When upper-level biology students at Western Carolina University wander the fourth floor of the Apodaca Science Building on the first day of classes next semester, they will no longer be looking for the research classroom formerly known as Room 402.
Instead, they will be in search of the newly anointed Jay and Susan Strum Classroom, named in honor of two 1987 graduates of WCU’s biology and chemistry programs in recognition of their lifetime of financial contributions totaling more than $175,000 to support student scholarships and departmental initiatives.
The new official name for the Apodaca Science Building classroom was unveiled Saturday, Oct. 22, in a small ceremony attended by faculty, students, staff, and Strum family members and friends.
“Western has changed a great deal since Jay, Susan and I were students here, but one thing remains constant. And that is our belief that buildings are great, but in many ways they don’t matter. Instead, it is the connections we have between faculty and students that makes the difference,” said Provost Richard Starnes, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at WCU in 1992 and 1994, respectively.
“It’s not the room alone. It’s what happens in the room that matters,” Starnes said. “That’s one of the things that changed Jay and Susan’s lives, and will now continue to change the lives of generations of Catamounts.”
Susan and Jay Strum have long been long-time and generous supporters of the College of Arts and Sciences and Western Carolina University, said the college’s dean, David Kinner. “We very much appreciate their support for our programs and students through scholarships, programmatic support and their time. It is very fitting that their names will be on the first space to be named in the Apodaca Science Building, as their generosity will help our current and future students become scientists,” Kinner said.
Established in 2014 with initial gifts and pledges of $25,000, the Jay and Susan Strum Scholarship provides financial support for undergraduate students majoring in biology or chemistry, with preference given to students from the Western North Carolina counties of Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain and Transylvania.
The Strums made an additional gift of $100,000 to the scholarship fund in December 2021, along with a separate contribution of $50,000 to WCU’s Department of Biology that will help students with research projects and provide the opportunity to attend scientific conferences.
Both Strums said they believe that education is one of the keys to economic prosperity and a fulfilling life, but that the cost of higher education can be overwhelming and out of reach for many deserving students and their families.
“While the economy is booming in parts of North Carolina, the western part of the state is still lagging behind. We decided several years ago to establish a scholarship that would support students from the counties of Western North Carolina who major in biology or chemistry. Our experience at WCU was amazing and set us on a path where we could achieve our dreams of becoming research scientists,” Jay Strum said.
When the Apodaca Science Building was completed and the university began offering naming opportunities for classrooms and laboratories, the Strums felt it would be fitting to name a classroom in appreciation of their WCU professors.
“We had professors who saw a potential in us that we didn’t see in ourselves. They challenged but supported us and gave us opportunities in the classroom and their laboratories to learn, grow and develop into scientists. Both of us benefitted from departmental support for individual research projects and attendance at our first scientific conferences,” Susan Strum said. “It is not hyperbole to say that without the influence our professors had on us during our time WCU, we would not have been as successful in our careers and our lives wouldn’t have been as fulfilling.”
The Strums said that they believe that alumni support of WCU is critical to help the university meet its mission of offering education and opportunity to the mountain region.
“WCU is a great institution serving the people of Western North Carolina and beyond for more than 125 years,” Jay Strum said. “Alumni support only makes WCU and Western North Carolina better. Think about if you can only impact one student’s life. You have the potential to change that person’s life for the better and the potential to change the lives of their descendants for generations. A group of alumni working together can establish a scholarship that can offset some of the costs and allow a deserving student to get a college education that otherwise would be out of reach.”
Previous recipients of the Jay and Susan Strum Scholarship have talked with their benefactors about the positive impact that financial support had on their ability to attend WCU, sharing their challenges, experiences and career aspirations.
“These interactions have inspired us to increase our scholarship to provide more financial support. We hope that by providing financial aid in the form of a scholarship, we will relieve a student’s financial stress and anxiety. This will allow them to be fully engaged in the classroom and in their studies without the distraction of a job, having to commute to WCU each day or worrying about being in debt after graduation,” Susan Strum said. “We hope that each scholarship recipient has the same rewarding experience we had at WCU. Ideally, we want their educational experience at WCU to allow them to achieve their full potential in life.”
Jay and Susan Strum met in high school in Franklin and started dating at their junior prom. They were married in December 1986, prior to their 1987 graduation, both with bachelor of science degrees in biology and chemistry. They went on to advanced study in biochemistry at Wake Forest University, where Susan completed her master’s degree and Jay earned his doctorate.
Susan Strum has been director of assay development for Sapere Bio in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park since August 2015. Sapere Bio is a diagnostic company that focuses on measuring molecular aging to predict patient response to treatments. Prior to that, she was a research scientist at GlaxoSmithKline for 18 years where she developed enzymatic and cellular assays to profile small molecules being developed as new medicines across multiple disease areas.
After 14 years with GlaxoSmithKline, Jay Strum founded two start-up biopharmaceutical companies specializing in oncology therapeutics. He served as the chief scientific officer for G1 Therapeutics from its beginnings in an incubator space at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2009 until June 2020, serving as the company’s president from 2011 until 2014. He is the inventor of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug COSELA and is an inventor on more than 50 U.S. patents while at G1. He is also an author of 50 scientific publications.
In June 2020, he and colleagues from G1 Therapeutics co-founded ARC Therapeutics (now known as Incyclix Bio), which focuses on the development of drugs that target CDK inhibitors in cancer treatment.
Residents of Hillsborough, the Strums have two sons, one of whom recently graduated from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics.
The Jay and Susan Strum Classroom is the first named space in WCU’s Apodaca Science Building, which opened in the fall 2021 semester. The name was approved by the WCU Board of Trustees last December, and additional potential names for classrooms and laboratories in the building are in process.
The multi-level, 183,000-square-foot, five-story building features laboratories, classrooms, assembly space, a 150-person seat lecture hall, faculty and staff offices, collaborative areas, a rooftop plaza level for astronomy observations and a greenhouse. Replacing WCU’s now demolished 1970s-era Natural Science Building, it is home to programs in biology, chemistry, physics and forensic science.
For more information about naming opportunities in the Apodaca Science Building, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or email@example.com.