It’s not every day Carnegie Mellon gets a new president. Since 1997, Jared Cohon had occupied the sixth floor office in Warner Hall on the Pittsburgh campus; before him, only seven others have held the top position going back to the university’s 1900 founding. That makes the average tenure for a CMU president about 14 years. If Dr. Cohon’s successor, Subra Suresh, maintains that average, he won’t step down until 2027 (which makes me feel old just thinking about it).

Naturally, when a February 5 CMU news release first revealed that Dr. Suresh would be the university’s ninth president, effective July 1, I submitted an interview request so I could profile him for Carnegie Mellon Today. I knew securing a time wouldn’t be easy because he was still Director of the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. 

After some discussions with the president’s office, I was in luck. Dr. Suresh could meet on June 7 at his Georgetown home, about 250 miles from Pittsburgh. I gladly made the drive and arrived on time for my 1 pm interview.  

The front door was slightly ajar when I stepped onto the porch. I heard a voice say, “Please come in.” When I did, I saw Dr. Suresh sitting at his dining room table with two familiar faces, Cathy Light and Cheryl Hays from the president’s office. Cathy apologetically told me this day was the only opportunity to complete some paperwork. 

“Uh-oh,” I thought. Was I going to have a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with Dr. Suresh? Before panic set in, Dr. Suresh walked over to me, shook my hand, and said, “We’re going to go talk in the living room.” That was fine with Cathy and Cheryl because they had a pile of documents to keep them busy. 

Dr. Suresh and I had an entertaining, candid two-hour conversation, interrupted only when he asked me, “Have you had lunch?” We joined Cathy, Cheryl, and Dr. Suresh’s wife, Mary, at the dining room table and ate before concluding the interview. 

Afterward, I had a charming one-hour conversation with Mary Suresh. Then it was time to go. Cathy and Cheryl were still working hard at the dining room table, but Dr. Suresh had gone upstairs, so I said to Ms. Suresh: 

“Please thank your husband for taking the time to talk with me.”
“Wait,” she replied. “I’m sure Subra will want to say goodbye.”
I told her that wasn’t necessary, but she insisted. In another moment, he came bounding down the stairs and told me how appreciative he was that I made the trip. Then, he asked: “Do you need directions?” 

“No thanks,” I told him. “I know where I’m going.”
After another handshake, I walked to my car, impressed with the warmth and hospitality of a man with so many achievements. As I reflected on the interview during the drive home—without making any wrong turns—it occurred to me that Carnegie Mellon is headed in the right direction, too.
I hope you enjoy this issue’s profile of Dr. Suresh.
Robert Mendelson
    Executive Editor 
    Follow on Twitter @RobertMendelson
ps: Save the Dates! Nov. 14, 15: The Inauguration of President Subra Suresh