When religious studies professor Daniel Perdue passed away, the students he inspired made it their goal to honor his life and legacy with the creation of a new scholarship.
Daniel Perdue, who taught at VCU for more than a decade, died on Nov. 18, 2013 from pancreatic cancer.
Physician’s assistant at the VCU Medical Center Mina Tabibi is a former student of Perdue and is one of the people working on creating the scholarship. Tabibi said after his death she and others who were his former students had to decide if they wanted to have the scholarship go to VCU where he taught and they all believed he was the happiest, to University of Virginia where he received his degrees or to a private trust for one single student. Because they each were all VCU graduates, Tabibi said they decided to go with the school where he taught.
“We wanted to keep it open, we didn’t want to limit it to religious studies majors so we kept it broad in the College of Humanities and Sciences,” Tabibi said. “If we raise the goal of $11,000 it will go into an endowment so it will guarantee $500 every year … and the more money we raise, we can increase that amount.”
The scholarship will be open to third- and fourth-year students. Tabibi said in order for the scholarship to be creative, they will take advantage of the online platform by asking students to convey what a certain word means with media and online resources.
Tabibi said their first fundraising event raised about $300, and 25 percent of profits from food at McCormack’s Whiskey Grill went to the cause. She said their next fundraiser will be at SubRosa Bakery in Church Hill and details are still being worked out.
“I had all this exposure to so many different religions but … I just wasn’t able to relate to any until I started taking courses with Dr. Perdue,” Tabibi said. “Just the way he taught and the way he spoke and it was everything I had been practicing my entire life but kind of finally organized into a quote on quote religion.”
Tabibi said when getting her undergraduate degree from VCU in biology, she took almost all of the classes Perdue had to offer. Though her parents are from Afghanistan and were raised Muslim, Tabibi said she grew up attending Catholic mass.
“It’s kind of sad that after he’s passed, kind of coming to the realization that I may never find such a mentor again and just taking what he taught me during those years, especially the last year and half and really taking that foundation and continuing to enrich myself,” Tabibi said.
After graduating, Tabibi lost touch with Perdue. When she finally got back in touch with him, she learned of his diagnosis. She said she then joined five other students who along with his family supported him through his battle with cancer.
“From that point on I met the core students that also continued to have relationships with him and it’s just funny because some of them I heard of but I didn’t know how close they were to him from my years past in Richmond,” Tabibi said. “Since then we’ve all just become really good friends and we continue to meet up once every two months … to kind of keep the spirit alive and keep the scholarship going.”
Tabibi said she was particularly touched by Perdue’s kindness to others.
“I think the most important thing to take away from Dan is even though he had differences amongst people in the department and you knew he had different viewpoints with some of the students, he was always able to maintain this strong strong sense of compassion,” Tabibi said. “He used that compassion to guide him in his teaching and trying to understand others and I think I would take that and give that message away to students (and) other professors.”
Director of the School of World Studies Mark Wood knew Perdue during his time as a professor at VCU and arrived a few years before Perdue in 1997. He said Perdue worked at the school for about 14 years.
“I think the thing that stands out the most in many respects is that he was so passionate about student learning,” Wood said. “He loved students, he loved education, he loved his work as an educator and took it enormously seriously.”
He said Perdue devoted most of his energy to teaching and writing. Wood said with his “remarkable ability in the classroom,” Perdue was a successful teacher. He said Perdue had high rates of students who would take more than one class with him.
“Every time I would go to his office, there would always be three or four students there hanging out, talking to him about one thing or another, about Eastern religions, so he also had an open door, and very inviting way of relating to the students as well and I think they really appreciated that,” Wood said.
He said Perdue was often sought out by other teachers for advice and even won the College of Humanities and Sciences award of “The Outstanding Teacher” a few years ago. Wood said he thinks it is great for there to be a scholarship to honor Perdue’s life. He described it as a ripple effect, saying the students are “catching that wave” and carrying it on.
“I think a scholarship in his name that is devoted to enabling, supporting students in their own studies is perfect for him,” Wood said. “It’s kind of a perfect expression of what he was about.”
Wood described Perdue as irreplaceable and said the members of the school miss and him and will try to do their best to carry on his legacy. He said Perdue’s spirit, passion for teaching, and wisdom about the self carries on in students everywhere.
On Amazon.com Perdue has two books available, “Debate In Tibetan Buddhism (Textual Studies and Translations in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism)” and “The Course in Buddhist Reasoning and Debate: An Asian Approach to Analytical Thinking Drawn from Indian and Tibetan Sources.”
According to his brief biography on the United States-India Educational Foundation website, he graduated from U.Va.’s Ph.D. program in Buddhist studies in 1983. He was 2012-2013 U.S. Fellow and received a nine-month Fulbright scholarship to go to the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
Thomas Perdue, Daniel Perdue’s brother, said he thinks the scholarship is a wonderful idea. He said his brother was born Sept. 26, 1950 and their family is from Roanoke, Virginia.
He said it is evident how much his students loved him, from remarks on ratemyprofessor.com and the fact that his office was a nice place to visit where he always had candy to offer students when they visited. Thomas Perdue said when his brother stopped teaching he gave many items away to students such as his portion of Buffalo nickels their father collected.
“I think that the passion is there and the devotion of what he did and he was in academics one way or another his whole life,” he said. “I think he definitely left an impact on VCU.”
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