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Multi-Year Engineering Gift Builds Bridge to a More Diverse Future

Diversity of thought is a strategic advantage.

That tenet is the driving factor behind a significant, combined gift over five years to The University of Toledo College of Engineering from alumnus Vince DiPofi, his wife Sandra and SSOE Group, the internationally ranked architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Toledo.

“The world of engineering needs more diversity to be stronger, better and to meet the challenges of the next century,” DiPofi said. “That’s a legacy I’ll be proud to leave behind at my alma mater.”

DiPofi, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1985, has served as SSOE’s CEO since 2019.

An event to celebrate the collaboration will be held Tuesday, Oct. 18, in Nitschke Auditorium. The program begins at 6 p.m.

UToledo is the company’s largest pipeline for talent, with alumni representing around 20% of SSOE’s global employee population. The talent and recruiting connection goes back decades, through integrated co-op and internship programs as well as curriculum innovation.

The gift will primarily support personnel and programming in the Office of Engineering Inclusive Excellence. That team, housed in UToledo’s College of Engineering, helps ensure that every student has access to the resources and tools needed for academic and career success.

The DiPofis’ contribution also includes funding for scholarships that will target high-performing students belonging to groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in engineering professions as well as classrooms.

“We’ve had top students and engineers in Toledo for many years,” DiPofi said. “This program takes it to the next level by broadening the spectrum of the population that can participate in what we believe is the most challenging, innovative and creative profession available.”

The investment builds upon a strong foundation in the College of Engineering and takes a more comprehensive view of the student experience – from K-12 outreach and STEM education to admissions and student retention.

“Our college has many reasons to be grateful to Vince, Sandra and SSOE for this generous gift, but most important is that it reinforces our current trajectory,” said Dr. Mike Toole, dean of UToledo’s College of Engineering. “We measure our success by how well we engage and value the broad diversity of students, faculty and staff that make up our college. We’re excited to continue our growth by that measure.”

The composition of the typical engineering classroom is evolving as a result of activities like the college’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” for middle school students and by promoting a strong community of student organizations including chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.

The college has been awarded the Diversity Recognition Program’s Bronze Award by the American Society for Engineering Education, which is the highest level granted.

Over the next five years, the new gifts will help fuel those existing initiatives and create new ones like Summer Bridge programming.

“Moving the needle on diversity and equity requires commitment of both human and financial resources,” said Dr. Lesley Berhan, the college’s associate dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement. “This support empowers us to continue translating our ideals into outcomes. If we admit a student, we expect them to succeed.”

DiPofi’s journey in the field of engineering started on the moon.

As a child, the northwest Ohio native was inspired by the Apollo 11 landing, sparking an interest in science that would come to define his education and career. What began with building models of the Saturn V rocket later turned into recruiting visits with some of the country’s top engineering programs.

“My father encouraged me with chemistry sets and crystal radio receivers, along with showing me how to install plumbing and other odd jobs,” DiPofi said. “I had no other career aspirations than to be an engineer.”

He would eventually become the first in his family to attend college, joining a challenging program that he also paid for himself. DiPofi credits the experience with providing him a tenacious work ethic and a grounded perspective.

“Underrepresented or underprivileged students are often bridled with financial and first-generation challenges, but unlike me, may not have grown up with access to chemistry sets or parents encouraging them to go to college,” he said.

“Obviously, I have never had the challenge of being a person of color or a woman, in a field where few of my peers are like me. With this gift, we’re continuing to grow an ideal space for all students to thrive in the College of Engineering.”

Just as current problems around the world in areas like clean energy, water security, infrastructure and computer science have never been greater, the possibilities for engineering students, educators and professionals are abundant.

DiPofi is confident in UToledo’s role in delivering solutions.

“At SSOE, our vision is to design and build the future for our clients, colleagues and communities,” says DiPofi. “I believe this partnership brings our vision to reality. To design the future for our clients, we need colleagues who are the best and brightest.”

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