Malayappan Shridhar has only been retired from UM-Dearborn since January, but he’s already developing a bit of nostalgia for the place. When we talked with the laid-back Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering last week, he told us he misses the classroom most. That was the place, he says, where he got to be a “performer” as much as a teacher — frequently cracking jokes and gently teasing the back-row texters into paying attention when necessary.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Shridhar has students front of mind even in retirement. When his colleague Sridhar Lakshmanan recently suggested he think about making a gift to support the new Engineering Lab Building, he didn’t hesitate. Appropriately, the $50,000 gift he’s pledged will serve his favorite constituency — the students — who will get to enjoy an open collaboration and hangout space named in his honor.
Shridhar is not new to philanthropy. Over the years, he’s given to a number of UM-Dearborn causes, with donations to the Institute for Advanced Vehicle Systems, a continuing education initiative and CECS’s senior design program. He says he enjoys giving, in part, because others’ generosity has been critical to his own life. For example, when he was pursuing his graduate studies in the U.S., he unexpectedly received an urgent demand from the Indian government to return — within the week — to work in the country’s atomic energy program. “My advisor told me that if I gave up on my education, I’d regret it,” Shridhar remembers. So he defied the request, which entailed paying back the government stipends that had been supporting his education. He sold nearly everything he owned, and then turned to friends, who loaned or gave what they could so he could continue his education.
That decision proved to be a turning point in his life. After finishing his doctoral studies, he went on to land a professorship at the University of Windsor, where he taught for 16 years. UM-Dearborn then caught news of the dynamic professor across the river and recruited him for its growing engineering college. During his career here, he served in numerous roles, including chair of his department and associate provost.
His legacy can be felt all over UM-Dearborn. He hired most of the faculty working in ECE today, building it from a department of five to almost two dozen. Now, with his sponsorship of the space in the new ELB, his influence on UM-Dearborn’s engineering culture will extend for decades to come.