UT alumnus donates $500,000 to energy engineering program

December 15, 2015 | Events, News, UToday, Advancement, Alumni, Engineering
By Meghan Cunningham

A University of Toledo alumnus is ensuring future engineers will have the right combination of technical and business skills needed to meet the growing energy needs of the world.

Gary Leidich, retired executive vice president and president of FirstEnergy Generation and FirstEnergy Corp., is donating $500,000 to the UT College of Engineering in support of a new academic initiative in energy engineering.

An event to celebrate the generosity of Gary and Eileen Leidich will be held Friday, Dec. 18, at 10 a.m. in the Nitschke Hall SSOE Seminar Room.

“It is very clear that energy dependence is not going away. The energy needs in the United States and around the world are going to be significant,” Leidich, chair of the UT Foundation Board of Trustees, said. “We have become accustomed to a lot of energy use. You plug in your cell phone and it’s all magic, but there is a lot behind it.”

Leidich, who received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in engineering science from UT, remembers well the power systems courses where he learned about energy conversion that prepared him for the technical aspects of his career.

He saw a need for increased specialization for today’s engineers not only in power systems, but also with oil, gas and other alternative energy sectors. So he was intrigued when Dr. Nagi Naganathan, dean of the UT College of Engineering, approached him with an idea to create a unique energy engineering concentration as a graduate degree option. Naganathan also invited Leidich to chair a task force of faculty, alumni and representatives from corporate partners DTE Energy Co., Owens Corning and First Solar Inc. to shape the curriculum.

“I saw my role in stepping up and demonstrating some leadership for this program that I think will get a lot of traction,” Leidich said.

“We cannot thank Gary and Eileen Leidich enough for their generosity and commitment to the success of future engineers,” UT President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Graduates of this new energy engineering concentration will be prepared to advance the world’s energy needs with the strong foundation Gary laid during his successful career in the energy sector.”

According to Naganathan, both in the United States and across the world, there will be an increased need for uniquely qualified engineering professionals who understand the energy portfolio not only technically, but also with a good knowledge of complementary topics in management, law and social sciences. Every organization that has a significant energy footprint would want to hire such professionals as the energy demand increases, he said.

“The success of the UT College of Engineering and our graduates is directly tied to the strong relationships we have with leaders like Gary Leidich and the corporations they represent to be sure our curriculum is current, relevant and engaging,” Naganathan said. “Thanks to Gary and Eileen’s generosity and the support of alumni and corporate partners, we can now launch a program to produce a new cadre of graduates who will be innovative leaders of energy portfolios in the future.”

Leidich, who retired from FirstEnergy Corp. in 2011, began his career with Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI) during the construction of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. During his career, he held a number of positions with Centerior Energy, the parent company of CEI and Toledo Edison that merged with Ohio Edison in 1997 to form FirstEnergy Corp., including director of system planning, director of human resources, vice president of finance and administration, and president of the power generation group. As an administrator with FirstEnergy, Leidich also held the roles of president and chief nuclear officer and senior vice president of operations prior to retiring as executive vice president.

Leidich continues to do consulting work for the electric utility industry and serves as chair of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council.

“Our society has grown completely dependent on energy, and this is something we are going to need forever,” Leidich said.

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