Tribute to the late Helen Qammar, PhD

By: Kuppuswamy R Seshadhri

Anyone who ever had the good fortune of meeting Prof. Helen Qammer, could not possibly forget her. I know that I never will.

Prof. Qammar was a brilliant teacher and an extraordinary person. As an instructor, she was both passionate about her subject matter and effective in delivering concepts to every student, every day. During the nearly two years I spent as a graduate student at The University of Akron, she taught to me the art, the science, the engineering, and the statistics behind chemical engineering – and I credit her with all I know today.

As a student, I greatly admired Prof. Qammar’s ability to make complex concepts appear simple, even when they were not. I recall her hiding clues in research topics, and then guiding me to uncover them—a process that expanded my knowledge and self-confidence while satisfying her never-ending quest to learn more about the topic.

For post-graduates, Prof. Qammar concentrated her coursework on Non-Linear Dynamics and Chaos Theory, and she was for me – and for so many of her students – the go-to person in the lab for everything.  At times, it seemed she was the go-to person for everyone – the staff, the administration, and professors both within the department and across the university.

Prof. Qammar kept her lab small, but it was large in terms of quality and student funding. In fact, everything she did, she did with her students in mind. Prof. Qammar unfailingly accommodated student requests – as long as they kept their end of the deal by doing their work and being prepared. She demonstrated a remarkable faith in students, allowing me, for example, to work prior to completing my master’s degree. And she was exceptionally flexible (perhaps because she had sons of her own), permitting me to return and defend my thesis after 18 months.

When I met Prof. Qammar for the first time in January 1993, I could not have known the tremendous impact she would make on my life – but it did not take long. I had just arrived at The University of Akron from my native India to study chemical engineering. It was my first exposure to an Ohio winter, and it seemed the town was frozen tundra. The moment I entered Dr. Qammar’s office, however, I began to feel comfortable. She had a charming personality, a radiant smile, a cheerful disposition (despite the outside temperature), and exuded a natural warmth.

I am deeply saddened for the loss of Dr. Qammar and for knowing that future students will be unable to experience her kindness and incredible talent for teaching, both of which made such a difference in my life. The field of chemical engineering has lost one of its brightest stars, and I am eternally grateful for having known Prof. Qammar, who shall forever remain my friend and my mentor.

Dr. Qammar’s sons, Shammas and Najjam Malik, have established the Helen Killory Qammar Memorial Fund to acknowledge how much Dr. Qammar loved The University of Akron.  The fund will be used to honor the memory of Dr. Qammar on campus.  Donations can be made to the University of Akron Foundation, Department of Development, Akron, OH  44325-2603, attention Jo Dangel.