KU awards posthumous degree to ‘dedicated’ graduate student, will hold public memorial Monday

photo by: Contributed photo

The University of Kansas Religious Studies Department will hold a public memorial for Mahmoud Samak, 30, who died in class on Monday.

In honor of his dedication to his studies, the University of Kansas Religious Studies Department is awarding a posthumous master’s degree to Mahmoud Samak, a graduate student from Cairo who died in class earlier this week.

Jacquelene Brinton, an associate professor and graduate director, told the Journal-World Friday that the department was still in shock from the news and was mourning the loss.

“Mahmoud was a kind, congenial, hard-working student, and he will be greatly missed,” Brinton said.

The department will hold a public memorial for Samak at 3 p.m. Monday in the Big 12 Room at KU’s Memorial Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd. In a news release, the department described Samak as a “thoughtful, dedicated and conscientious” student and teaching assistant.

“Mahmoud was passionate about his studies,” the department said in the release. “He loved to engage with his colleagues in spirited dialogue, in particular the other members of his graduate student cohort. He was a fixture in Smith Hall; his smile and laugh recognizable to all.”

Sam Brody, an assistant professor for the department, said Samak’s pursuit to learn more about Judaism as a Muslim is a testament to his character.

“He had a deep wish not just to learn, and not just to produce new knowledge, but to contribute to somehow bettering our world through increasing understanding between people,” Brody said. “In that sense there was a direct connection between his academic path and his character as a person.”

Samak, 30, died in a class at Smith Hall on Monday, Deputy Chief James Anguiano of the KU Public Safety Office said.

First responders were called to Smith Hall for a medical emergency about 2:25 p.m., Anguiano said. Police found the patient in cardiac arrest and performed CPR until medics arrived, but he could not be revived. Police found no evidence of foul play in the death, Anguiano said.

Samak, who was in the second year of his graduate program, was studying the comparative social and religious analysis of contemporary Judaism and Islam. Along with his studies, he was an active member of the Islamic Center of Lawrence and he often visited the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation.

In a statement released on Wednesday, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod offered “deepest condolences” to Samak’s family and friends on behalf of the entire university.

— Reporter Sara Shepherd contributed to this story.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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