November 20, 2007

Slain student was three weeks away from receiving his Ph.D.

After six years of hard study and a successful dissertation defense, chemistry graduate student Amadou Cisse was only three weeks away from receiving his Ph.D.

As friends and colleagues mourned Cisse’s death on Monday, they fondly remembered his quiet gentleness.

Bill McCartney, the director of International House, knew Cisse as a private person who preferred to learn more about his peers through one-on-one conversations. Cisse, who was from Dakar, Senegal, had lived in the dormitory for several years.

“He was a great resident,” McCartney said. “Amadou was one of those people who approached residents as individuals. Each person was special unto themselves.”

Cisse, who graduated from Bates College in 2001, had successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis in chemistry on November 1. The University will recognize his degree posthumously at the December 7 graduation ceremony.

“He studied how molecules move through polymers and how they can be changed by shining light on them, which is an important question for basic science and technical implications,” said Steven Sibener, a professor in chemistry who worked closely with Cisse.

Sibener described Cisse as a diligent, focused worker who often wore a shy smile.

“He had a very knowing look,” Sibener said. “When he understood something, he was pleased.”

McCartney recalled a time last spring when he returned to the dormitory with over 1,000 pounds of newly purchased weights. He walked into the dining hall and casually asked for some help in carrying the load inside.

“The very first person to spring up and offer to help was Amadou,” McCartney said. “He was just that person who was always a joy to have around. He was the person who would volunteer to help.”

Cisse spent his last evening with friends at I-House, hanging out at a social event until he left to return home late at night.

A member of the Muslim Students Association, Cisse was a man who followed his faith strongly.

“He was very shy, timid, real gentle guy,” said fourth-year Mohsin Ali, the vice president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).

During Ramadan, the holy month in the Muslim religion, Cisse would attend prayers almost nightly.

But it wasn’t always an easy part of his identity.

“He was pretty uneasy about being Muslim in America,” Ali said. “He felt America was pretty hostile to Muslims.”

Fahd Tayyab, a Kings College student who studied at the U of C, recalled Cisse’s understated sense of humor.

“I always teased him for spending hours washing his clothes in the shower,” Tayab wrote in an e-mail to the MSA listhost. “Sometimes the whole floor would talk about him washing his clothes and joke with him about it. He would just smile and shy away.”

University administrators are currently contacting and consulting with Cisse’s loved ones.

Cisse was eager to return home to his family in Senegal, friends said.

Student Government, along with the MSA and the African and Caribbean Student Association, will hold a candlelight vigil for Cisse today at 3:30 p.m. today.

There will also be counselors available today at 1 p.m. on the second floor of the Gordon Center for Integrative Sciences, where Cisse worked.

“This gentleman had much to give, and he gave it as a person, as a scientist,” Sibener said. “It’s just all the more a loss.”