ISCOR co-founder gives revealing lecture

Professor+Dipak+Gupta+speaking+at+the+Last+Lecture+Series.+%7C+Paige+Nelson%2C+Staff+Photographer

Professor Dipak Gupta speaking at the Last Lecture Series. | Paige Nelson, Staff Photographer

by Diana Crofts-Pelayo

Professor Dipak Gupta speaking at the Last Lecture Series. | Paige Nelson, Staff Photographer
Professor Dipak Gupta speaking at the Last Lecture Series. | Paige Nelson, Staff Photographer

If one final lecture was all that remained to show a lifetime of learning, what would it say?

This is the basic premise of the sixth annual Dr. Henry L. Janssen Last Lecture Series. On Monday, Dr. Dipak Gupta, distinguished professor emeritus of political science, was this year’s honoree.

Gupta’s lecture was titled, “Random Walk: Life’s Journey of an Undisciplined Academic.”

During his 34 years at San Diego State, he has received many of the campus’ top awards, but he considered being a Last Lecture Honoree the highest among them.

Dr. Nancy Marlin, provost of Academic Affairs, introduced Gupta and said boundaries that would confine most people do not affect him.

Hard work and luck helped him reached his goals, Gupta said about himself. He came to the United States as an immigrant from India, not knowing anyone on this side of the world.

“My story of how a stranger makes a strange land his own is not a unique story,” Gupta said. “What is perhaps unique is the extra stuff, the different experiences that I had over the years. Like everybody, their own personal stories that perhaps makes it a little bit more interesting.”

As he changed the slides of his lecture, the background artwork drawn by himself, centered on the idea of “random walk.” He said it is a theory in mathematics, widely used from evolutionary biology to the analysis of the stock market, in which humans take random steps and achieve a future goal.

He considers his life a series of random walks.

Completing two master’s degrees and a doctorate, he encountered a problem many students are currently facing; he was unable to find a job. Later, he went on food stamps, which he considered the “worst assault on his self-respect.”

He never thought he would get out of the situation, when in 1977 he received a call to be a professor at SDSU in the public administration program.

Once he arrived in San Diego, Gupta realized he had three problems: He struggled with written English, was not proficient in math and didn’t know anything about public administration. He subsequently took classes in all of these in order to improve his knowledge.

Gupta is also known on campus for being a former director and one of the founders of the International Security and Conflict Resolution major, which is one of the fastest-growing majors on campus.

Put on by the Honors Council, the lecture event was entirely sustainable. The Center for Regional Sustainability advised the council to use sustainable measures.

Ariel Rawson and Levi Lentz were the co-chairs of the Last Lecture Series and were an integral part of putting the event together.

Lentz, a mechanical engineering senior, was co-chair last year. As a future graduate student, he said he was impressed by the road Gupta took to the university.

“It was amazing to see someone who has gone through all the ropes, and what he really emphasized on was the fact that the individual choices don’t really matter so much as the overall goal.”

Gupta said he learned about himself and was able to put his life in perspective. He said he was moved by the Last Lecture Series.

“What an honor it is. I cannot imagine the ability to formally say goodbye or farewell or see you again to an institution which has been so important in my life,” Gupta said. “In fact, it has been a part in person of my very identity.”

All the former honorees were at the event. In particular, Henry L. Janssen, the first recipient, and last year’s honoree President Emeritus Stephen L. Weber, were present.