College of Engineering Dean Mohammad Noori was sitting in his office that Monday morning when he first heard the news of the shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but it was not until the names and pictures of the victims were released that Noori discovered his personal connection to the tragedy. Noori’s longtime colleague professor Liviu Librescu was killed while teaching an engineering class in Norris Hall.
“I was in a state of shock,” Noori said. “It touches you to hear about these tragedies but when there is a personal element it is even harder, it hurts in many respects.”
As more grave news became available through the media, Noori contacted friend Richard Benson, dean of engineering at Virginia Tech, via e-mail to express his condolences regarding Librescu and the rest of the campus.
Benson, overwhelmed by e-mails of support, sent out a mass three-page message to his colleagues throughout the country documenting his personal experiences in the aftermath of April 16. Benson’s message was one of recognition for the lives lost and pride for the university. Noori in turn forwarded Benson’s e-mail to a large number of staff at Cal Poly.
“I forwarded the e-mail because it was a message from someone coming from the midst of it, it has a different impact,” Noori said. “I had multiple people approach me after I sent the e-mail telling me how comforting it was to read.”
In the days following the shooting, the story behind what happened in Librescu’s classroom, room 204 in Norris Hall, was pieced together by the students who witnessed it. Librescu was gunned down while holding the classroom door shut to allow students enough time to jump from the windows. His actions saved lives.
“When I heard about the heroic way in which he saved lives that day I was not surprised,” Noori said. “That is the kind of person that he was.”
Noori first became acquainted with Librescu in the early 1980s as they studied in the same research field of random vibrations and probabilistic mechanics, which Librescu pioneered. Although Librescu was a leader in his field, he never strayed away from teaching introductory engineering courses to freshman throughout his career at Virginia Tech.
“A lot of senior faculty members do not bother teaching the lower level courses, but he always wanted to teach and be involved in the freshmen courses,” Noori said. “He was such a humble person and he always treated everyone equally.”
When Noori was going up for promotion from assistant professor in 1990, Librescu was there to give him a stellar recommendation.
The 76-year-old Librescu had a turbulent childhood as he and his family survived the Holocaust in Romania. Librescu moved to the U.S. later in life where he taught engineering at Virginia Tech for 20 years.
Librescu was one of five faculty members murdered on April 16.
“There is so much to learn from this. We constantly believe we have to work hard and do this and that,” Noori said. “People are not going to remember how many papers you published or grants you brought it, it’s about the kind of person that you are. That is what I remember about Liviu, the kind of person he was.”