By Kyle Shahenian, Former Student and Contributing Writer
Pictures from McKendree.edu and The McKendree Review
For those of you who didn’t know, one of McKendree’s Computer Science professors, Dr. Dutta, passed away last year in October. Whether you had a class with him, saw him around from time to time or have no idea who I’m talking about, it’s important for us students to remember the impact he had during his tenure at McKendree.
Sameer Dutta, Ph. D. was one of eleven full-time hires in the summer of 2014. He would start out as the assistant professor of Computing. Hailing from India, he was hired by McKendree in an attempt to provide students with instructors from all around the world. During his six and a half year tenure as a Bearcat, he would teach countless hopeful Computer Science students the first and second year material in an effort to prepare them for the truly unforgiving higher-level Computer Science courses (believe me, those were no joke).
The first course I took with Dr. Dutta was Introduction to Computing II (CSI 230). He taught in one of the third floor Clark rooms and, like his colleagues, heavily utilized the whiteboard to get the lesson concepts across. There was something unique about his approach, though – I had never previously been able to take notes on my laptop, but when I gave it a shot in his class, I was able to put together some of the most detailed notes I had ever taken. Nearly everything he said made it into those .TXT files.
I was impressed not only with myself being able to concentrate on typing notes while paying attention in class, but with Dr. Dutta’s ability to control the pace of the class in such a way that he got all the information out and provided time for detailed note-taking. It was something I had never seen before; this lecturing style enabled me to perform extremely well in that class. I rarely had to consult Dutta because the answer to any questions I had were more than likely in my notes.
I wouldn’t be a part of another Dutta lecture until I took an Ethics of Computing course – this was drastically different from the more technical CSI 230 course. Dutta would usually start the class off with a topic and open the floor for discussion. For that hour we would talk about certain ethical issues and topics related to society’s adjustment to the rapidly approaching digital age and the establishment of its code of ethics. During the class discussions, it was always interesting to hear Dutta’s input because he had lived through a societal transformation and could provide a first-hand account of those events. He also had this amazing presence that allowed him to command the whole room with ease. Everyone was interested in what he had to say, especially when he snuck in a joke every now and then.
But Dr. Dutta’s mission wasn’t just to relay multiple courses worth of Computer Science information. His teaching philosophy was nothing short of a reflection of the man he was in the classroom:
“I encourage students to become innovative by challenging established ideas. Learn from the book of life also, not just textbooks. Today’s world is converging… businesses are becoming global and societies are becoming melting pots. An awareness of perspectives different from what one grew up with is education itself,” (Dutta, 2015).
He was also a huge believer in McKendree’s mission to provide students with a multicultural perspective:
“Students at McKendree need to be exposed to different cultures because that will teach them values and ideals that are important to different cultures. I believe students in my classes gain actual experience in interacting with someone who grew up in a different culture rather than just reading about it. These interactions can hopefully become a starting point of my students’ future multicultural diverse experiences in a globally connected business world,” (Dutta, 2015).
I had an unexpected opportunity to speak to Dr. Dutta for a few minutes during the 2021 Homecoming weekend. He was curious to see where I was in my life and was impressed at what I got to tell him. It had been years since we had spoken to each other and that one interaction in the hallway took me right back to being a student in one of his classes.
Unfortunately, a week later I received the news that he had passed away and was just taken aback by the reality of the situation. His passing once again reinforced that life is short, and we don’t always get to choose the perfect moment to say goodbye. If there’s a professor or role model that you’ve been thinking about getting in touch with, don’t wait. Send that email or write that letter because you never know when that opportunity will pass you up.
Only a few days prior to his passing, Dr. Dutta and I were having a great conversation that ended with him saying he was proud of what I had become after graduating; a phrase that is bittersweet, as it was the last thing he ever said to me. We will miss you very much Dr. Dutta, rest well.