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Meet Prof. Surindar Uppal, the first professor of Mathematics in Kenya

I meet a curious-looking, bespectacled man who immediately extends a Namaste greeting. At this point, I must admit that the only reason I greeted back was because of the many Indian movies I have watched.

The Punjab-born welcomes me to his bungalow and I am invited by whistles and squawks of a beautiful parrot… he says that the well-behaved, black pet is greeting me and we burst into laughter.

The ‘lad’ shows me around his house and all this while, I am astounded by the numerous trophies and letters of appreciation on the walls.

Professor Surindar Mohan Uppal is among the first professor of Mathematics in the country. He completed his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1991 but was awarded the degree in 1992.

He immediately, in 1993, became an associate professor and head of the Mathematics department at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT).

Prof. Uppal who is not shy to blow his own trumpet once in a while narrates how three years later, he became a full professor in 1996. At that time, Prof. Uppal was the first person to achieve the fete (a full professor) at JKUAT.

“I was the first person to become a full professor at JKUAT…Of course, the next full professor was appointed 10 years later. I’ve been teaching, writing books, and publishing papers, going overseas. I have attended about 40 Mathematical conferences all over the world. The most conspicuous congress is the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in India (2010), South Korea (2014), and Brazil (2017),” says the soft-spoken father of one.

So have you ever met a teacher who has served Kenya’s education sector for six decades? Yes, 62 years… Prof. Uppal came to Kenya from Mahal Gehla village as a young man in 1958. The still curious-looking teacher was immediately enrolled at Jamhuri High School to teach A Levels.

For his extensive work and achievements in the education sector, retired President Mwai Kibaki awarded the academician the Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear (E.B.S.) in December 2011.

Organisers responsible for celebrating the 550th Birthday anniversary of Great Guru Nanak Dev Ji held in November 2019 listed Prof. Uppal as one of the ‘Jewels of Punjab’ and honoured him as one of the leading global Punjabi personalities.

The picture depicts one of the organisers offering Prof. Uppal the sacred and prestigious picture.

Prof. S. M. Uppal delivering his 4th Krishna Uppal memorial Public lecture at JKUAT

How to make Mathematics easy

According to the soft-spoken professor, teacher high handedness contributes to the negative attitude many students have towards Mathematics.

Prof. Uppal advises teachers to find ways of making Mathematics interesting by listening to their learners as well as take interest in their wellbeing.

“Give them [students] examples from the environment…where you are and how you can apply this. Give them examples of the way mathematics develop, show Mathematics practically. Don’t shout at them” says the 2011 EBS holder.

And to learners, Prof. Uppal is telling you to develop an interest in its history, for you to love Mathematics.

Books Prof. Uppal has authored

In a bid to make Mathematics even easier and change the notion, Prof. Uppal embarked on a mission to write books where he gives first-hand experience of teaching Applied Mathematics. So far, he has eight books on his name.

The books include but not limited to;

  • Mathematics for Science
  • Probability Distributions of Two Random Variables
  • Applied Mathematics for Craft Engineering
  • Introduction to Probability and Statistics
  • Mathematics for East African Certificate and GCE
  • Probability Distributions of a Single Random Variables

Some of Prof. Uppal’s notable students

Some of the notable students Prof. Uppal has supervised include but not limited to Mount Kenya University founder Prof. Simon Gicharu, Meru University Vice Chancellor Prof. Romanus Odhiambo, University of Eldoret Vice Chancellor Prof. Teresa Akenga, Kirinyaga University Vice Chancellor Prof. Mary Ndung’u, former Teachers Service Commission (TSC) Gabriel Lengoiboni, just to name but a few.


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