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Teachable Moments with Vishnu Agrawala, Ph.D.

Agrawala

The Point
Winter 2013

Since 1967, Vishnu Agrawala, Ph.D. has opened his door to students in the very same office next to the physics laboratory on the third floor of Academic Hall. Of course, it was a bit more crowded back then.

“I shared the space for many years with Dr. John Kudlac,” he recalls. “Faculty office space was not easy to come by! Sometimes as many as four or five faculty shared one small space.” It was the Vietnam War era and “the student population was quite high here in those days.”

Raised in India, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, math and chemistry and master’s degree in physics at Banaras Hindu University, Agrawala had just finished his Ph.D. in physics at Carnegie Mellon University when he accepted a faculty position at Point Park in 1967. “It was convenient for me to teach downtown while continuing my research work in Oakland,” he recalls. His early research activity was in the area of applications of group theory to particle physics, involving some programming experience in Fortran and Algol.  More recently, Agrawala obtained results in the theory of computational complexity, tensor rank, invariants of Lie algebras, and graded Lie algebras. In 1981 he earned a second Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh.

His teaching philosophy has remained constant: “I teach the same way my professors taught me,” says Agrawala. That is, lectures, reading, review, problem-solving and thorough preparation are key. “My students have always been well-behaved and polite. I think that comes from the culture here in Pittsburgh.”

Having experienced the difficult years in the 1970s, when Point Park nearly closed and faculty worked for a low weekly salary just to keep the doors open, It has been interesting to watch the University’s growth over the years, says Agrawala. “I have stayed because the atmosphere is good for teaching. The small classes are very nice. I like my students and I am always happy to offer extra help during office hours.

“I am enjoying what I am doing.”

Text by Cheryl Valyo
Photo by Martha Rial

The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University