n unknown pundit once claimed that human existence is a marathon, not a sprint. Dr. Julian Earls can attest to that, as a measured approach to life has gotten him far in both the boardroom and the running course. The holder of 10 university degrees, including six honorary doctorates, and the recipient of government service awards from two U.S. presidents, Dr. Earls has proven that he can accomplish just about anything he sets his mind to. Earls is currently an executive-in-residence at Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business. He joined the school in 2006 after 40 years with the NASA Glenn Research Center that included a 3 1/2-year stint as center director. His office walls are festooned with plaques and framed degree certificates, as well as photographs of him as a younger man running several of the 27 marathons he’s completed over the years. Spry, fit and appearing a decade younger than his 71 years, Earls lives by the runner’s credo, “The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare.” That mentality was forged at an early age, notes the 38-year Beachwood resident. As a teenager growing up in Portsmouth, VA, Earls was the first in a family of 11 children to attend college. Though neither of his parents graduated from high school, they created a nurturing environment that fed Earls’s hunger for knowledge on science and outer space. The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 held particular sway, translating into dreams of studying engineering at a university. Earls’s family could not afford to send him out of state, so he commuted to nearby Norfolk State University, receiving a scholarship to study physics. Upon graduation, he spent the next year earning a Master’s in radiation biology at the University of Rochester. In September 1965, Earls walked into NASA Glenn as a 22-year-old nuclear engineer, researching the effect of space radiation on spaceship components. So began a long, memorable career that encompassed a critical era for the U.S. space program. Earls was on the launch team of the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission that safely returned to earth after an accident crippled the craft. He was also friends with Ronald McNair, one of the astronauts killed during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. In 1977, Earls was one of 8,000 applicants to sign up for NASA’s astronaut program when the agency opened the field to scientists and engineers. While he wasn’t selected, the experience taught him a valuable lesson. “You may not get everything for which you apply, but the alternatives can be just as rewarding if you’re properly prepared,” Earls says in his pleasant Virginia drawl. A series of administrative positions primed him for a directorship that included management of a $650 million annual budget and over 3,000 employees. During his years as leader of the 350-acre NASA Glenn research complex, Earls helped organize experiments for the aeronautics and space programs. While portioning funds to create quieter jet engines and more efficient space-flight propulsion systems was demanding, the job was made easier by his hand-picked staff. “I surrounded myself with smart people,” Earls says. “When you never have to look at the clock, you know you’ve got the right job.” Earls left NASA in January 2006, joining CSU just two months later. “My wife says I flunked retirement,” he chuckles. As an executive-in-residence, Earls enjoys a flexible schedule of lecturing, grant-writing and fundraising. He was part of a team that opened the on-site Campus International School, with a curriculum that includes teaching Mandarin Chinese to kindergartners. The educator also helped launch a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school aimed at giving young people of color the same high-tech learning opportunities he strived for during his formative years. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District MC2STEM High A School has classes on CSU’s campus as well as use of a cutting-edge fabrication laboratory. This work helped earn Earls an honorary doctorate of science from CSU at last year’s spring commencement. In addition to his on-campus STEM efforts, Earls co-organizes forums at local high schools where students interact with experts from various technical fields. A tech-savvy mindset must be nurtured at an early age, Earls maintains, a piece of advice he gave his pupils at Cuyahoga Community College where he taught physics and math for 27 years. “I didn’t really have those opportunities growing up,” he says. “I wanted to pass that information on.” The same drive that earned Earls his doctorate in radiation physics from the University of Michigan has served him well in other pursuits. An avid runner, he completed his first marathon in the early 1980s. He also ran the Boston Marathon twice, and finished the 1984 Marine Corps Marathon at a personal-best 2:49:52. “All runners remember their best time,” Earls says. Pulled into the sport by two NASA colleagues, Earls would embark upon twice-weekly, 20-mile runs that crisscrossed the neighborhood near his home on the corner of Richmond Road and Bridgeton Drive. He completed his first official foray into distance running in under four hours, growing to enjoy the challenge of improving his time and training in the worst weather Cleveland has to offer. Running non-stop for 26.2 miles is a test of physical and mental endurance, says Earls. The last 6.2 miles, uncharted territory where legs turn to jelly and lungs to shriveled pulp, are especially grueling for the ill-prepared. “If you’re not there mentally, Dr. Julian Earls pictured in his CSU office and receiving an honorary doctorate of science at last year’s spring commencement. you’ll never finish,” he says. Although a torn meniscus ended Earls’s racing career, the idea of preparing for and meeting goals has resonated. He taught that lesson to his sons Gregory and Julian, Jr., Beachwood High School graduates who, respectively, have moved on to post-production work in Hollywood and pain-management care in Macon, GA. Earls and Zenobia, his wife of 52 years, also have two granddaughters, Madsyn and Mariah. Championing education and a life of service has a way of coming back to you during hard times, says Earls. When his home was lost in a May 2013 fire, the Beachwood community rallied around his family. The local police and fire department vigilantly protected his vacant property, he notes, while city leadership came to him with personal offers of assistance. Forty years with NASA and more than two dozen marathons showed Earls how preparation, endurance, determination and a lifetime of paying it forward can lead to out-of-this-world success. “If you focus on being of service, other people will act in kind and fight your battles for you,” he says. “You can never lead with your ego.” Photo (opposite page) by Scott Morrison. Photos (above) courtesy of Cleveland State University. November 2014 n Beachwood Buzz 7