In Memory of Prof. Manolis Kondopirakis

POSTED ON: February 8, 2016

Manolis Kondopirakis, who was a full-time math professor from 1984 to 2004, passed away on February 3.  Prof. Kondopirakis, who went on to become secretary general of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, was an animated, dedicated teacher who generously shared his time and knowledge with students. Prof. Ruben Savizky, associate professor of chemistry at Cooper, studied with Prof. Kondopirakis as an undergraduate. He said, “It is difficult to put into words how much Kondo has meant to me—and I think for many other students.”

Prof. Kondopirakis, who resigned from Cooper in August 2012 after an extended leave of absence starting in 2004, came to the United States from his native Kastelli Kissamos on Crete when he won a scholarship to study mathematics and electrical engineering at City College. He earned his bachelors and masters degrees there and was awarded his doctorate from the Courant Institute at New York University, writing about Markov chains. He worked in the commodities department at Merrill Lynch, then taught at City College before taking a position at Cooper where he was fondly known as “Kondo.”

According to Prof. Savizky, students either flocked to Kondo’s classes or assiduously avoided them. He was legendary for his booming voice and for assigning copious amounts of homework, especially on weekends since he said students had five “days” to complete it: Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night.

His exams were tough, but he encouraged students to stop worrying about grades: “Eventually you come to a point in your life when you want to learn something for the sake of knowledge, and not just to do well on an exam. At that point grades become automatic,” he said. He tutored students wanting extra instruction, encouraged them to work in groups, and got in by 7.15 AM on test days so that they could have additional time to solve problems.

Prof. Kondopirakis loved to tease his students, telling them that “vector calculus is the easiest five credit course you will take at Cooper. Unfortunately it is only two credits.” He was also known for saying, “C’mon, guys, this is kindergarten stuff,” a phrase a group of students put on a tee shirt along with Kondo’s face.

Year’s later when Prof. Savizky was earning his Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry, he audited a class in bioinformatics. “The first week we went over hidden Markov models. I realized how Kondo had figured that stuff out 20 or 30 years before the bioinformaticists did.” Besides Kondo’s intellect, Prof. Savizky says he admired him for teaching “the true value of hard work, determination, persistence and not being afraid to tackle a new problem or a new area.”

Professor Kondopirakis is survived by his wife, Irene. A funeral service was held in Crete.

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