Faculty, staff recall ‘caring’ chair’s legacy

Daily Sundial

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Omar Zahir, former professor and chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, died Aug. 26 during a morning meeting in the department’s conference room. The cause of his death was arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, according to the Los Angeles county coroner’s department. He was 49.

Zahir leaves behind a wife and two children -a son and a daughter – according to Sandor Reichman, a professor in the department who is now interim chair.

Zahir came to CSUN in 1990 as an assistant professor, and became the chair of the department two years ago.

“He was an energetic chair. He had all kinds of goals (for) the department,” said Monica Escontrias, administrative support assistant in the department.

As chair of the department, Zahir implemented the first biochemistry master’s program at CSUN in July, she said.

Zahir was involved with the university on several levels, said Bruce Hietbrink, a professor in the department. Zahir worked with the Student Engagement Project (CELT) and the Learning Centered University initiative.

His most noticeable qualities, however, was his care for students and others.

“I think you can point to programs he did and different things he was involved in,” Hietbrink said. “But I really think that he touched people and that was his true impact.”

“He worked hard to make the department a friendlier and stronger learning environment,” said James Schaeffer, a professor in the department. “He was a warm person with an engaging personality.”

Another professor from the department shared the same sentiment.

“Dr. Zahir liked being around people and he brought people together,” said professor David Miller. “Not everybody goes out of their way to do that.”

When the department expressed the need for an environmental chemist, Zahir trained himself to become one.

Miller said he often worked with Zahir, creating students’ curriculum. Besides being deeply involved with students, Zahir was a strong advocate for new faculty.

“He made sure that new faculty received all the support they needed,” Miller said.

Zahir received his bachelors of science from the University of Punjab in Pakistan, his native country, in 1975. He earned his doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1986. He also served as a postdoctoral fellow at Iowa State in 1987. In 1989-90, he served as a NASA postdoctoral fellow at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Ariana can be reached at ariana.rodriguez@csun.edu. Samuel Richard can be reached at samuel.richard@csun.edu.