Pioneering engineer Jerome Suran makes gift to benefit undergraduates in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science
Pioneering engineer Jerome Suran makes gift to benefit undergraduates in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer ScienceMarch 29, 2005Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Jerome (Jerry) Suran’s introduction to Syracuse-and a more than 60-year association with Syracuse University-was built on a promise from the United States Army.
While a pre-engineering student at Queens College in New York City in 1943, Suran and friends Bernard Rooney and Morris Levy were recruited to enter an Army Specialized Training Program conducted at SU. Students who enrolled in the program would earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering and be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army during World War II. If the war was over when the students completed their studies, they would each owe the Army five years of service.
“It was a promise that sounded great,” says Suran. He, along with Rooney and Levy, left Queens College and arrived in Syracuse on a blistering hot day in August 1943. Suran vividly remembers the trio lugging their suitcases from the rail station up the hill towards campus. Once they arrived, they slept on a gymnasium floor at night and attended engineering classes during the day, before facilities were found in Auburn, N.Y., to house the students.
The promise from the Army proved to be short-lived. In February 1944, the Army abandoned the Specialized Training Program, and Suran and his friends were sent overseas to fight in the war. Suran was the only one to come home; Rooney and Levy were killed in action.
Once back in the U.S., Suran enrolled at Columbia University to complete his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Even though he did not finish his education at SU, Suran says he has considered himself an alumnus ever since his wartime student status at Syracuse.
He returned to Syracuse in 1952 to begin a more than 30-year career with General Electric, including several years as manager of GE’s pioneering Electronics Laboratory (E-Lab). During his time in Syracuse, he worked with administrators and professors in SU’s former College of Engineering to promote university-industry collaboration and influence a new generation of engineers. In 1979, SU made his alumnus status official, awarding him an honorary doctorate in engineering for his pioneering work in transistors and for the development of the implantable cardiac pacemaker.
Today, Suran is influencing SU’s future generation of engineers. He and his wife, Elsie Suran, have given $500,000 to establish the Jerome J. and Elsie Suran Endowed Scholarship Fund. The fund will be used each year to provide scholarship, financial assistance and summer research grants to undergraduate students in ECS, with preference given to electrical engineering majors. Eric F. Spina, the Douglas D. Danforth Dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, selects students for the scholarships in the spring of their junior years. The Suran Scholars, as they are known, receive support to conduct research in the summer between their junior and senior years and scholarship support in their senior year.
“Jerry and Elsie Suran have greatly honored ECS with their longtime friendship and now very strong support for our students,” says Spina. “Jerry is an exemplar for our students: An engineer with great integrity, exceptional technical ability, warm interpersonal skills and care for how his work impacts society. We are so very pleased that the Surans will have a lasting legacy at Syracuse University.”
The inaugural Suran Scholars are electrical engineering majors Jeremy Groom of Syracuse and Elizabeth Keegan of Mount Sinai, N.Y. Says Spina, “We will always strive to select students for their research award and scholarship who have a level of maturity and drive that will enable them to understand the magnitude of the honor and what is expected in return.”
Keegan’s exposure to engineering began as a child; her father is an electrical engineer. “When I was little, he would bring home cool electronics for my brothers and me to play with,” she says. As a high school student, Keegan was chosen to be part of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. Through that, she took college-level courses and performed research.
As part of her Suran Scholarship summer research experience, Keegan worked with ECS Assistant Professor Lisa Osadciw’s research group in the field of sensor networks, focusing specifically on radar applications.
“I am so grateful that I am part of this program,” Keegan says.
Jeremy Groom’s interest in engineering also began with an electronics set from his father. After graduating from high school, Groom joined the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, where his interest in electrical engineering was fostered. When his enlistment was up, he came to SU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
For his summer research experience, Groom researched silicon carbide power semiconductor design and gained new perspective on the engineering profession, as well as insight into his future interests and plans. “I think this experience has really prepared me for the future,” he says. “I am truly honored to have received the Suran Scholarship in its inaugural year. Mr. Suran has been a friend of the University for some time, and this scholarship is a testament to his commitment to both engineering and education.”
The legacy that Suran has left not only impacts Syracuse University, but the Central New York region as a whole. In a seminar Suran gave last fall on the SU campus, part of the inaugural year celebration for Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Suran reflected on his time at G.E. and the pioneering technology advances that came from the E-Lab, which he managed from 1972-78. The relationship that developed between the E-Lab and ECS not only facilitated an exchange of technology and education, but also fostered the participation of both ECS and G.E. in some of the critical social issues of the time, such as placing more women and minority engineers in the engineering pipeline.
“We at G.E. considered ourselves part of the soul and fabric of Syracuse,” Suran said. “The interface we had with SU was exceptionally promising.”
Suran came to work at G.E. in Syracuse in 1952, after working at the Motorola Corp. in Chicago. When they made the move, the Surans only planned to stay in Syracuse for five years.
That changed quickly, as Suran became an instrumental player in technological revolutions that were deeply rooted in Syracuse. From 1952-62, three major revolutions began: Transistor technology, the evolution of transistors to integrated circuits, and the digitalization of electronics and computers. From the Syracuse E-Lab came the first transistor radio, implantable cardiac pacemaker and color television set, as well as one of the earliest computers with semiconductor elements. The collaboration between G.E. and SU, fostered by Suran and College of Engineering Dean Bradley Strait, was at the forefront of many other innovations.
Suran says the E-Lab was a highly diverse place that drew scientists from all over the world, and the College of Engineering served as a deep pool of highly- qualified talent. The SU flow to G.E. was in knowledge, engineering recruits and the performance of research and development programs. “We were able to use the faculty and students for ‘blue sky’ thinking,” Suran says. In turn, the flow from G.E. to SU was in the form of new faculty members, funding for research and stronger curricula.
Suran took a position at G.E. headquarters in Connecticut as staff executive for technology for the Technical Systems and Materials Sector before retiring in 1982. Inspired by his interaction with SU students, Suran started a second career-teaching. He is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Graduate School of Management and in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California-Davis.
The Surans decided several years ago to make a gift to SU. “Elsie wanted to leave a legacy where we had spent most of our married life,” Suran says. Elsie Suran, who grew up during the Depression and had to go to work, rather than attend college, favored establishing undergraduate scholarships. She died in late 2003 without the chance to meet the first students to benefit from the couple’s generosity. Jerry Suran met both of the scholars on his trip to Syracuse last fall.
“I’m happy, and I think Elsie would have been very happy, too, to see the quality of these first Suran Scholars,” he says.