Robbie Werth addresses the audience at the Werth Testing Center dedication, Jan. 25, 2019.

When the Werth Testing Center was dedicated in late January, a large contingent of students, faculty, staff, family, alumni, friends, and administration was present to show their appreciation to Robbie and Marianne Werth and their family, whose gift made the expanded center in Lavery Hall possible.

Lizzy Schofield, a senior double majoring in accounting and finance in the Pamplin College of Business, expressed her appreciation for the Werth family gift and the support she has received from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).

“Services for Students with Disabilities has had a profound impact on my time at Virginia Tech,” Schofield said. “It is difficult to sum up what this testing center means to me. Normal testing environments don’t work for me. This testing center gave me a quiet place to perform to the best of my ability Juan Espinoze — as if I didn’t have a disability.”

Schofield presented the Werths with more than 50 handwritten notes from students who attested to the benefits of having an expanded testing center. Among the comments:

  • “By helping to create this testing center, you have contributed to the success of many who would not have succeeded otherwise.”
  • “Thank you so much for giving students an equal opportunity to succeed. Since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have struggled emotionally and physically to engage in learning. This center gives me an opportunity to feel welcomed and cared for. I feel like it gives me the tools to excel similar to my peers. I appreciate your support and for caring about students’ welfare.”
  • “Thank you for your generous gift of the Werth Testing Center. I strongly believe it is my responsibility, as well as others in this community, to support and help each other be successful. I hope one day I can make an impact as great as yours. You truly embody Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).”

“Robbie is an extraordinary Virginia Tech alumnus who has made a huge difference in our ability to help students fully achieve access and success,” said Patricia A. Perillo, vice president for student affairs. “He is a great friend to Student Affairs and to the university. He has helped us further our work, to challenge and inspire the next generation of Hokie alumni, and he has allowed our students to see that leadership, service, and the spirit of Ut Prosimcontinue long after graduation. Sharing his life’s work with his alma mater not only has a lasting impact, but also brings a Virginia Tech education within reach — literally and figuratively — to talented and worthy students who need an environment that is critical to their collegiate success.”

January 25, 2019 – Members of Virginia Tech's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), Student Affairs and beyond, gathered in Lavery Hall to honor Robert "Robbie" Werth '74, '81, and his wife Marianne for their generous gift to SSD to create the Werth Testing Center. (Photo by Christina Franusich/Virginia Tech)

Robbie Werth, center, pictured with some of the many students who will benefit from the Werth Testing Center.

The Werth Testing Center dedication was a celebration of university-wide collaborations to provide opportunities for students to learn about well-being and to thrive at Virginia Tech.

Chris Wise, assistant vice president for student affairs, said, “We are here today to celebrate the partnerships we have developed with faculty and other colleagues at the university to enhance student learning and create transformational experiences at Virginia Tech. Together, we are co-creating comprehensive and dynamic opportunities for growth and learning that matter to all students.”

“The collaboration between Student Affairs and academics plays a pivotal role in uniting our commitment to equity, access, and learning for all students,” said Deborah Smith, assistant director for Services for Students with Disabilities. “Our work is to create the circumstances in which all students are challenged and encouraged to approach their college and life experiences with courage and determination, free of barriers. Through innovation, hard work, and the generosity of people like Robbie Werth, this ideal has been realized.”

The number of tests proctored by SSD has increased every year, with dramatic annual increases since SSD moved into Lavery Hall in 2012. SSD proctored 2,012 tests in the 2012-13 academic year, compared to 6,313 tests in the 2017-18 academic year. With this consistent increase in demand, it became apparent that additional testing space was a high priority.

Construction of the Werth Testing Center, which is located on the third floor of Lavery Hall, was completed in late September and students were proctored in the new testing rooms starting Oct. 1, 2018. Werth’s gift increased the number of dedicated seats for proctoring tests from 28 to 46, increasing capacity by an additional 252 students during final exam week.

In his remarks, Werth acknowledged his mother, who “taught about inclusion and welcoming in an era of separate but equal.” He recounted his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and being present for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the White House lawn.

“Lack of accessibility can be an intimidating thing for people to confront. We need more exposure on how to interact, accommodate, and create a positive environment for people with disabilities,” Werth said. “I wanted to make a difference in equality. It was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. It will be a place for people to come together, open doors, and support each other. I have great confidence in our youth. They are worthy of investment. It is good business to provide services for students with disabilities and it is good business to hire students with disabilities. This is what it is all about.”

As the founder of Diamond Transportation Services Inc., now a subsidiary of National Express Transit, Werth ’74, MBA ’81, works with local and regional transit agencies in the D.C. metropolitan area to design, implement, and operate paratransit services for persons with disabilities. His innovative work and advocacy have garnered numerous awards and made him a much sought after expert on the topic of providing transportation services to the differently abled community — including testimony on Capitol Hill.

“With the help of donors like Robbie and his family, we are well on our way to establishing Virginia Tech as a place that not only supports all students, but also helps to create and inspire in students an understanding of themselves — as individuals, as learners, as leaders, and as contributing members of this vibrant community,” said Perillo. “By making our university more welcoming to students with differing abilities, Robbie is changing lives.”

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Written by Sandy Broughton. Photos by Christina Franusich.