Monday, 24 November 2008

Twenty-five Years and going

A distinguished colleague at UTD once said that research is fascinating because you never know where it will take you. I can say the same about my years at UTD. When I first came here I could hardly have imagined the ways in which UTD has grown, changed and become an even more exciting place. The annual service awards function this year was preceded by a lunch for me and several of my colleagues who have been here for 25 years or longer. A couple of them have been here longer than even the university has been, because they started at the predecessor institution, the Institute for Advanced Research. One of these is the renowned mathematician and relativist Professor Istvan Ozsvath, seen in the picture with his wife Zsuzsanna, known to all as Zsuzsi who is also a distinguished professor at UTD though she joined the university later. At twenty-five years, I am the new kid on the block.

After lunch there was the award ceremony. The master of ceremonies read out what each of the twenty-five year veterans had specially written for the occasion. Each one had penned something unique and heart warming, and even funny at times. I particularly liked Judi Hensley's account of the recruiting efforts for the first freshman class and Abby Kratz's exciting but futile venture on icy Dallas roads undertaken just so she could be with Polykarp Kusch for dinner. We did receive our awards, mine is a watch that I chose at my children's suggestion. It will come later. In the meantime I left thinking that may be like Istvan I too should stay on for that thirty-five year award, a flat screen TV for now but who can imagine what it will be in ten years' time. And oh, here is what I wrote about my UTD memories.

I recall, as if I heard it only yesterday, what Uri Dothan told me after we had lunch at the Kebab N Kurry restaurant in my first month in Dallas. We had just pulled out of the Classic BMW dealership and Uri Dothan turned to me and said “You see the blue sky here, you won’t see that anywhere else in America, certainly not in Chicago.” I had just moved from Chicago. Uri was headed to Minnesota in a couple of months, and he really was not so positive about UTD, but still he wanted me to know I had not chosen badly by moving to Dallas. Out of the window of my first office in Johnsson I got a clear view of downtown Dallas most days, and when Frank Bass and I took our walks after lunch at Founders north, I always marveled at the expansive skies. It often occurred to me that UTD was set in an open space not just physically but in the way things happened. A less kind way of saying that would be that not much happened; you could go for days not coming across any students! All that has changed now, but for me it changed when Frank and I put out our first, and UTD’s first marketing, doctoral student, who went to Auburn. This fall he accepted a full professor position at Northwestern University. I got busy and had Frank collaborating with me even as he cheered me on. That too has changed, he left us two years ago. Now when I take a walk after lunch it is so nice to see all these bright undergraduate students stepping in and out of our new management and engineering buildings, and the activity center. Still, what I miss is the even larger open spaces we had and especially the fireworks on July 4th just south of where the conference center is. My wife, Kalpana, and I would bring along our children for a delightful evening and a minor picnic she carefully assembled to go with the fireworks.