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Ali Retires after 40 Years

By: Diana Nambo

Arriving on campus in August 1982 to teach physics, Dr. Muzaffar Ali is set to retire 40 years later from a career that took an unexpected turn.

With a degree in high energy nuclear physics, Ali was teaching a physics course that wasn’t the most popular on campus. The Bellarmine administration offered Ali the chance to develop a computer physics program within three years of his arrival.

Hoping to fuse physics and computer engineering, Ali offered a program that consisted of taking an engineering course and earning a bachelor’s in chemistry or math and then earning a master’s in civil or chemical engineering in the fifth year. Bellarmine ultimately redirected the program to a computer science degree, which grew in popularity because of its data-processing focus.

“I used to say we have a 50% business school, 50% nursing, and there’s a 50% computer science,” Ali said.

Bellarmine sponsored Ali in a 15-month electrical engineering course to gain the skills he needed to lead the program.

“Bellarmine was very nice to me. They basically supported me for the fall and spring semesters. The two summers I spent my own money,” Ali said.

Although he received offers from many schools, Ali said he found Bellarmine to be the place for him because of its Catholic and liberal arts values.

“I was not looking just for a place to work, but a place to grow,” he said. “Service has been a fundamental value of Bellarmine, and that is also my personal value here too, and that is what attracted me here, was that there is a system here, we serve others.”

Assistant Professor Dr. Robert Kelley met Ali in 2009. In 2015, Ali reached out to Kelley letting him know of a full-time position in the computer science department, and Kelley has worked with Ali since 2016.

“I have rarely worked with any professor, really anybody at any place I’ve ever worked, who is more committed to the students and the institution than Dr. Ali,” Kelley said.

Kelley said learning to stand his ground and never giving up have been the two biggest lessons he’s learned from Ali.

“When he makes up his mind on an issue then he commits to that, and I’ve learned to kind of follow that role model and sort of do that same thing,” Kelley said. “He stands his ground no matter what. If he thinks it’s right then he’s going to advocate for it.”

Senior Morgan Hardin said Ali had a big impact in her life.

“He’s taught me to just try my best and to just learn as much as I can and get everything out of all of my classes and just life in general,” Hardin said.

Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Mary Huff began working with Ali when she became an associate dean of Arts and Sciences. Huff said she was always amazed at how much Ali cared for his students.

“He was always so student-centered. He really cared and wanted to see his students succeed,” Huff said.

Huff recalled Ali starting and being the only computer science faculty member for years even though his initial position was as a physics professor.

“He created a home, a new major at Bellarmine that really has continued to increase in value, and now we have four faculty members on that program, and I credit him for maintaining and establishing and growing that program on campus,” she said.

Huff said she has never seen someone who is so passionate about teaching or had so much love for student success, and said she hopes to carry this lesson when she returns to teaching.

"Just seeing how much he is so dedicated to those students, he really looks for ways to reach every student and help them be successful,” Huff said.

Huff’s biggest lesson from Ali, she said, was to love what you do because when you love it, you can do it forever.

Ali has made a huge impact on the entire Bellarmine community and will be missed by many.

Hardin said the program won’t be the same without him.

Kelley said it’s going to be weird not having Ali down the hallway for an occasional chat or advice. He said Ali’s personality is going to be a huge loss for Bellarmine.

Ali said he had a final special message for Bellarmine.

“Service other people and also speak up for the weaker section of our society,” Ali said.

Ali said he plans to spend his retirement researching and studying quantum computing on campus alongside two Bellarmine students. He also plans to spend his free time writing about the life of Jesus Christ, Jesus’ mother and the unique values of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.


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