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Former iSchool dean's spirit lives on with $1.7 million pledged

February 16, 2011

Stacey Keefe
(315) 443-7086

The School of Information Studies (iSchool) has announced that monies pledged over the past three years for the Raymond F. von Dran Fund have now been dedicated to the Student Startup Accelerator.

von dranThe late Raymond F. von Dran, dean of the iSchool from 1995-2007, exuded vibrancy, humor and an unbelievable amount of energy and entrepreneurial vision. As dean, von Dran led the iSchool through a 12-year period of unprecedented productivity, during which the number of faculty and students nearly tripled, sponsored research increased five-fold and four of the school’s programs earned top-four rankings from U.S. News & World Report, including the top-ranked master’s in information systems.

And that was after he had already left his innovative fingerprints on many other universities across the nation. Von Dran created distance education programs in library and information science at three universities, starting in the late 1970s, long before the Internet provided a vehicle to bring educational opportunities to individuals. In the 1980s, von Dran created interdisciplinary research centers and Ph.D. programs in library and information science, understanding the need for and trend toward solving complex problems in science, education and society through the cooperation of experts from different disciplines.

When von Dran announced his decision to step down as dean of the iSchool and return to the faculty, he hoped to help the school create commercial and social enterprises from its research and development work. Sadly, von Dran passed away before he was able to fulfill the next chapter in his impressive career.

Now, his widow, Gisela von Dran, director emerita of the M.S. in library and information science program and an iSchool Board of Advisors member, is ensuring that her husband’s infectious spirit for innovation will live on through the Raymond F. von Dran Fund, which was established shortly after he passed away in July 2007.

Von Dran embodied innovation, energy and the drive to make things happen. Therefore, the funds that were raised for the Raymond F. von Dran Fund will now be used to support the Student Startup Accelerator.

“Ray embodied the qualities of an innovator,” says Gisela. “He was forward-looking, creative, decisive, ambitious and most of all, inspired. He advanced the iSchool and the entire information field by taking calculated risks and standing behind his convictions.”

To date, approximately $1.7 million has been pledged for the Raymond F. von Dran Fund through individual gifts and an annual “Forever 60” fundraiser dinner and celebration. Each year, $50,000 of the funds will be used as seed funding to support nonprofit and for-profit student ventures. This includes not only new ventures, but innovative ways to improve society, such as students working with libraries to offer new services, implementing new ventures to help nonprofit organizations become more self-sustaining or providing new innovations in information services. To compete for the seed funding, students will pitch their ideas to judges at Emerging Talk, an annual student-run conference that brings together students, entrepreneurs, investors and organizations with resources to jump-start student ventures.

“This gift not only provides sustainability so that Syracuse University can continue to seed student ventures, it will encourage students from disciplines not traditionally associated with business, such as library science, to pitch their innovative ideas at Emerging Talk,” says Elizabeth D. Liddy, iSchool dean. “We now have a mechanism through which to seed these student innovations.”

Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library and adjunct faculty at the iSchool, provides a recent example of innovation in the library. In a time of reduced funding to public libraries, Feldman capitalized on expanded travel regulations between the United States, Canada and Mexico by meeting the increasing demand for passports. The libraries in the Cuyahoga County Public Library System are now official Passport Acceptance Facilities for the U.S. Department of State. This passport processing and photo service has created a new revenue stream, bringing in $100,000 to date, allowing the library to expand services and rely less on public funds.

In honor of von Dran, the Student Startup Accelerator will undergo a name change, and all faculty, students, staff and alumni at SU are invited to participate in a competition for the naming. A $1,000 first place cash prize will be awarded to the individual who submits the winning name, which should signify the energy and excitement that von Dran had for supporting student ventures. Four $250 honorable mention awards will also be given. The deadline for submission is March 20 and all submissions should be emailed to

“This is a wonderful way to celebrate Ray, his legacy and the future of starting new student ventures that help to revitalize Syracuse,” says Bruce Kingma, associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation at SU.

Gisela von Dran will continue to raise funds in honor of her late husband. Future donations will seed the Raymond F.von Dran endowment. If you would like to make a donation, visit

“I think the fund named in his honor should support similarly innovative students and their ideas,” says Gisela. “Hopefully, this fund will attract a highly motivated group of students—students who want to pursue their dreams and make a difference in the world.”

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