UIC grieves the passing of graduate student Tushar Sharma
The passing of graduate student Tushar Sharma has shaken the UIC community as those who knew him struggle with the devastating loss. Tragically, he died after being struck by a vehicle near the intersection of Morgan Street and Roosevelt Road in early November. A second UIC student was also injured during the accident and is recovering.
Tushar, 27, was an outstanding research assistant pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering and was a favorite teaching assistant among the undergraduate students. He was respected and adored by the faculty, staff, and students throughout the department for his genuine personality, positive outlook, and welcoming smile.
The MIE faculty remembered Tushar as an enthusiastic and caring teaching assistant in the fluid mechanics course.
“I had invited feedback from undergraduate student advisees who are taking this course now, and they all spoke highly about Tushar’s selfless efforts to help them navigate through the course in this difficult period. He deeply cared for the undergraduate students and made every effort to help them get through a difficult subject in the absence of in-person contact, which is very challenging when a laboratory component is involved. I was told he frequently went out of his way to guide students with all matters related to the lectures and the lab content,” said University Distinguished Professor Constantine Megaridis.
“We never met in person, but we had meetings on Zoom. He was responsible for the virtual labs for the class and was a very responsible person. He was passionate about his job, and students liked him very much,” added Associate Professor Jie Xu.
Professor Ken Brezinsky interacted with Tushar in many capacities and saw him as a fervent student with a positive mindset.
“I knew Tushar as a former student in one of my classes, a researcher in Patrick Lynch’s lab, and as a friend to many of the graduate students in my lab. In all these roles, Tushar was always an upbeat optimist full of enthusiasm. Sometimes his enthusiasm took him off into tangents from which he had to be reined back in with the thought, ‘Well, that’s Tushar!’ His digressions were part of his charm. Thus so, he brought light and good-natured presence to every discussion and every interaction,” Brezinsky said. “Just recently, after a long period of challenging hard work, he was able to get a newly designed instrument in Lynch’s lab working. When I congratulated him on the achievement, he showed evident pride and satisfaction in what he had done. I was looking forward to the data and publications that would now come from his use of the instrument.”
“It was sad that his life was arbitrarily ended by a criminal’s irresponsibility just when he was about to start on the next phase of his scientific career. The world lost a precious, good natured, optimist just when the world needs some even more,” he added.
Among the faculty, the news had the biggest impact on Assistant Professor Patrick Lynch, the director of the lab where Tushar was conducting research.
In 2017, Tushar was a new student and Lynch was starting his first semester as a faculty member. The pair met in a class Lynch was teaching, and Tushar made an impact instantly.
“In the classroom, he was very good. He’s a very, very personable guy and always had lots of focused questions. But he was slightly scattered, too. He would go off in different directions, but that’s because he was intellectually curious,” Lynch said.
In 2018, Tushar joined the Lynch Lab to work on his PhD. He was working on a challenging and demanding project as part of a broad Department of Energy program. He was performing intricate design work and setting up and conducting unique experiments. It could be difficult sometimes because he was innovating and didn’t have other designs as a reference.
“Even when the project struggled, he was always a consummate positive guy. He was always so motivating and uplifting,” Lynch said.
Outside the laboratory, the professor and his student would decompress by talking about sports.
“He was a sports fan, which was unsurprising. I was surprised he became a football fan and a Bears fan in the last couple of years. He had wanted me to introduce him more to baseball and the Cubs but it couldn’t happen this year,” Lynch said.
“He was a very, very warm and friendly person. He was essentially the only extrovert in our group, whereas the rest of us are all introverts. My students are all heartbroken, and we’re going to miss him for that reason, too. It’s going to be noticeable that he’s gone.”
The MIE staff were fond of Tushar, who would light up the room when he submitted order requests at the business office.
“Tushar was a joy to have in the office because he tried to connect with us as people and not just staff. We looked forward to him coming into the office because of the positive energy he projected and his willingness to find something to relate to with everyone. He would enter the office with a smile and an extended hand offering a handshake all while still wearing his safety googles. When we would mention he still had his googles, he would get embarrassed and say he was in such a rush he would forget to take them off. Sometimes he just wanted to pass by to say hello and for a piece of candy. His presence will be missed and he will be remembered fondly with his safety googles on,” said Jeanne Santamaria, the department’s coordinator of grants and contracts.
What started out as a graduate student wanting some help in 2018 turned into a friendship when Tushar turned to Eric Schmidt, director of the machine shop and associate director of the MakerSpace, for help on a project.
“We would always talk sports, our cultures, and other timely topics before getting down to working on whatever the need was for that day,” he said.
In many ways, Schmidt was more of a mentor than just someone helping as the pair met once or twice a week for the more than two years.
“I could always tell if his email, visit, or phone call was a major problem or just a general question. He was a very intense young man who always thought every major problem was the end of the world. Once we sat down and discussed the problem, we would come up with a plan and his attitude would quickly change from one of fear and dread to ‘we got this,’” said Schmidt.
“Tushar was one of the most personable grad students that I have meet over the years. He always had a big smile – unless he was fighting with a possible disaster in the lab – and always asked how your day was before getting to the work issue,” he added.
In addition to the undergraduate students, Tushar’s warm presence and welcoming demeanor had a positive impact on other graduate students in the research laboratories.
“I would always remember his kind greetings toward me, concern in asking how my child is doing, and commenting on her pictures, which I will remember always and make me think really well of him,” Manaf Sheyyab said.
“He was the liveliest person in his lab and would always make it a point to greet you, even when he was in a rush. As a student, he was extremely curious and inquisitive about everything related to course work and academics and would always go an extra mile to know more about a particular topic,” said Jai Manoj Mehta, who met Tushar before he came to UIC shared an apartment with him during his first semester.
Tushar’s welcoming spirit and curious nature outside the laboratory left a long-lasting impression on his peers, too.
“Whenever we had guests outside of UIC, Tushar would always be the first person to get to know them and make them feel welcome and comfortable. He was like our ambassador! It was as if he knew a little about everything that people are interested in talking about: science, sports, current affairs, and politics. He always had a zeal to learn about new things. Because of his extroverted nature, it was as if I knew him my whole life,” Abdul Rahman said.
“I admired the way he would pose questions in talks and presentations, when all of us would usually be quiet. He was unafraid to speak his mind, and, on the other hand, also respected others’ opinions,” he added.
Tushar was one of the first people to welcome Dhananjay Ambre into the PhD program and reached out to me with a few words of motivation, which he always appreciated. He noted that Tushar always made his best efforts to help anyone who would reach out to him for any kind of help.
“I knew him to be a welcoming and kind-hearted person as he had let my friends stay at his place when they joined UIC and came to Chicago with no place to stay. He helped them settle down in this new country, fed them, and helped them in finding an apartment close to UIC,” Ambre said.
He added: “People will come and go in everyone’s life but there are only a few like Tushar who will stay forever in people’s minds because of the impact they had knowingly and unknowingly on everyone around them.”