Dr. Naga Spandana Muppaneni, cherished professor of electrical and computer engineering, passes away

Professor+Muppaneni+broke+down+barriers+for+women+of+color+in+STEM+fields.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Lafayette+Engineering+Facebook%29

Professor Muppaneni broke down barriers for women of color in STEM fields. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette Engineering Facebook)

Dr. Naga Spandana Muppaneni, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, passed away on July 26. She was in her mid-thirties.

Muppaneni taught at Lafayette for three years, one as a visiting assistant professor and two as a tenured assistant professor. She was also one of the first members of an informal group created to support younger professors of color within engineering and other STEM fields at Lafayette. She is remembered for her dedication, strength and kindness to colleagues and students alike. 

“[Muppaneni] worked very hard — not only to be part of this Lafayette community but also to be a good teacher,” Department Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Yih-Choung Yu said. “During office hours, her doors were never closed.”

Yu and Muppaneni had adjoining offices on the fourth floor of the Acopian Engineering Center. Due to their close proximity, Yu was able to observe her work from his office, as well as while they taught classes together. They bonded over their similar experiences receiving education in Asia.

“It’s a big loss because we were just so close,” Yu said.

Muppaneni is also remembered for her resilience in facing challenges as a woman of color in STEM. According to her colleagues, she always overcame challenges presented in her career and excelled in her position. 

“She had a great skill of just getting back up whenever the universe decided ‘not today,’” Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Joseph Woo said.

Woo and Muppaneni first met when Muppaneni was hired as an untenured professor at Lafayette. Woo was on a panel of an orientation she attended. They met again when she was officially tenured, and Dr. Woo worked with her to provide a group for “younger faculty of color… to talk about their experiences navigating a very white space.”

“I saw a little bit of my own experience from [members of the group],” Woo said. Despite the obstacles that Muppaneni faced in this field, she never stopped working to become a better person. Instead of being resentful of the issues presented by faculty and students to her, she had a “fundamentally kind mindset,” according to Woo.

“In spite of all that … she took it upon herself … [to] do the best [she could],” Woo said.

Using this perspective, Muppaneni worked tirelessly to improve herself and her classrooms. 

“The school is worse for her not being here anymore,” Woo said. 

Dr. Muppaneni’s funeral was held on Aug. 1, and there was a gathering hosted in Acopian Room 429 on Thursday, Sept. 1 to give students an opportunity to celebrate her life.