Dubai: The death of another professor at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), the second in less than 48 hours, has deepened the sense of mourning of the students and alumni of the institution.
Assistant Professor John Swanstrom, 53, who was known as Jack, passed away on Wednesday morning at his home on the campus, due to causes that are still unknown.
The news came as a shock to students and alumni who are still trying to come to terms with the death of Professor Dr Richard Gassan, who passed away less than two days ago after being run over while cycling.
American Swanstrom, who served as Assistant Professor at the College of Architecture, Art and Design’s Department of Design, was mostly remembered by students for his interactive film classes.
“His passion and love for film reflected on us students. He was a very interactive professor who encouraged us to discuss and critique movies,” said Mursal Abdul Malek, who took Film 101 with him.
Swanstrom’s passion for movies also inspired students from his class to take part and, in some cases, win in renowned film awards such as the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.
“He was very passionate about everyone involved in the production of movies, not just the actors. He wanted us to show our appreciation for their collective efforts by watching a movie down to the end when the credits rolled,” said Mursal.
Mursal recalled the many humorous situations they shared with Professor Swanstrom, which involved students falling asleep during movie screenings. “We would call his attention to them and put the students in funny and awkward situations.”
Dalia Al Mogazi, an Egyptian-Russian, recalls the professor’s youthful personality.
“I remember him well because I took the wrong film course with him. I felt he was young, because he talked in a way that made us students feel like he can relate to us.”
Despite his youthful personality, he ran a tough course and passing it was a challenge, she said.
“His course was one of those that made you feel like you had achieved something big by passing in it. I learnt a lot from him. Whenever I watch a movie now, I notice thingks like lighting and the setting, aspects I would have otherwise not paid attention to.”
Layla Hamad, who also took film courses with both professors who passed away, said she is saddened by their deaths. “I can’t get over how they passed away, one after the other. It is a great loss for our university. They have both inspired students. They surely left a mark.”
Kevin Badni, Head of Arts and Design at AUS, recalled Swanstrom’s unique personality.
“He was also my friend. Very enthusiastic, his energy filled the building. He was dedicated to his art and students and this was evident in the awards his students won at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Dubai Film Festival and Cannes.”
Swanstrom, who joined the American University of Sharjah at the beginning of Fall 2002, is survived by his wife, Colleen Swanstrom, and stepdaughters Olivia and Genevieve Melkonian.
The university will be a gathering for a moment of silence in the Main Building Rotunda on Thursday at 12pm to honour his memory.