University announces more than $11 million in gifts for engineering school

A $5 million commitment to Case Western Reserve University’s Think[Box] program is among more than $11 million in gifts for the Case School of Engineering announced during this weekend’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Trustee Larry Sears and his wife, Sally Zlotnick Sears, made their $5 million pledge this month as a challenge to inspire additional support for Think[Box], an initiative to encourage creativity, invention, and commercialization of technology. Its goal is to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship through experiential education, project-based learning, and broad-ranging collaboration.

“The generosity of Larry and Sally Sears will help us realize the university’s long-term ambitions for Think[Box],” said Gary Wnek, the Joseph F. Toot Jr. Professor of Engineering and the faculty director of Think[Box]. “We expect that this program will lead to the creation of products, companies and, ultimately, jobs. It truly is a unique opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs from a variety of disciplines to bring their ideas to life.”

The School of Engineering also received $6 million in pledges for scholarships and programs. That announcement includes a $4.5 million anonymous gift from a Case Institute of Technology (CIT) alumnus for student scholarships, a separate $500,000 commitment for Think[Box], and a series of other gifts totaling $1 million dollars for scholarship and academic programs focused at the Case School of Engineering.

“These truly generous gifts offer critical support for the School of Engineering, as well as the university’s $1 billion capital campaign,” said Jeffrey Duerk, dean of the Case School of Engineering. “We are grateful for their confidence in our remarkable faculty and students.”

A 1969 graduate of the Case Institute of Technology, Larry Sears went on to launch Hexagram Inc., a Cleveland-based electronics company that develops wireless meter-reading systems for utility companies. Sally earned her undergraduate degree from Flora Stone Mather College in 1972, and earned a master’s degree from the university’s School of Library Science two years later. The couple has a long record of support for innovation on campus. Six years ago, they gave $5.9 million to fund the Sears Undergraduate Design Laboratory, which Larry described at the time as a creative “sandbox” for students.

“Think[Box] is, in many ways, the evolution of the ‘sandbox’ concept,” said Larry Sears, also an adjunct lecturer in electrical engineering. “It will foster crucial interactions between faculty and students across the university, and we hope that these relationships will energize innovation at Case. Just as important, we want Think[Box] to serve as a vehicle for enhancing collaboration with industry. By forming alliances with companies we can leverage the Think[Box] facility as well as the skills and talents of our faculty, staff and students.

The university aims to locate Think[Box] in its own space, slated to be the Lincoln Storage building on the southwest end of campus. Last year Invacare leaders A. Malachi Mixon III and Joseph B. “J.B.” Richey (CIT ’62) committed $5 million to name the Think[Box] building. In addition, Barry Romich (CIT ’67) committed $1 million to the university to support efforts to encourage the kind of “tinkering” among students that led to his own entrepreneurial success. The university also has received several other generous gifts to support this program.

“Sally and I hope that our new commitment will inspire the support necessary to complete this project—a project that is unique in higher education,” said Larry Sears. “It allows us to give back in a meaningful way to the students who will be the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

While fundraising for Think[Box] continues, the university has opened temporary space for Think[Box] in the Glennan Building on the Case Quad. The area provides students and faculty a dedicated location to design, prototype and collaborate using state-of-the-art equipment. The university welcomes visitors to tour the interim Think[Box] space. For more information, contact