Lafayette community mourns deaths of two professors

Two of Lafayette’s long time professors, who recently retired, passed away over the interim break.

Erol Ulucakli, associate professor of mechanical engineering, died on Jan. 20 of unknown reasons, at age 78.

Bryan Washington, associate professor of English, died on New Years’ Eve, after an 18-month battle with throat cancer. He was 57.

Bryan Washington

His colleague and friend, Patricia Donahue, head of the English department, described Bryan Washington as having “piercing wit, explosive laughter, incisive intelligence and literary and cultural erudition.”

He taught at Lafayette for 25 years.

A professor of late 19th and 20th century American literature and cultural studies, Washington was described by his students and peers as a challenging and “provocative” educator.

“[He was] one of the most skillful and engaged provokers of classroom discussion I’ve ever witnessed,” Donahue said. “He wasn’t afraid to call students out on their pre-understandings.”

“He would egg us on in such a way and poke and prod in such a way that you would just, you would get your point out, but you would also get a little bit more,” said Ivan Rudd ’17, who described Washington as a great professor and friend.

In his freshman year, Rudd sat in on a class that Washington was teaching.

“The first class that I went to was so entertaining that I couldn’t help but stay,” Rudd said.

Rudd also recalls informal conversations about food and culture with Washington, who became an advisor type figure to him. Washington, according to Donahue, had a love of fine dining, particularly French food.

He also had an affinity for labels, Donahue said.

“He enjoyed his labels, and he enjoyed reminding us which labels he was wearing,” she said, adding that he was “always impeccably turned out.”

Sammy Chavin ’16, who had her First Year Seminar with Washington, agreed that Washington’s teaching style helped his students grow as people.

“He was such an incredible man and even though I never learned from him again, I think about that class a lot,” Chavin said.

“By the end of the semester, people were much more open,” Chavin added. “By being like that, he set the example that in the classroom it was okay to speak your mind and be honest.”

In May 2014, Washington was asked to present a “Last Lecture” to graduating seniors. The speech, which is typically requested of admired and respected professors, was, unfortunately, his final lecture.

Washington’s memorial will take place today at 4 p.m. at the Buckingham Friends School, in Lahaska, Pa.The college has reserved a bus for students interested in attending the service, which will leave from Williams Center at 2:30 p.m.

According to Donahue, there will be an on campus memorial in March.

Erol Ulucakli

Erol Ulucakli was considered a staple in the mechanical engineering department, having worked for the school for 27 years. While his retirement in June of 2015 was not unexpected, his death was sudden, according to Serena Ashmore, secretary for the mechanical engineering department.

He is remembered by his peers as proud and charismatic and by his students for his variety of unique quirks.

“His presence is really what I remember more than anything,” said Scott Hummel, director of the engineering division at Lafayette, who described Ulucakli as calming, unassuming and kind.

“He was always humming little tunes, especially Christmas carols,” said Ashmore, who knew Ulucakli for 27 years, and worked directly for him for ten.

For visiting professor of mechanical engineering and alumn, Christopher Shumeyko‘10, Ulucakli was one of the reasons he returned back to Lafayette to teach.

Shumeyko said that Ulucakli opened his eyes to green building and sustainable engineering, of which the two shared a passion for. Ulucakli also wrote his recommendation letters for graduate school.

According to Shumeyko, Ulucakli would know something about every student beyond the classroom.

“I was just one of however many hundreds or thousands of students he had over the years, and I’m sure he could tell you facts about most of them,” he said.

“He really cared about Lafayette and he cared about the students here, which is why I think I had a really profound connection with him,” Shumeyko added.

Hummel agreed that Ulucakli showed a passion for teaching and for Lafayette.

“The one thing I would say about Erol is, he was the proudest faculty member I’ve ever known,” Hummel said. “I think he just loved it so much, he wanted to do it as long as he could, and he did.”

When he found out that Ulucakli had passed away, Shumeyko said he relayed the information to his former classmates. Immediately, storms started flooding in of quirks and stories that students remembered from their time with Ulucakli.

One student remembered Ulucakli using pen and paper to check Excel’s math functions, Shumeyko said. “I’ve never trusted a computer since,” the student joked.

Shumeyko said he finds himself unintentionally picking up some of Ulucakli’s quirks in his own teaching.

“They’re incorporated into who we are as people,” he said.“We spend so much time in this building and so much time with these faculty members that they really become part of who we are.”

Ulucakli’s daughter asked for the details of her father’s passing not to be shared, as she believes he would have liked everyone to remember him as healthy and happy, Ashmore said.

A memorial service will be held in his honor on Saturday at 2 p.m, followed by a reception at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem. His burial will be private in Turkey, his home country.

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