Jerry Suran — An Alumnus in Spirit and in Scholarship

April 6, 2015

Jerry Suran is an icon of electrical engineering. He holds 19 patents. He is a co-author of the first book on transistor circuits. As an educator, he was a non-resident instructor at MIT, adjunct professor at Syracuse University and senior lecturer at the University of California in Davis. He's been honored by top engineering societies and served as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the world's largest technical society. Despite never becoming an official alumnus of Syracuse University, Suran and his late wife Elsie decided to establish the Jerome J. and Elsie Suran Endowed Scholarship Fund in the College of Engineering and Computer Science in 2005. The fund provides scholarship, financial assistance, and summer research grants to undergraduate students. So what motivated such an accomplished professional engineer to make such a significant contribution to an institution that he never graduated from? Simply put, his life’s history is incomparably intertwined with the College and technology in Central New York. To learn about Suran’s relationship with the College, one needs to begin nearly 72 years ago. On a sweltering day in Syracuse, Suran stepped off a train, duffel bags in tow, to trudge up the Hill on foot. He was reporting for duty to an Army program conducted at the University in which he would earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering that would lead to a commission as a second lieutenant during World War II. He and the other young men in the program spent their first nights sleeping on a gymnasium floor before being moved to an abandoned seminary in nearby Auburn, New York. They lived there and learned from University faculty, but it didn’t last long. The Army abandoned the program in March of the following year and Suran and his classmates were assigned to infantry training at bases throughout the country. Abruptly, one part of Suran’s education ended and another one began. He was going to war. “It was quite a shock. We thought we had an agreement with the Army,” describes Suran. “Although, times being what they were, there was a lot of patriotism in the country. We weren't particularly concerned about going to war. It was considered a patriotic duty. We were deployed to the European theater during the time of the Battle of the Bulge.” Suran lost classmates in the war, but survived. In the end, his unit ended up in the occupation of Austria where they captured some sophisticated German radar installations in the Alps. He became infatuated with the technology and what it could do. “I looked at the radar and for some reason, I decided technology like that must be the future. I decided that what I really ought to do was go into electronic engineering,” said Suran. When he returned to the U.S., he did just that—completing his bachelor’s degree at Columbia University. Less than 10 years after he first got off the train in Central New York, Suran came back to Syracuse with his wife to begin a more than 30-year career with General Electric (GE), mainly in the company’s original Electronics Laboratory (E-Lab) where there was intensive work being done on transistor development and circuit technology. In the late 50's, he led the development of the company's first implantable cardiac pacemaker. During his 27 years at GE, he rekindled his relationship with his would-be alma mater, working with administrators and professors in the College to promote collaboration and influence a new generation of engineers. GE provided connections to industry for students and the College provided highly qualified talent to GE in our graduates. Suran’s time in Syracuse ended in ’79, when he accepted an executive role at the GE headquarters in Connecticut. He retired a few years later, and began a new career as a full-time educator. Today he remains 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. After a very accomplished career, Suran and his wife Elsie had found themselves in a position to give back. Based on his love of Syracuse, a town where they flourished, and his wife’s passion for undergraduate education, the Suran Endowed Scholarship Fund was graciously established. Sadly, Elsie died in late 2003 without the chance to meet the first students to benefit from the couple’s generosity. To date, 16 students have earned from the Suran Scholarship. The accomplishments of the Suran Scholars contribute to the Surans’ legacy at Syracuse University, in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and beyond. Suran has lived many years and contributed to many technological advances, and he is still surveying today’s technological landscape, predicting which technology will be the future. He says, “If I were involved today, I would be very interested in biomedical engineering. If you consider my work on pacemakers, I suppose I always was. Electronics will continue to have a very significant impact on medicine.” In 1979, for all his accomplishments and contributions to industry and the College, the University made Suran’s alumnus status official in a way, awarding him an honorary doctorate in engineering. "That was an honor, of course, but I always considered myself an alumnus of Syracuse University because of that short time in the Army that I was there taking courses. Syracuse is special to me for many different reasons and I’m happy that I’ve been fortunate enough to give back."