Estate gift a ‘Guru-Dakshina’ for PhD alum

Chandra Prabha

According to Chandra Prabha (PhD '84), in traditional Indian culture, a student offers a gift in gratitude to the teacher who has played an important role in his or her life. This practice, called "Guru-Dakshina," inspired Prabha to make an estate gift to the University of Illinois in honor of the professors who most influenced her PhD studies—F. W. "Wilf" Lancaster and Linda C. Smith. Her gift will be split between the Wilf Lancaster Scholarship and the Linda C. Smith Doctoral Student Endowment Fund in the School of Information Sciences.

"I would not have earned my doctoral degree without the advice, patience, and wisdom that Lancaster and Smith displayed toward me. Therefore, it was natural for me to select the funds named after these two teachers," said Prabha.

Prabha earned her BS in elementary education and MS in library science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then worked as a children's librarian for two years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later when she lived in India, she worked in the newly established Sorghum and Millet Information Centre at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), in the newly founded University of Hyderabad in India, as well as in the American Studies Research Center. During this period Prabha decided to pursue a PhD.

Prabha credits the iSchool (then GSLIS) with preparing her for a successful research career in librarianship.

"Four research projects, one each semester, were designed as preparation for dissertation research. I found the research process so absorbing that I dropped the idea of working in a library once I completed my degree. I wanted a career in library research," she said.

It was through one of these research projects that she first became acquainted with Lancaster. Prabha broached him about a project that involved gathering data from senators through a mail survey. This interaction led to Prabha completing several projects under his direction.

Lancaster also introduced her to Jim Evans, a professor of agricultural communications, who provided Prabha with financial assistance through assistantships. Over the course of her doctoral studies, Prabha played a key role in setting up the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center at the University of Illinois.

While she never took a course that Smith taught, Prabha said can't imagine going through the doctoral program without Smith's continued support.

"Linda’s commitment to help students is unparalleled. She was available at her office in David Kinley Hall from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., sometimes even later, including weekends and holidays. The only exceptions were when she was teaching a class or in meetings. Linda's office doors were open to any student who wanted to consult with her," said Prabha.

It was Smith who recommended Prabha for a postdoctoral fellowship in the Office of Research at the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), a global library organization that provides shared technology services, original research, and community programs for its membership and the library community at large. Prabha got the job and ended up working over two decades as a research scientist for the OCLC.

"The estate gift is a gift of gratitude or 'Guru-Dakshina' to my teachers at UIUC," she said.

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