Jo Surpin was simply overwhelmed, to the point that she almost couldn’t speak.

The outgoing Salus University Board of Trustees chair, who relinquished her spot effective July 1, 2021, after 14 years at the helm, was honored at a ceremony Sept. 27, 2021, that included recognition of the Presidential Medal of Honor and Alumni Association award winners for the past two years.

That’s where she and those in attendance listened to a detailed account of her many accomplishments during her time on the board, courtesy of Salus president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE.

And, it was, well, a lot for her to take in all at once.

Jo Surpin and Dr. Mittelman“You don’t really think about all that you’ve done, but to hear it all . . . whoa,” said Surpin.

And, the list of accomplishments is indeed long and distinguished. She initially joined the board in 1995 and served in a number of committee leadership positions before becoming chair in 2007, the first woman to hold that position on the board.

“Jo has been our guiding light for many years. As we transitioned from being a single-purpose institution to becoming a University, that took the vision of many. But it if wasn't for Jo’s vision and others, we wouldn’t be here talking as Salus University,” said Dr. Mittelman.

Career highlights that happened on her watch include:
  • Obtaining University status (2008).
  • Guiding the name transition from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) to Salus University (2008).
  • Enrollment of the first Physician Assistant Studies program.
  • Graduation of the first residential Audiology students.
  • The naming of the George S. Osborne College of Audiology (OCA).
  • The launch of the Masters in Public Health (MPH) online degree and PhD in Biomedicine.
  • The establishment of the Occupational Therapy (OT) (2012) and Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) (2015) programs.
  • Renovation of The Eye Institute (TEI) (2010-2011).
  • The opening of the City Life primary health care center (2017).
  • Opening of the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) (2015).
  • Celebrating the centennial of PCO (2019).
  • Recruiting the sixth president of PCO/Salus, Dr. Mittelman (2013).
According to Dr. Mittelman, Surpin served as a mentor, friend and confidante when he first started, something that continues to this day.

“She helped to teach me how to interact with the board, how to interact with the University community. If I wanted to bounce something off her, I had no problem picking up the phone and asking her what she thought about it,” said Dr. Mittelman. “We didn’t always agree, which was even better I thought, because the degree of respect and the high level of intellectual interaction that we had made me a better president. It really forged our friendship into what it is today.”

Dr. Mittelman added that Surpin never flinched when faced with difficult circumstances.

“You’ve always been a judicious steward of our organization, making sure we’ve made the right decisions for the right reasons,” Dr. Mittelman said to her. “You always asked the hard questions, but they were the right questions at the right time. That always made us a better staff as we executed the plans.”

Dr. Mittelman then recited a proclamation approved by the Board of Trustees that praised Surpin’s leadership and her years of service to the institution. He noted how  gracious she always was in celebrating the University’s successes.

“You never took any of the credit, but you deserve a good bit of it. Your leadership has been key and vital to everything we have now,” said Dr. Mittelman.

Surpin will remain on the board in a non-chair capacity. Rebecca Delia, who joined the board in 2018, has taken over as board chair. She is senior vice president at FSL Public Finance in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She initially spent a year on the audit committee before becoming a full board member, where she has also served on the finance committee.