Industrial and manufacturing engineering professor Unny Menon died from cancer last Thursday, Nov. 3, at his home in Atascadero.
When Jose Macedo, the current chair of the industrial and manufacturing engineering department, first arrived on campus 10 years ago, it was Menon who helped him adjust to Cal Poly.
“He was absolutely instrumental in the department in terms of guiding and mentoring new faculty,” Macedo said. “He was very highly-regarded within the faculty. He knew how the whole system worked better than anyone else.”
Born in India, Menon left his home for England when he was a teenager. He came to Cal Poly in 1978 after receiving his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Nottingham.
When he became a professor at Cal Poly, he entered a line of work he would not leave for 33 years.
During his second year, Menon met Reza Pouraghabagher, who is now an industrial and manufacturing engineering professor at Cal Poly.
“We had common interests in areas of research,” Pouraghabagher said. He and Menon worked closely in the following years, collaborating on presentations and publications and international conferences.
The pair was also invited by a Brazilian local government to spend time in Brazil, speaking at universities and businesses.
“Dr. Menon was socio-politically aware,” Pouraghabagher said. “He had a tremendous amount of passion for his profession, and he loved his students. Their well-being was his highest priority.”
Menon devoted his life to his students.
He served on the Academic Senate and was the graduate coordinator for his department where he advised students and reviewed applications as they moved onto graduate school.
“He is an example in the love he had for his students, and the love he had for Cal Poly,” Macedo said.
Macedo remembered one of Menon’s last days, when he discussed his concern for the classes he was supposed to teach winter quarter.
“Even then, he cared so much about the students,” Macedo said.
Menon will be remembered in part as an educator, but his sense of humor shone through in his work.
“We talked about academic and non-academic things,” Pouraghabagher said. “His humor was contagious and his wonderful laughter was engulfing. He could create a positive environment within his circle of friends.”
Macedo said he recalls fondly one of the first Cal Poly commencement ceremonies he attended. Menon, a Cal Poly veteran at that time and president of Academic Senate, gave a speech.
“As he was giving advice to the graduating students, his words started sounding a little familiar. I realized he was quoting a song from Sound of Music where Mother Abbess is giving advice to Maria,” Macedo said. “All of a sudden, he started singing the words right there on the stage, and everybody cheered and laughed.”
Mechanical engineering senior Matt Donahue took a class from Menon last winter, before his cancer diagnosis.
“Even though we only saw him for a handful of hours a week, we felt like we knew him so well,” Donahue said. “We worked hard in that class, but he made us laugh.”
Menon’s sense of humor never left him.
“He told me he wanted to have a mariachi band and a New Orleans jazz band (at his funeral) — not one, both,” Macedo said. “Even to the end, he had a sense of humor. He was always looking at the positive side of things.”
Macedo said his email inbox is overflowing with sympathies for Menon’s friends and family from alumni and faculty, not just from within the engineering department, but from all over campus.
“I will remember him as a man who had a very positive global philosophy for bettering life for everyone,” Pouraghabagher said. “I’m very proud of my association with him and he will be remembered well within our community, in our department and by students and faculty alike.”
Menon is survived by his wife of 41 years, Pauline; his sister, Viji; his children, James and Rachel; and grandchildren, David and Eve.
A “celebration of life” will be held at 1 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the Pavilion on the Lake in Atascadero. An on-campus memorial is being planned, but details are not available yet.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Menon Scholarship Fund, part of the Cal Poly Foundation.