Nattu Natarajan, an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Science engineering department since 1988, died Jan. 30. A memorial was held in IAVS on Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of UM-Dearborn)

By MARIA KANSO, Staff Reporter

The University of Michigan-Dearborn lost an immensely revered faculty member, Nattu Natarajan, on Saturday, Jan. 30. He was 63, according to the UM-Dearborn Reporter. UM-Dearborn held a memorial for him on Friday, Feb. 12 in the Institute for Advanced Vehicle Systems building.

An associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Science engineering department since 1988, Natarajan has served as the epitome of inspiration for thousands of students and faculty members.

Nattu Natarajan, an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Science engineering department since 1988, died Jan. 30. A memorial was held in IAVS on Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of UM-Dearborn)
Nattu Natarajan, an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Science engineering department since 1988, died Jan. 30. A memorial was held in IAVS on Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of UM-Dearborn)

Natarajan graduated with a Bachelors in Technology from the Indian Institute in Technology in Madras, India and earned his Master’s degree and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

“August 1988 was a milestone month for me, the reason is, I was sitting in my office — I was the chair of the department — and a young man dressed in a suit is at the counter,” said M. Shridhar, a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, about the first time he saw Natarajan. “I went to the dean, I said, ‘I interviewed him. He can communicate well, he’ll be a good teacher. I would like to hire him.’”

The number of hours Natarajan spent helping students are a symbol of his passion for teaching and desire to help others.

“He has impressed me very much as being absolutely dedicated to the welfare of the students. He just loved teaching and he was always here,” said Anthony England, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “You could come at 11 o’clock at night and he would be roaming the halls, looking for students to help.”

To help students use the skills they acquire in classrooms, Natarajan initiated the Intelligence System Club in 2001. In ISC, members build and design robots and participate in yearly competitions. Professor Natarajan first taught them how to program robots, but mostly gave the members the advantage of discovering how to do things on their own.

Because of Natarajan’s efforts and inspiration, ISC has won first place over several states for the last couple of years. As a result, the Dr. Nattu Smile Award has recently been named after him, which will be awarded for best sportsmanship during a competition the ISC will be part of.

Michael Bowyer, president of the ISC, saw how much effort Natarajan was willing to put in on the team in order to ensure that each person learned what they were supposed to learn.

“He spent hours on end with us; he stayed late past 10 p.m. with us. Multiple times he came in on weekends just to teach us something as simple as a GPS,” Bowyer said. “He spent so much time with all the students and really wanted to make sure they excelled and understood anything he taught. “

One of the most significant characteristics Natarajan was known for was his sense of humor and his immense wealth of knowledge.

“He’s so knowledgeable that I could just ask him any question, and I would get essentially a free lecture on this subject, whatever it may be,” said Zachary Degeorge, a UM-Dearborn electrical and computer engineer graduate.

A new collegiate professorship in engineering education will be created by the UM-Dearborn in the name of Natarajan.

“You don’t replace somebody like that; you just hope that somebody else comes along with some of the characteristics,” England said. “He’s leaving a big hole on the college.”