Anyone who met Viji Sundar learned just how passionate she was about education and her favorite subject: mathematics.
Sundar, who served 42 years at Stanislaus State as a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and established numerous educational programs that helped students and teachers — both at the University and in communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley — hone their math skills, passed away on Nov. 17.
A celebration of her life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18 at Stan State in the Event Center and will be live streamed. Those who plan to attend in person or watch online are required to register. Complimentary parking will be available in Lot 8 for in-person attendees.
Colleagues, students, friends and loved ones describe Sundar as an enthusiastic and thoughtful instructor who was a passionate advocate for education and learning.
She was the driving force behind programs that included the University’s STEAM Academy, the Pre-Freshman Enrichment Program and the High School Math Access Program (HiMAP).
For decades, the STEAM Academy brought middle and high school students to Stan State so they could experience the campus’s beauty, simultaneously highlighting the benefits of higher education.
Sunder also served as the CEO and founding president of the Sundar Institute, a nonprofit organization created to champion educational access, equity and advocacy for underrepresented and low-income K-12 students.
The Institute used an intervention model designed to mitigate the drain on schools’ financial resources caused by truancy and dropouts and to increase graduation rates by implementing learning programs tailored to meet schools’ needs and community demographics.
“Viji was a mentor for many faculty members and students, and a pioneer in the field of mathematical education,” according to colleague Jung Ha. “She persistently cultivated new ideas to make huge contributions to the Department of Mathematics, the College of Science, the University and the Central Valley.
“She was always striving to have up-to-date research information and new trends in her projects and programs. Most of all, her love and compassion toward mathematical education and Stan State’s Warrior Family were the foundation of Viji's projects and programs.”
In a letter to the editor published in The Modesto Bee, Stanislaus State Professor of Mathmetics Emeritus Louis Feldman wrote that Sundar “not only enriched the mathematical content of courses required for her students to become elementary school teachers, but she also infused these courses with demonstrations of techniques for effectively teaching mathematics to grade school children.”
She worked with school districts to establish programs at elementary schools in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties. Initially, Sundar initiated and championed programs designed to empower young women and inspire them towards STEM careers.
Born in Kerala, India, Sundar earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at the University of Poona, India. She went on to earn both her Master of Science and doctorate at the University of Illinois, Urbana.
In 1978, she joined Stan State as a visiting lecturer of mathematics. The following year, she was promoted to assistant professor and eventually earned the rank of professor in 1988. She served as department chair from 2005 to 2008.
During her decades of service, Sundar earned a plethora of awards and honors. In 2003, she was the first Stan State faculty member to earn the California State University’s prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award in the Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering category. She earned three outstanding professor awards from the Academic Senate and in 2008, the Stanislaus County Commission named her as one of that year’s Outstanding Women.
Family members and colleagues also recalled Sundar’s compassion for others.
Patrick Mitchell recalled how Sundar, who was department chair at the time, helped him soon after he was hired as a full-time lecturer in 2006.
“In 2007, I was fighting a chronic illness, and Viji noticed that I didn’t look well,” he recalled. “Without my asking, she rearranged my schedule that academic year so that I did not have to teach winter session.”
That flexibility allowed Mitchell to have a needed surgery during the break so he didn’t have to take medical leave.
“I’ve always been grateful to her for that as has my mother, who still brings it up every so often, almost 15 years later,” Mitchell said. “She was a kind presence in the Mathematics Department, and she will be missed.”
Sundar’s husband Kal said many of his wife’s former students have contacted him to share stories of how his wife encouraged and inspired them. She did so, he added, as a working mother who prioritized her family.
“She was a very humble, dedicated and compassionate soul who put education first, while at the same time managing a family, grandchildren, a husband, house and her students and classes,” Kal Sundar said.
In addition to husband Kal, Sundar is survived by the couple’s daughter Seema, son Suneel and four grandchildren. Her family has established the Dr. Viji Sundar Memorial Fund to honor her passion for learning.
The program will include remarks and the sharing of favorite stories about Sundar by President Ellen Junn, Dean Oddmund Myhre, Professor Björg Jóhannsdóttir and Dr. Sundar’s family members and colleagues.
A repast with appetizers and beverages will follow the program. If you have a comment, story or photo to share, please post it on the event registration page in the discussion section. Submitted posts may be read during the ceremony.