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5:18 AM Thu, Nov. 15th

ERAU professors, former Hokies reflect on shooting

PRESCOTT ­- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Mark Sensmeier was looking forward to visiting with his former Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu this week at a structures conference in Hawaii.

But Librescu died a hero on April 16 when a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student, Cho Seung-Hui, shot him to death along with 31 other students and faculty members. The shooter then killed himself.

Students reported that Librescu, a an Israeli math and engineering teacher who survived the Holocaust and later escaped from Communist Romania, barricaded his classroom by pressing his body against the door to save the lives of his students at the cost of his own.

Although the international aeronautical engineering community recognized Librescu for his research, Sensmeier said, people now will remember him more for his heroic final act.

"Because of what happened, more people will remember him for who he was rather than for what he did," Sensmeier said. "In a way that's a good thing."

Sensmeier took two classes from Librescu while earning his master's and doctorate degrees from the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department at Virginia Tech.

"The first time I had him he was struggling with the language," Sensmeier said. "He would end every sentence with the word 'not.'"

Students couldn't make out what he meant by it, he said.

"But when I had him the second time, he was a fabulous teacher," Sensmeier said. "He was extremely brilliant in his subject matter. He was a fantastic person."

After Sensmeier graduated, he maintained a friendship with Librescu and often would visit with him at various conferences.

"He always made a point of coming over and chatting with me and finding out what I'm up to," he said. "He was always complimentary and was always giving the attention to somebody else."

As a graduate student Sensmeier taught at the school for two semesters and his office was in Norris Hall where Cho killed most of the victims.

He said it will be strange visiting the campus because the Norris Hall faculty's offices are now in temporary quarters and he wonders whether the officials of the largest university in Virginia will convert the building into a memorial site.

Mischa Kim, a Virginia Tech alumnus with a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering, who also teaches at ERAU, said when he heard of the Virginia Tech massacre from Sensmeier, his first thought was "not again."

"We had a similar incident (a shooting) back in August," Kim said.

He said he began following the reports of the massacre over the Internet and each time the death toll had increased.

"It was terrible reading about it, but my heart dropped when I went back home and saw the footage of people walking around the Drill Field," Kim said. "That's when it hit me."

He has fond memories of the Drill Field because many of the social activities on the campus took place there.

This past Friday, as Virginia Tech and the nation remembered the shooting victims, Sensmeier and Kim joined in by wearing the Virginia Tech Hokies' shirts.

The school's football team's mascot is a turkey named the Hokey Bird, Sensmeier said.

"I would like to be there right now," Kim said. "It's like a family member getting sick. I would like to be there in person to show compassion."

Sensmeier said it is comforting to see that the ERAU student government association encouraged the students and the faculty to wear maroon and orange in support of Virginia Tech.

"We are all Hokies today," he said.

Contact the reporter at mburic@prescottaz.com