A University of Toledo graduate who is now the top executive at one of northwest Ohio’s largest public companies has given $1 million to the university to support a leadership program for engineering students.
The donation from Roy Armes and his wife, Marcia, will go toward UT’s Engineering Leadership Institute. Mr. Armes, a 1975 engineering graduate of UT, is the president, chairman, and chief executive officer of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in Findlay.
“When I look back at it, UT and my education there played a significant role in what I’ve been able to accomplish over the last 35 to 40 years,” Mr. Armes said Wednesday. “It’s really been the foundation to my career development.”
The Engineering Leadership Institute — which is to be renamed after Mr. and Mrs. Armes — takes on 12 to 15 second-year engineering students each year. Mr. and Mrs. Armes helped found the institute with a $50,000 gift in 2009.
Nagi Naganathan, dean of the college of engineering at UT, said the idea is to identify students with leadership potential and help draw out those skills.
“It’s kind of waking up the inherent talents they have,” Mr. Naganathan said.
Students must apply to take part in the program. Mr. Naganathan said that although the program is relatively young, there has been good interest in it. Among its other benefits, students in the program are given the opportunity to participate in Global Grand Challenge events around the United States and internationally. They also take on an individual senior project.
Mr. Naganathan said the support of Mr. and Mrs. Armes has been crucial.
“Activities like this are difficult if not impossible to support within the operation budgets of the university,” he said.
More importantly, the Armeses have been directly engaged in the program. Mr. Armes recently organized a CEO forum in which a half-dozen local chief executives met with students in the program. Mr. Naganathan said those kinds of unique opportunities can help show students their own potential.
“Leadership roles are sometimes assumed to be reserved for graduates from other disciplines,” Mr. Naganathan said. “What I’m trying to say is you can be a leader in many different ways. Board chairs and CEOs are not reserved for nonengineers. It’s a question of identifying the talents within you, nurturing it, and stepping up.”
In fact, many of the nation’s large companies are led by men and women whose educational background is in engineering.
Spencer Stuart, an executive search consulting firm, found 22 percent of CEOs of the companies that made up the Standard & Poor’s 500 in 2008 had undergraduate degrees in engineering. More had engineering degrees than any other degree.
Realizing and fostering leadership skills early on can give young engineers an edge.
“I think the leadership skills are going to help and give them a competitive advantage in the job market,” Mr. Armes said, adding that two program graduates told him they believed the program was the tipping point that helped them land full-time jobs.
Looking ahead, Mr. Armes said he’s confident great job opportunities will continue for engineers, particularly within manufacturing.
“I think manufacturing is still the base or the foundation for economic development in this country, and I think they can make a great career out of it by sticking with it,” he said.
In addition to their gifts to the Engineering Learning Institute, Mr. and Mrs. Armes have given $500,000 to create the Marcia and Roy Armes Rocket Academic Center in the Larimer Athletic Complex that is undergoing renovations.