Alumni gift given to ensure Detroit Mercy, students prosper

Mary Jo and Ed Eick
Mary Jo and Ed Eick

Ed ’63 and Mary Jo ’62 Eick take their time when making a decision. They do their research, think about it and talk it over with each other because they want to make sure they are doing the right thing.

University of Detroit Mercy’s lab that houses the assistive technology program will now be called the Eick Center for Assistive Technology because the couple’s research into Detroit Mercy’s financial state of affairs and the program impressed them enough to make a six-figure gift to the University.

And all this came about because of the values instilled in them by their Jesuit education at University of Detroit more than 50 years ago.

The two came to University of Detroit because of the impact Jesuits and Jesuit education had on others in their families. Mary Jo studied business and Ed was in the engineering program — attracted by the University’s co-op program. They met at a Spring Carnival event, a mainstay of University of Detroit’s social scene for years. They dated, though they didn’t get married until after Ed’s first year of graduate school at Stanford.

Ed’s career took them around the country doing finance, manufacturing, corporate strategy, acquisitions and more in the corporate world. In the 1970s, he acquired an industrial distribution company and after several years he turned it over to the employees to run and pursued business consulting. He retired after yet another career in IT, but that didn’t slow him down. He became director of social services for St. Vincent de Paul Society in Seattle.

Mary Jo stayed at home, and was extremely happy raising their five children. She used her business degree to run the household and, importantly, to keep the family finances in good shape. They now live in Arizona where Ed, inspired by his Jesuit background, is serving on the board for fundraising for Catholic schools, building a volunteer program for Catholic Community Services and leading a pro-life program in Arizona.

“We hadn’t been in touch with the University for quite some time, but a few years ago we decided to return and see how things were,” Mary Jo said. “We had heard things about Detroit and its troubles and how it was coming back, but we wanted to see. We were really encouraged to see all of the changes. And we heard about the Campaign for University of Detroit Mercy and that so many people were supporting the school.”

Inspired to give back to the school that had given them so many blessings, they started their research. They asked questions and liked the answers enough to ask more. They were encouraged that the University remains strong in its commitment to the city and surrounding community. They also were happy to see the University working to keep its programming current with present and future needs of the job market. They decided they would make a substantial gift to the University, but didn’t know where to direct it.

“We work hard at philanthropy,” Mary Jo said. “We didn’t just want to give because it is our alma mater, we wanted to make a difference.”

Dennis Carlesso ’90, ’97, executive director of development suggested they consider the University’s new assistive technology program. This new engineering program was created by Assistant Professor of engineering Megan Conrad, who came to the University through a major grant by the Clare Boothe Luce Program of the Henry Luce Foundation, which is designed to increase participation of women in the sciences and engineering at every level of higher education.

The assistive technology program is an outgrowth of a longstanding Faces of Design capstone project in which mechanical engineering students team up with nursing students and partner with the Detroit Veterans Hospital to create a device that will make life better for a disabled veteran. Students meet with the veteran and design a project to his or her specifications. The final product is presented to the client at a special event every spring; the results can be life-changing.

“We thought that was very creative,” Ed said. “We liked the way it showed that the University was going beyond automotive engineering and improving people’s lives.” In addition, of the Eicks’ five children four of them, including two women, are in STEM fields.

“Detroit Mercy’s assistive technology program provides a unique opportunity for our senior engineering and nursing students to live the University mission by directly serving a client with a disability,” Conrad said. “The value of the program lies not only in the service to the Detroit community, but in teaching the student the human interface necessary for successful engineering and nursing. The Eicks’ generous gift provides the seed for the program to involve more students and ultimately serve a wider range of individuals with a wider range of needs.”

The Eick Center for Assistive Technology is the hub of that program and can be found in the Engineering Building just off the High Bay.

The couple was reluctant when Carlesso suggested the University name the lab after them; they didn’t make the donation to bring attention to themselves, they said. But Carlesso convinced them that when universities honor donors in that way, it’s for reasons other than ego.

“It becomes part of the family legacy, sure,” he said. “But it’s so much more. It shows students, alumni and other potential donors that someone had enough confidence in the University and a particular program to make a significant investment to ensure its success,” he said. “Other people considering donations will recognize names and think, ‘if they thought a gift to the University was a good investment, it must be. And, it serves as an inspiration to students who use those places every day, and know that someone cared enough to make opportunities possible for them.”

“To us, the gift is about helping Detroit Mercy survive and prosper so it can contribute to the educational opportunities of Detroiters, a lot of whom are underserved or do not have the resources to receive an education like we received,” Ed said. “We feel we are playing a tiny role in one neighborhood and believe it can make a difference.”

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