Scholarship gives in honor

12/27/2006
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL The first days in professor Charlie Steele's classes were always the worst.

The course material was tremendously difficult. Steele had a reputation as a hard professor. Students went into the classes with hands trembling.

But they usually came out intellectually stimulated, with a firm grasp on difficult concepts that would challenge any computer science student.

Described as a "pussycat in wolf's clothing," Steele spent most of his 25 years at UMass Lowell dedicated to the students, committed to their learning and to their growth. When he passed away on Christmas Day, former students responded with an outpouring of generosity. The result: the establishment of the Steele Scholarship, given to a hard-working, dedicated student in the computer science, math or electrical engineering departments.

Colleagues say it's the perfect way to remember a man who dedicated his life to his students.

"His classes were just plain hard, and he understood that," said professor Tom Costello, chairman of the Computer Sciences Department. "He wanted his students to try, to just give it their best shot. If you were trying, he was there for you."

UMass Lowell master's degree student Miroslava Raspopovic became the first student to be awarded the $500 scholarship at a ceremony held Friday.

Raspopovic, 23 and a native of Serbia, will use the funds to continue with her electrical engineering master's degree. Before his death, Steele had mentioned to colleagues that Raspopovic was a student they should encourage to continue with her studies. He saw in her a dedication to learning and an excellence in her work that deserved a bit of extra help, Costello said.

"He recognized her as a really solid student who worked hard," he said. "She was motivated. She didn't wait for other people to solve her problems, she went out and did it. Charlie had spoken of her as a student who was worthy of some assistance."

While Steele was a computer science professor, he also taught courses in the university's math and electrical engineering departments. Raspopovic was one of his electrical engineering students.

For her, the scholarship means much more than just money. It's a great honor to be the recipient of a scholarship named for the professor who had taught her so much, she said.

"He was one of the people who encouraged me to go for research and stay with it," Raspopovic said. "The scholarship will definitely help me."

She came to the United States five years ago to attend UMass Lowell. Unlike schools in her native Serbia, she would be able to both play basketball and study engineering at the university. At both tasks, she was wildly successful, captaining the basketball team and earning the title of Academic All-American for two years, graduating with a 3.77 GPA and earning the Chancellor's Medal.

Due to her work in the master's program, she was named Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year.

She's not one for predicting too far into the future, but now she's hoping to get her doctorate in electrical engineering. Someday, she wants to be an executive at a major corporation.

But for now, she's taking it one day at a time. The focus for her is on her research. And the Steele Scholarship will enable her to put more of her energy into her work, and less into her finances.

"When you're focusing on the research, you don't want to have to worry about the financial part," she said.

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .