With the passing of Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, the country has lost a great academic and engineer
BRAC University was only two years old (established in 2001) when my family and I finalized it for my undergraduate education. Just like any other student, I had considered several universities and colleges, both at home and abroad.
Having received A grades in all my courses at the O and A Level examinations, I had received healthy scholarship offers in most of them. A college or university takes many years to establish itself as a reputed educational institution. Oxford University was founded more than 900 years back, Harvard was founded in 1636, and the oldest and most prestigious university in Bangladesh, Dhaka University, was founded in 1921, many years before the birth of our country.
In hindsight, it might seem like an immature decision to opt for a university only two years old. It sure was not. Today, the university has established itself as one of the top educational institutions of the country, both in terms of the teaching quality and research depth, its graduates now successfully pursuing careers in different fields at both home and abroad.
One man who oversaw the university’s rapid rise from scratch to where it is today, was its founding vice chancellor, Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury.
Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, affectionately called JRC by most people, was the number one reason I chose to study at BRACU. Not just me, ask anyone who has been a student under his very able leadership of the young university from 2001 to 2010, and you will get the same or similar answers.
Sure, there were other reasons as well -- the presence of faculty members like Professor AA Ziauddin Ahmad, Prof Mofiz Uddin Ahmed, Professor Mumit Khan, and Professor Yousuf Mahbubul Islam. And of course, it had the backbone of BRAC, one of the largest NGOs in the world, led by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. But with Professor Chowdhury’s leadership, everyone who joined the university -- as teachers, students, or staff -- knew they were in the right place.
One of the brightest minds in the history of Bangladesh, Professor Chowdhury passed away on April 28. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (“Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Him do we return.” The Holy Qur’an, 2:156). A man of his stature needs no introduction, so I will try not going into too much detail of that.
I personally knew him as the vice chancellor of BRAC University, where I studied for my undergraduate degrees in Electronics and Communication Engineering, and Computer Science (2003-2007) and had the opportunity to have several meetings with him through my extracurricular activities/student clubs. I also met him several times at dinner get-togethers or weddings at his house and other places, his brother-in-law being one of my father’s best friends. A distinguishing feature which set Professor Chowdhury apart was his constant smile, and the amount of respect he showed while talking to each and every individual, irrespective of social or academic stature.
I had the opportunity of working with him especially on two occasions, while setting up the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) student branch at BRAC University, and regarding the debating club. In 2006, I was selected for a summer exchange program by the United States Department of State, and he gave me time out of his busy schedule to offer me a word of encouragement and to tell me how proud he was of his students.
In 2009, I went to pursue my Master’s in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southampton in England, where Professor Chowdhury had done his Master’s and PhD from. Once again, he gave me time, and told me about his days at Southampton, and how different it was 40 years back.
My interaction with him was primarily when I was just an undergraduate student while he was the vice chancellor of my university. That speaks volumes about his nature -- treating all equally, an example of why everyone considered him to be such a great person.
Professor Chowdhury, a renowned civil engineer and academic, was an adviser to the caretaker government in 1996, and had spearheaded many nationally significant construction projects including the Padma Bridge project, the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge project, and many others. He was actively involved with the Bangladesh Mathematical Olympiad from the beginning in his quest to inspire the country’s youth to learn more about science and technology from an early stage.
After his terms at BRAC University, he became the vice chancellor of the University of Asia Pacific. In 1963, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), and his Master’s and PhD from the University of Southampton, in 1965 and 1968, respectively.
He was awarded the “Ekushey Padak,” the highest civilian award by the government of Bangladesh in 2017, and was inducted as a “national professor” by the government in 2018.
Rest in peace, dear Sir. This was truly an irreparable loss for the people and country you left behind, who will forever be indebted to your numerous contributions.
Mahdin Mahboob is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University, and was a Bachelor’s student at BRAC University from 2003 to 2007.