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UPDATED: April 10 at 9:19 p.m.
Harvard College launched a fund Monday to support a new group of student teaching fellows in the Computer Science department in memory of Alexander H. Patel ’17-’18.
As a part of the Alex Patel Peer Teaching Fellows Fund, the Computer Science department plans to form a team of students who will serve as supplementary teaching fellows for various department courses and will provide individual tutoring to students, Alex’s father Hiren Patel wrote in a letter to family and friends Tuesday.
“We were looking for something that would be very one-on-one and would be specific to the CS department and would also help foster that kind of personal relationship that Alex really felt was important,” Hiren said in an interview Tuesday.
Patel—a Harvard undergraduate who died last semester at the age of 22—was remembered by peers and faculty as not only a brilliant student but also an “incredible friend.” On top of his academic coursework, Patel served as a teaching fellow for several Computer Science classes throughout his time at the College.
He also wrote for The Crimson, reporting on Harvard Business School and working for the paper’s data analysis team. A data-based 2015 article Patel helped produce on faculty political donations earned him a national award.
Patel, a Philosophy and Mathematics concentrator, died by suicide, according to the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office.
Patel’s passion and dedication for his work as a teaching fellow served as the inspiration for the creation of the new fund, Hiren said.
“This started because we were trying to think of a way to honor Alex, and Alex loved teaching, particularly on a one-on-one basis,” Hiren said. “He wanted to actually help you, not just getting through your [problem set], but to get to know you better and to understand and to make a connection because he believed that was part of what the teaching process involved.”
Members of the Computer Science department, including Margo I. Seltzer ’83—who served as a research mentor for Patel—played a key role in creating the fund, Hiren said. Seltzer wrote she is “very grateful” to the other Computer Science professors who helped out.
In an interview Tuesday, Seltzer said the teaching fellowship comprises the “perfect” way to remember Patel.
“I am extraordinarily happy to see this fund be created,” she said. “I think it's a positive thing that the family has been able to do in the face of real devastation and tragedy and I think the fund will keep Alex's memory alive in Harvard Computer Science for a long time and that makes me really happy.”
Seltzer—who said Patel was “super passionate and dedicated to his students” as a teaching fellow—said students and faculty have been “incredibly supportive” of efforts to begin the fund.
“Every time I mention this to undergraduates or graduate students, they get that look in their eyes that says, ‘Oh, this is the perfect way to remember Alex,’” she said.
Patel teaching fellows will help provide “additional resources” to “students who are struggling the most,” according to Seltzer. She said the fellows will supplement—not replace—normal course staff.
Seltzer said the inaugural class of fellows should include people who knew Patel.
“What’s important to this program is that the first cohort of fellows be people who knew Alex,” she said. “Moving forward, our goal is that each year the cohort of Patel fellows will help us pick the next cohort so that we can keep the memory of Alex alive.”
Hiren said he thinks the preliminary response to the establishment of the fund has been “fantastic.”
“It’s a shame, I think, many of us don’t know how many lives we touch until we’re gone,” Hiren Patel said. “I think so many people whose lives have touched by Alex and who knew him well will be supportive.”
Contributions to the fund can be made online at https://community.alumni.harvard.edu/give/16040771 or mailed to Harvard University Alumni and Development Services, 124 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@MichaelEXie1.
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