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KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ramon Umashankar, assistant dean in the college of engineering and mines, hikes through the Catalina mountain range early Friday morning. Umashankar is in the process of training for his Sept. 23 ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a hike he is taking to raise money for a memorial dedicated to his late son.
By Stephanie Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday August 29, 2002

Assistant dean to raise funds on Kilimanjaro to memorialize his son

A UA employee is about to embark on a journey to the top of Africs's tallest mountain in the name of his late son.

In less than a month, Ray Umashankar, assistant dean of industrial relations for the college of engineering and mines, will begin the 19,453 foot climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for a scholarship fund in his son's memory.

He hopes to raise $100,000 to create an endowed scholarship in memory of his son, a UA student who took his own life more than a decade ago while suffering from depression.

The idea for the Naren Umashankar Memorial Scholarship Endowment and the hike came from three of Naren's closest friends after the recent tenth anniversary of Naren's death.

The Umashankar family and family friends want the scholarship to cover tuition for two UA resident students on an annual basis.

Umashankar's climb up the peak will begin on Sept. 23. The goal is to raise enough money to start the scholarship and continue it from year to year.

In order to reach this goal, Umashankar needs to raise approximately $5.15 per foot.

Kilimanjaro is a big mountain, even for Umashankar, a solidly built man who has experience on Mt. Everest.

Umashankar trains for the climb by hiking three days a week before sunrise in the Black Ridge of Sabino Canyon with a 30-pound backpack.

He also swims laps two days per week.

In order to train for the altitude, which Umashankar said is nearly impossible to do, he hikes slowly.

"People get fooled this way," Umashankar said. "America is about fast. You have to train to hike slowly. Speed is deadly in a hike like this."

Umashankar said it will take a week to climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. He will begin the hike at midnight. Sept. 23.

Three people will join him on his hike, including a stranger, who contacted Umashankar after hearing about his reason for making the climb and asked to be a part of the cause.

"All over, we have received a warm welcome for this cause," Umashankar said, and added that people come up to him whenever he hikes in Sabino Canyon. "The community has been absolutely fabulous."

Umashankar is not new to this type of challenge.

Aside from Naren, another son of his died as a child due to health problems.

After Naren's death in December 1991, Umashankar went into a severe depression, which lasted for five years.

He turned to exercise to help him relieve his anger.

Umashankar began riding his bicycle to work, 11 miles each way. But in 1993, after having run 20 miles up mountain trails, he was riding his mountain bike when he hit a gravel patch and fell on the blacktop.

He passed out.

Surgeons gave him an artificial hip and the bleak news that the most strenuous form of exercise he would be able to do would be to walk with a cane.

But within months Umashankar began to walk, swim and train again, while going through rehabilitation. Fourteen months later, he hiked the Grand Canyon with his wife, sans cane.

He climbed the Himalayas 22 months later.

Candidates for the scholarship will be approved by the Naren Umashankar Memorial Scholarship Board once the money is raised, said Toni Bullington, program coordinator of the scholarship development office at the UA Foundation.

UA scholarship recipients would need to be entering their sophomore or junior year and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to qualify. Candidates must also have leadership abilities and other qualities the Umashankar family feels Naren had.

The scholarship is set up through the UA Foundation. Naren's friends established the guidelines for the scholarship and Umashankar said he will only be involved in raising money for the fund, not deciding who receives the scholarship.

Sudeep Mishra, one of Naren's friends, sent out letters to friends of the Umashankar family and the UA Foundation board members explaining the hike and fundraising goal.

Since the letters went out, about three weeks ago, $10,000 has been raised for the scholarship fund, Bullington said.

"This is a very serious campaign we're doing to raise money," Bullington said. "We've never done anything like this before, but Ray is very determined."

Family and friends have been very supportive of Umashankar's quest to climb Kilimanjaro.

"Honestly, it is the most amazing gesture I've ever seen extended to someone they love so much," said Nita Umashanker, Naren's sister, and a UA molecular and cellular biology senior. "He won't quit for anything."

Donations to the scholarship fund can be sent to:

Naren Umashankar Memorial Scholarship Endowment
C/O Scholarship Development Office
University of Arizona Foundation
1111 N. Cherry Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85721


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