Earlier this semester, professor Adam Branch invited Dr. Dipak Gupta to speak in his International Security and Conflict Resolution class about a topic of his choice, but was surprised with an annual honor given to only one person each year at San Diego State.
When he arrived at the class, he saw students waiting with a large banner in the back. He knew something out of the ordinary was happening, but did not suspect it had anything to do with him. After giving a brief lecture, Gupta was told he would be the next professor invited to speak at SDSU’s annual Last Lecture Series.
Ariel Rawson, an interdisciplinary studies junior and member of the committee planning the Last Lecture Series, was part of the surprise committee that announced to Gupta and the class that he was chosen as the Last Lecture honoree.
“He thought being invited to speak like this was very suspicious, but in 15 minutes you could tell what a dynamic lecturer he was, especially in the richness of the content in his lecture,” Rawson said.
An incredible honor bestowed upon only one professor every year, the Last Lecture Series invites an accomplished scholar to give a lecture as if it were his or her last opportunity to impart to the world the wisdom he or she has gained throughout a considerable tenure in higher education.
Gupta is renowned for cofounding the ISCOR program. Initially a small major drawing from several different areas of study, there are now more than 300 ISCOR majors at SDSU, according to Gupta. When it began in 1986, there were no more than 25 students in the major. Gupta, who was also the director of the program, said he is proud of being able to forge a connection with every one of them.
Now in his 34th year of teaching at SDSU, Gupta has gained recognition as an engaging lecturer and an internationally respected researcher in the fields of ethnic conflict, collective action, public policy analysis and quantitative methods. His innovative research mapping the spread of information across the Internet was also highly praised. All his success did not come to fruition without overcoming obstacles; Gupta has a philosophy of constantly reminding himself that life owes him nothing.
“Life, to me, is like a very windy mountain road,” Gupta said. “You have to keep driving, and at every corner you may be surprised by falling into a ditch. The trick is to keep your wheels turning.”
Gupta came to the U.S. from his native country of India after finishing his undergraduate degree, but said he encountered several challenges when he was first hired at SDSU.
According to Gupta, his writing and mathematics skills were subpar upon arrival in the U.S. To solve this, he crashed English composition classes, which he attended alongside incoming freshmen. He also made a habit of crashing a class in the mathematics department every semester for the first few years as a professor.
“It has always been important to me that I continually reeducate myself,” Gupta said.
Organized by the SDSU Honors Council, the Last Lecture Series started in 2007, featuring Dr. Henry Janssen, a renowned member of the Honors Council and committee member for the Last Lecture Series. Janssen has proved to be a visionary for the series.
“In my head, (the Last Lecture Series) was designed as though I was speaking to all the students I’d ever had, and to justify what I had taught to them,” Janssen said.
Selecting a professor for the series is not an easy task. At a university the size of SDSU, the committee has an enormous pool to choose from. Last year’s lecturer was SDSU’s then-president, Stephen L. Weber.
“The people we find are the people that never stop being students,” Janssen said.
Gupta’s speech for the Last Lecture Series will take place next February. For more information about him or his work, including his project about project mapping the spread of ideas on the Internet, visit his faculty page on SDSU’s political science website.