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Widowed three and a half years ago, Svager has also established a scholarship fund in mathematics through the Dayton Foundation in honor of his late wife Chrysa, who was the tenth female African- American to receive a PhD in math. The first three scholarships were awarded last year. The couple worked together to encourage more African-American students to major in math and physics since they first met in 1964 at CSU, an historically black university where Chrysa was a math professor. They married on commencement day in 1968.
Svager discovered his gift for teaching early on while still a student in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, tutoring those who were struggling with math and science. He spent a little over two years at the Nuclear Institute of Zagreb, teaching at the university there, and also taught at the University of Sarajevo before coming to the U.S. in 1960 through the Institute for International Education. He earned his master's degree in physics from Texas Christian University. Eager to stay in the U.S. when the Yugoslavian government asked him to return, but unwilling to place his family and friends back home in danger by requesting political asylum, Svager did the next best thing: he took a faculty position with CSU and devoted himself to the teaching he loved, becoming chair of the physics department a year later. The most rewarding aspect of teaching for Svager is the opportunity to make a real difference in students' lives. Although CSU's physics department is small, it has produced around 40 physics majors since Svager first joined the faculty, all but five of them African-American. Of those 40, 30 went on to receive master's degrees in various fields, and five eventually earned PhDs, three in physics.
But Svager's favorite story concerns a young female student he tutored while still at Texas Christian University, the daughter of his next-door neighbors, who was majoring in math. She ended up earning a double degree in math and physics, ultimately earning a PhD in physics. On the day she graduated, she presented Svager with two gifts: a set of Cross pens, and a signed form to drop her physics course. It turned out she had been planning to drop physics when Svager offered to tutor her, "but because of me, she decided to double major," he said. "So I knew I could make a difference." And he continues to do so today with his support of the Society's Minority Scholarship program.
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