (FSM '72, SLC '74), whose nearly $6 million gift to the Case School of Engineering in 2006 enabled the creation of the Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory.
Romich also wanted to give something back to the university and to show his support for the leadership of President Barbara R. Snyder. "I'm so pleased that such a place as Case Western Reserve exists with a focus on helping undergraduate engineering students achieve success," says Romich. "I hope this space inspires and supports talented young students to go on to do great things."