N.M. Tech Professor Osman Inal Marks Birthday in Style, March 5, 2008

Osman Inal and Deidre Hirschfeld

by Valerie Kimble

Right: Past and Present Chair: Osman Inal chuckles at one of Deidre Hirschfeld's jokes. He was longtime chair of the Department of Materials Engineering; she is current chair.

SOCORRO, N.M., March 5, 2008 – Osman Inal celebrated his Feb. 29 birthday last Friday with students, faculty, family, friends and food – traditional Turkish fare and birthday cake – in the New Mexico Tech building he has called home for almost 30 years.

The entryway of Jones Hall was decorated with balloons and a large sheet cake to mark Inal’s 17th birthday, in leap years, and his 68th in calendar years.

The longtime professor of materials engineering clearly was moved by the party held in his honor, the most lavish given him on campus during his 36 years with New Mexico Tech.

How do we know? He was speechless.

Inal's Birthday Party

Left: Christa Hockensmith, chemist, EMRTC; Dr. Inal, Dean of Engineering; Dr. Sayavur Bakhtiyarov, chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Peter F. Gerity, Vice President for Academic Affairs; and Graham Walsh, one of Dr. Inal’s graduate students, who has removed his hat for the occasion.

The party was organized by Cathi Van Fleet, his former department secretary; and Deirdre Hirschfeld, chair of the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering.

Congratulations poured in from many of Inal’s former students; he also was lauded by Hirschfeld and Peter F. Gerity, Vice President for Academic Affairs, for his years of service to the university and its students – and as the father of Materials Engineering at Tech.

“You become the slave of the thing you created,” Inal said of his tenure at Tech, 36 years without a single sabbatical. “How can you take a sabbatical when you have graduate students? Who’s going to pay them and who’s going to advise them?”

Dr. Peter Gerity and Dr. Inal

Right: Dr. Peter Gerity, vice president of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Osman Inal

In turn, New Mexico Tech and Socorro have been good to the man who never had lived in a small town before coming here in 1972. “I’ve had a very productive life – I couldn’t have produced half the work living in New York, which I love – because there’s nothing else to do here but produce.”

Inal completed his undergraduate education in mechanical engineering in Ankara, Turkey, before accepting a scholarship in materials engineering to Columbia University in New York City.

He conducted his research on radiation effects at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, earning his Ph.D. in 1968, and receiving his diploma the following year. “I was seven (in leap years),” he quipped.

“I had a choice – to stay with the lab or go to Los Angeles,” Inal said. “I wanted to see the Pacific Ocean, so I accepted a position with the University of Southern California, and it was there I met Larry Murr.”

It was Murr who first came to New Mexico Tech to join the Department of Metallurgy, and who encouraged Inal to do the same. “He was lonely and calling me three times a day – I didn’t have a choice,” Inal said.

Murr eventually left Tech, but Inal stayed on. Why? “The kids,” he replied, referring to the legions of students he has taught and advised, including 56 masters and doctoral advisees who received their degrees under Inal’s tutelage.

He still keeps in touch with many of them.

“It’s been a challenge, but bright kids are always a challenge; they ask good questions that keep us on our toes and make it interesting,” he said.

“You get used to them, they become your pals and then they leave,” Inal continued. “You hear from them, but it’s not the same thing, and then you start all over again.”

Another love is soccer, an intramural sports offering at New Mexico Tech when Inal arrived. “There was always soccer here, but I helped move it to the front burner, and taught it to the neighborhood kids,” he said.

His pride and joy was a group of 40 Socorro middle- and high school students known as the Kiddie Corps, years before the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) moved into town.

“They were so good, they beat everyone in the state,” said Inal, who rattled off a few of the players’ names – a couple of Zimmermans and Aerts, a Franklin, an Oravecz, two Tormas, a Hjellming and a Kase, all of whom played as the Socorro Panthers.

Inal met his wife, Serife, who prepared the Turkish meal served at her husband’s party, in Turkey, where she was teaching in the same city where his family lives. The couple, introduced by mutual friends, married a year later in 1982.

Ironically, Inal did not want their daughter, Nuray Nazli, born the following year, to play soccer, because he worried an errant pass or unexpected tumble would mar her pretty face.

Anyone who knows Inal has an insight into his daughter’s personality. “I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “She wanted to play soccer and she did.”

Inal, who also serves as an Associate Vice President and Dean of Engineering, is fully involved in his daughter’s education at Columbia, his NYC alma mater.

He also is pleased to look back on a career “which has been very colorful, needless to say.”

In his free time – oh, wait, he has no free time!

“If I can play soccer for a couple of hours every Sunday, I’m happy,” he said.

-- NMT --