A pall of gloom fell over the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington's engineering college, where Kalpana Chawla, the Indian American astronaut killed in the Columbia space shuttle crash on Saturday, had obtained her Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 1984.
"We are absolutely crushed. I just don't not know what to say," said Dr Lynn Petersons, associate dean for academic affairs.
"I do not remember her [Chawla] as a student because I was not her instructor, but I do remember her as a warm and a wonderful person," she said.
Peterson said Chawla had visited her college a couple of times since her graduation in 1984, the last time being about two years ago when she had already been to space.
"I remember she brought videos to show us... She really established a connection with even those who had never been her instructors."
Peterson added that the UTA would hold a special memorial for the deceased astronaut. "The details have not been worked out as of now. She was someone we are very proud of. She was our astronaut."
Dr Donald Wilson, chairman of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who had been Chawla's main instructor, was not immediately available.
As news of the tragedy spread, the college posted a photo of their star student on its Web site noting that STS-107 was her second flight.
It also posted an interview that Chawla gave to the UTA Magazine in 1998. In that she said that each day aboard the space shuttle she pressed close to the window and watched her planet in wonder.
"You see the continents go by, the thunderstorms shimmering in the clouds, the city lights at night. The Nile River looks like a lifeline in the Sahara. And we looked down on Mount Everest. The earth is very beautiful. I wish everyone could see it."