Ganesa Gopalakrishnan, a senior lecturer in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, is retiring after 40 years of teaching organic chemistry.
Texas A&M College of Science
In the basement of the Chemistry Building on the campus of Texas A&M University, Ganesa Gopalakrishnan is packing up his office. After 40 years of teaching organic chemistry, Gopalakrishnan, a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, is retiring.
Hes boxed up his collection of textbooks some dating back to the start of his career. The plastic models of molecular structures that adorned his desk are disassembled and stored away.
The last things that remained were decades-worth of awards and plaques on his wall honoring his service to higher education at Texas A&M, a personal retrospective of a profession to which he devoted the majority of his life.
There are so many outstanding researchers and outstanding teachers in our department, Gopalakrishnan said. Im really lucky to have been a part of it.
Gopalakrishnan, whose official last day was May 31, played a major role in helping to develop Texas A&Ms organic chemistry program in its formative years. His genial, straightforward teaching style in conveying the structure of molecular compounds found in living things, often punctuated with humorous anecdotes, made him revered by students who came to affectionately refer to him as G.G.
Nearly 80 colleagues and former students recently gathered via video conference to celebrate Gopalakrishnans career with a virtual retirement ceremony.For an hour and a half, teary goodbyes were interwoven with fond recollections of Gopalakrisnans quirky lectures and personal accounts of how his influence impacted lives.
Every aspect of teaching, I loved it, Gopalakrishnan said. My teaching philosophy was to put myself in the shoes of each student and explain things in a way that they would be able to understand. Every lecture had to be taught a different way; thats what made teaching both challenging and enjoyable.
Simon W. North, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry, emceed the event and estimates that Gopalakrishnan taught approximately 25,000 students during his four decades as an instructor. Although a formal gathering to honor Gopalakrishnan was not possible due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, the outpouring of support from those wanting to send him off with one last thank-you, especially former students, was overwhelming.
It is his ability to connect to students that they remember, and his students consistently comment that they feel he truly cares, not only about their success in the course, but also about them as individuals, North said. His record serves as a reminder to us all to try and see every interaction with students as an opportunity to inspire and encourage and connect.
Anna Birgisson 21 remembers being terrified as a freshman. Despite an advisor telling her point-blank to avoid organic chemistry, Birgisson says Gopalakrishnans enthusiasm and nurturing demeanor quickly put her at ease.
Little did I know that his class would end up being my favorite because G.G. really did care so much, she said. He made it so much fun to learn with all of his stories. Im just really honored that I got to be a part of G.G.s legacy.
While many of Gopalakrishnans pupils through the years would go on to pursue careers in research, education and medicine, his own academic journey was an uphill struggle. Raised in the small farming village of Maruthur in southern India, no one in Gopalakrishnans family had ever received any formal education, and he was homeschooled until the fifth grade.
In 1980, Gopalakrishnan joined the Department of Chemistry, where he completed his postdoctoral studies as a member of the late John L. Hoggs research group. Six months later, a full-time teaching position became available, and Gopalakrishnan was officially hired on as faculty.
Little did I know what a treasure I was bringing to Texas A&M University when he joined my research group those many years ago, Hogg said years later when reflecting on his decision to hire Gopalakrishnan.
His flair for teaching earned him numerous awards, including the Student Led Award for Teaching Excellence (2008), the Piper Professor Award (1999), the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching (1998) and the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement College-Level Award in Teaching (1994).
In addition to teaching, Gopalakrishnan was a stalwart of educational outreach, helping to organize the Brazos Valley Regional Engineering and Science Fair for 15 years and the Joy of Chemistry in Summer Program for local junior high students for five years.
I never sought or applied for any other job in my life, even in India, Gopalakrishnan said. I only applied for a teaching position at Texas A&M, and I continued it. I have to thank the Department of Chemistry for offering me the job all those years ago and keeping me.
I could not have achieved any of this in any other place.
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Texas A&M Chemist Retires After 40-Year Career - Texas A&M University Today
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