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USF Professor of Year Preps 'Last Lecture'

Apr 10, 2014

USF Mechanical Engineering Professor Autar Kaw delivers a "Last Lecture" in the Marshall Student Center tonight.
Credit USF News

University of South Florida Mechanical Engineering Professor Autar Kaw knows what people are thinking when they hear he's delivering a 'last lecture' tonight at the Marshall Student Center.

"When somebody hears the 'last lecture,' they think it's ominous, that you're dying or you're retiring," Kaw says with a laugh. "I don't want to do (either) at this age!"

Notice that the first paragraph said 'a' last lecture - that's because Kaw, who was named one of the 2012 Professors of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, is taking part in the Last Lecture series.

It's a concept that's been around for years - including at USF since 2010 - where top professors and faculty give a hypothetical last speech about something that truly matters to them and try to pass along lessons they've learned in life.

The series was made popular when Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science Professor Randy Pausch delivered what truly was his last lecture in September 2007, a heart-touching speech given while he was dying from liver cancer. That message has been viewed millions of times online and Pausch even co-wrote a best-selling book about the experience before he passed away in 2008.

Kaw says he doesn't feel there's any pressure to match the meaning that Pausch's speech had for so many people.

"You're just telling your story as it is," Kaw says. "I'm going to tell my story for... maybe 10 minutes or so, but the rest of it will be more based on evidence-based research, because I believe that my personal story is just personal to me, it might help just a few people because they might gain some inspiration from it, but if I'm able to tell them what evidence-based research, what we know now through science, what they talk about life or what they mean by getting the job that you love and things like that, I think it will transfer the information better that way."

His lecture is called "Reflections of an Ordinary Man for the Millennial Generation," which somehow manages to sound both self-deprecating and high-minded at the same time.

"I don't think I'm extraordinary in any way, but I have tried to do extraordinary things so far as service is concerned," Kaw says. "I very much believe helping others is the way to lead one's life."

"I tell people that if you see a successful 50-year-old like me, please don't get advice from him," Kaw adds. "Ask him what he was doing at 25 - that's the correct advice to get."

Kaw's speech, which is sponsored by USF Housing and Residential Education, is at 7 p.m. tonight (doors open at 6:30) in the Oval Theater at the USF Marshall Student Center. The public is invited to attend, and admission is free.