Late mathematics professor remembered by friends and colleagues

Dr. Adnan Sabuwala, 40, was an associate professor in the mathematics department at Fresno State who died on Sept. 29, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin, Fresno State)

Fresno State students, faculty, staff and community members gathered to remember and celebrate the life of Dr. Adnan Sabuwala in the Ellipse Gallery on Oct. 25 at 4 p.m.

Sabuwala, an associate professor in the mathematics department, died on Sept. 29 at the age of 40. 

Several of Sabuwala’s colleagues and friends spoke to the group of more than 70 attendees about the legacy and impact Sabuwala had on all those he interacted with. Some told anecdotes of their time spent with Sabuwala, while others read poems that reflected their feelings for Sabuwala.

One such poem was “Travelling” by William Wordsworth, read by Christine Thibodeaux, coordinator of special projects in the science department.

“And no one can tell whither, my sweet friend. We two have had such happy hours together that my heart melts in me to think of it,” Thibodeaux read.

Dr. Rajee Amarasinghe, professor and chair of the mathematics department, was one of the speakers at the event.

Amarasinghe discussed his time working with and getting to know Sabuwala. 

Amarasinghe said that Sabuwala was not only a colleague and an educator, but was a friend, father and an entertainer. To illustrate this last title, Amarasinghe showed a picture of the professors from the math department at a faculty retreat. 

In the photo, Sabuwala stands out, even in the back row of the group, an enormous smile on his face and his arms stretched out in the shape of an “L,” or more likely, a right angle.

In recalling Sabuwala’s vibrant personality, Amarasinghe told a story of how the professors in the mathematics department all came to have matching red polo shirts with the department’s logo on them.

Several years ago, sitting in his office and having a meeting with someone, Amarasinghe noticed out of the corner of his eye, Sabuwala pacing outside his door. 

“This was the typical Adnan we know,” Amarasinghe said. “When he wanted to get something done, he kept on coming and asking about it.”

After his meeting, Amarasinghe went to Sabuwala and asked, “Adnan, what’s wrong?”

Sabuwala answered, he wanted all of the faculty to have matching shirts with the department written on the chest. He added that once they get the shirts, he wanted to take a picture with all of the mathematics professors wearing their shirts. 

“He said he wanted to go to schools, and he wanted to represent the Fresno State mathematics department.”

Those same red polo shirts could be seen worn by attendees throughout the crowd at the event.

But, Amarasinghe said, Sabuwala’s greatest love was his daughter.

“Adnan had his most interesting, most enjoyable last two years with his daughter,” Amarasinghe said. “He really loved his daughter. She was his life.”

Amarasinghe said that he is working on a way to help future generations of students succeed while continuing Sabuwala’s legacy and passion for mathematics.

“I definitely want Adnan’s name to be remembered for a long — very long time,” Amarasinghe said. “I’m trying my best to create an endowment with Adnan’s name, so that even when we retire and go and pass away, still his name will be here with the university.”

Sabuwala came to Fresno State in 2008 after earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, India, in 2000. Sabuwala went on to attend the University of Florida, where he earned a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2002, a master’s in applied mathematics in 2004 and a doctorate in applied mathematics in 2008.

Carol Fry Bohlin, professor and chair of the department of curriculum and instruction, noted that Sabuwala helped not only students at Fresno State but also helped to educate prospective math teachers pass the state licensure test California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

Sabuwala was also involved with programs such as Math Circle and Math Field Day, in which he helped K-12 students gain proficiency in math.

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