Volunteer Spotlight: John Sutphen

By Jessie Badach ‘09

John Sutphen ’78 was a team player for Allegheny men’s soccer in the 1970s, and he’s finding ways to be a team player for Allegheny now, too.

John Sutphen '78

Sutphen, of Fayetteville, N.Y., near Syracuse, has been volunteering for the college since his return to campus in 2005 when his daughter Christina ’09 visited as a prospective student.

“Up until then, I was just like other uninvolved alumni,” Sutphen says. “But when I brought her to campus, I started to see all the ghosts of the past, and I thought, ‘This is a really nice place, maybe I should try to do some things here.’”

Since then, Sutphen, executive vice president of O’Brien & Gere, an engineering and project delivery company with 30 offices across the U.S., has been forging connections between his firm and his alma mater. O’Brien & Gere’s team play for Allegheny has included doing on-campus career-based presentations, offering summer internships for students, recruiting recent Allegheny grads for jobs and, most recently, offering a scholarship for a promising Alleghenian. Sutphen was on campus in February 2009 to present the scholarship to Anna Oehser ’11. He hopes the company can offer the scholarship each year as they make it sustainable. “We’re going to build it,” he says.

“John didn’t wait for Allegheny to come to him with an idea that might have resonated,” says Phil Foxman, director of alumni affairs. “He instead continues to think of ways, creatively, to help Allegheny, and he helps very generously.”

Sutphen’s creative efforts span both educational and employment opportunities. The internship opportunities, like the one included as part of the $5,000 scholarship package to Oehser, have helped O’Brien & Gere hire three Allegheny alumni in the past three years. “The students are just amazing,” Sutphen says. “Their quality of thought and ability to respond orally are just extraordinary.” In fact, O’Brien & Gere management has been so impressed that the company has made it a goal to expand its Allegheny team from three to 12 in the coming years.

John Sutphen '78 and Ron Cole '87, associate professor of geology, chat with Aarish Riaz '10 at a reception on campus in February 2009 where the O'Brien and Gere Ltd. Russell L. Sutphen Scholarship was presented to Anna Oehser '11.

John Sutphen '78 and Ron Cole '87, associate professor of geology, chat with Aarish Riaz '10 at a reception on campus in February 2009 where the O'Brien and Gere Ltd. Russell L. Sutphen Scholarship was presented to Anna Oehser '11.

“What I find really fascinating about Allegheny’s relationship with O’Brien & Gere,” says Foxman, “is that it always has this win-win component to it. It’s good for them, and it’s good for Allegheny.” Sutphen says the company benefits because of the “tremendous return on investment” when they are able to hire interns. “It’s a really great model,” Foxman says, “and I love it when the relationship works like that.”

Sutphen’s investment in Allegheny also has extended to fund-raising support. O’Brien & Gere began a fund matching program for employees from Allegheny, matching 50 percent of their employees’ donations to the college, up to $1,000.

Sutphen’s teamwork for Allegheny also has included hosting Syracuse-region alumni events, assisting Sue Dougall Sweeny ’55 in a send-off for Allegheny first-year students from central New York, recruiting Allegheny students from high schools, and serving on the Timothy Alden Council Executive Committee.

But for all of his involvement, for Sutphen, the value is in the relationships he’s developed, and he only wishes he started earlier. “There’s a lot of years between 2005 and 1978,” Sutphen says. “It just goes to show you that no matter where you are in your life, you can start to do this, and it gets more interesting and fun the more you do it.”