Jo Surpin, the Salus University Board of Trustees (BOT) chair for the past 14 years, stepped aside from that role effective July 1, 2021. The new chair will be Rebecca Delia, who joined the board in 2018.
“Different circumstances always continued to extend my term,” said Surpin, president of Applied Medical Software in Collingswood, New Jersey. “But, I think as the board has evolved and with all the new board members that have been brought on over the past few years, it seemed this was as good a time as any to allow for a change in leadership.”
The change of board leadership at Salus has been a constant theme for Surpin, who first joined the board as a member in 1995. She was the only woman and one of only a few non-optometrists on the board, which she said was the view of diversity at the time. She saw — and helped promote — that evolution of leadership at the University over the years.
“I think one of the most significant things in my mind that I feel that I had a lot of influence on is changing the nature of the board itself,” she said. “What’s evolved is that now we are more than 50 percent women on the board, we’re a diverse board in gender, ethnicity and race. I am extremely proud that the board is now looking more and more like the University itself, those that we represent.”
With the student population at Salus now more than 50 percent female, Surpin believes the faculty and administration have been sensitive to that over the years, and what better way to start but at the top with board leadership.
Among her other accomplishments on the board while chair has been working with Melissa Vitek, OD ‘95, FAAO
, dean of International and Continuing Education and assistant professor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus, to create a mentor group for academic leadership and board members. It was at first intended for women, but several men in academic leadership wanted to participate.
“And, their rationale for that was that they are teaching a lot of women and working with women in faculty positions,” she said. “So I believe we have opened up people’s eyes to the fact that there are differences. Not saying they are better or worse, but there are differences and you need to be sensitive to what those issues are.”
The pandemic was especially challenging for everyone, including the BOT. Surpin credits Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE
, for leading the University through rough waters.
“With his public health background and his leadership in general, he really helped to guide the effort and kept the board fully apprised,” she said. “The board worked with him in terms of making sure that we handled things the best we could. This was new to everybody. No one person could possibly do this, we needed a team to really think things through.”
Dr. Mittelman recounted the significant contributions Surpin made to the University over the years, first as a member of the board and then as chair.
“For me personally, it has been a pleasure to work closely with her as I began my tenure here at Salus and then as we worked together to continue to build on the wonderful legacy that was established before I got here,” he said.
Surpin, who will remain on the board in a non-chair capacity, believes the transition of Delia will be seamless. The two have worked together quite a bit since Delia joined the board.
“I think Becky will bring incredible expertise, energy and vision to the role,” said Surpin. “I think she’ll be able to take what we’ve done up to now and continue to move us forward. I am really excited as she takes over and I look forward to supporting her in her efforts.”
Delia, senior vice president at FSL Public Finance in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, spent a year as a non-board member on the audit committee before becoming a full member, where she also served as chair of the finance committee.
“Jo has been a wonderful mentor and sounding board and has been very patient making it as smooth a transition as we possibly can,” said Delia. “I believe in the University and its mission. I think it’s a great organization. It’s something that I think I can do and do well.”
She, too, has been an advocate for women in leadership roles and believes it is especially important to see women in leadership positions as an example for other women to aspire. She said it’s also important because women bring diversity to the table in their viewpoints, professional experiences and life experiences.
“For instance I am a full-time working mother with a teenage son and I’m trying to juggle that. We have non-traditional students who have the same issues,” she said. “Being sensitive to issues like that, and bringing a diverse viewpoint and life experiences makes us better as an organization. The more diverse you are, the more well-rounded you are.”
Among the University’s goals moving forward that Delia is excited about is the establishment and evolvement of the Orthotics and Prosthetics program. She supports initiatives and ideas for academic programs as well as the partnerships Salus forms with international universities.
“Salus is well-run, well-managed, well-governed. I’m not looking to make drastic changes, but I do plan to look at everything,” she said.
Dr. Mittelman is also looking forward to continuing to work with Delia.
“Becky will bring additional energy, expertise and experience to the chair position that will help to elevate us as an institution even more,” he said. “We are so very lucky to have such talented and dedicated individuals who volunteer their time, wisdom and resources to Salus. It’s what helps to differentiate us from others.”