ORIE celebrates Uma Prabhu's 90th birthday
Nearly fifty years after joining the ORIE faculty, Narahari Umanath (“Uma”) Prabhu celebrated his 90th birthday with colleagues and alumni, some of whom participated by video link.
In brief remark at the gathering, Prabhu said “I have always considered my students as my spiritual children.” Among his Ph.D. students present were Frank M. Worthington Ph.D. ’68, Michael Rubinovich Ph.D. ’69, and Haya Kaspi Ph.D. ’79. Worthington, a retired AT&T Vice President who is now a public healthcare consultant, drove to Ithaca from New Jersey for the celebration, while Rubinovitch and Kaspi participated from Israel via Google+ Hangouts, an online “video chat” service.
Other video participants were ORIE alumni Radhika Kulkarni Ph.D. ’81, Sridhar Tayur Ph.D. ’90 (seen at left with Prabhu) and Ganesh Janakiraman Ph.D. ’03. Tayur holds the Ford Distinguished Research Chair at the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business. Janakiraman is Associate Professor of Operations Managemen in the School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Kulkarni, Vice President, Advanced Analytics R&D at SAS Institute Inc., said “I was touched by how happy Prof. Prabhu was to talk to Haya and me via the google hangout. He was as interested as always in us and asked about our families.”
In 1986 Prabhu founded the journal Queueing Systems, known as QUESTA, devoted to the “Study of Queueing Systems Occurring in Science and Engineering.” A poster of the cover of the first issue of QUESTA, with greetings from numerous associates, was presented at the birthday celebration.
The April 2014 issue of QUESTA includes an article, “Celebrating the 90th Birthday of Prof. Uma Prabhu,” by Vidyadhar Kulkarni Ph.D. ’80, with contributions from Kaspi, ORIE Professor Sidney Resnick, Rubinovich, Ward Whitt Ph.D. ‘69, and others. Vidyadhar Kulkarni is Chair of the Department of Statistics and Operations Research at the University of North Carolina. Whitt is a Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at Columbia.
In the article, Rubinovich, who is Professor Emeritus at the Technion Israel institute of Technology, recalled that as a first year graduate student in ORIE in 1965, he first met Prahbu, who was in Ithaca for a job interview. “At that time, I did not realize I had just met the man who would influence my life and professional development more than anyone else.”
Kaspi is now a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion where she studied with Rubinovich before coming to Cornell. She recalled that when she arrived at Cornell as a graduate student in 1976, Prabhu explained to her that “he is my Zeide, which is Yiddish for grandfather,” Kaspi wrote in the QUESTA article. “An academic grandfather, he really was! More than that, Uma was what a Zeide is in the Jewish tradition and (as I later learned when visiting India) what a teacher is in the Indian tradition. He had an unconditional sense of responsibility for the learning process of his student.”
Resnick, Lee Teng Hui Professor in Engineering in ORIE, characterized Prabhu as “always positive, supportive, cheerful, collegial, and a reliable advocate for Applied Probability within Engineering.” Prabhu retired just before Resnick became Director of ORIE, and “as a model citizen, he was always helpful, never demanding, popular with students and colleagues, and the epitome of graciousness” according to Resnick.
Professor and Mrs. Prabhu have endowed the Rabindranath Tagore Modern Literature Lecture Series.
In commenting on student references to his “fatherly personality,” Prabhu gave some examples of his “taking care” of students. In doing so, he said, “I am not indulging in self-praise. All of us on the faculty have this sense of mission.”
Prabhu later composed a thank you to Cornell and America in which he reviewed some personal and institutional history and said "These 50 years have been the best years of my life."