The First Word
By L. Jay Lemons, President
ONE OF THE GREAT JOYS of serving Susquehanna is the privilege of meeting and building relationships with Susquehanna graduates. Their energy, continuing devotion and love for the university are a source of nourishment and inspiration for my colleagues and me. Our recent Homecoming-Reunion Weekend was a wonderful opportunity to connect nearly 1,000 alumni to each other, to students, to faculty members and to the campus we want them to always regard as home.
Travel also brings me to the doorsteps of our alumni and reveals so much about Susquehanna’s legacy in the world. I have come to know a gentleman named Paul Coleman, a graduate of the Class of 1940 who studied physics here and ultimately earned a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and served as professor of electrical and computer engineering for 37 years.
Champaign, Ill., is not an easy place to get to from Selinsgrove, but I have arrived at Paul’s doorstep several times this decade, always greeted by a smiling face—and a couple dozen questions. How is Susquehanna managing to survive? Are you concerned about where your students will be coming from in the future? How do you compete? His mind continues to churn in ways that make it easy to see how graduate students were challenged and motivated to perform in his lab.
I had the privilege to speak at Paul’s 90th birthday party in 2008, which was an extraordinary event for several reasons. One was to be in the presence of his graduates, 13 of whom have been recognized with distinguished alumni awards from the University of Illinois. Their reach is a testament to the impact “Uncle Paul,” as they affectionately call him, has had on their lives and, as a result, the world. As an example, the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a trio of scientists whose foundational research took place in Paul’s lab decades earlier.
Paul shares readily that he modeled his lab and his work with graduate students on the experiences he had at Susquehanna as an undergraduate studying under the late Paul Johannes Ovrebo. The personal attention he received was critical to his success, much as the case is for today’s SU students. Ovrebo was so influential in Paul’s life that he and his son, Peter, created a scholarship honoring Ovrebo’s memory and supporting SU science students in their quest for a degree.
Paul’s zest for living, his pursuit of knowledge, and his never-ending curiosity about our world have kept him a very young man, even in his 92nd year. He says his Bible study group has opened up new insights: “I spent the first part of my life trying to figure out how this world works, and now I’m trying to figure out why it exists.” I hope you will enjoy Paul’s commentary on the importance of curiosity in this issue of Susquehanna Currents. He is a treasure and an inspiration.