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Engineering Students, Faculty at UC San Diego Remember Beloved Educator

Retired professor Anthony Sebald served as associate dean at the Jacobs School of Engineering


Professor Anthony V. Sebald poses here with his wife Kathy Sebald

A longtime favorite of students, faculty and administrators alike, former University of California San Diego electrical and computer engineering professor Anthony V. Sebald passed away on July 11, 2016. He was 74 years old.

For nearly 30 years, Sebald served the campus, the Jacobs School of Engineering and its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), but above all, he served the university’s students as advisor, mentor, teacher and eventually associate dean for academic affairs in the Jacobs School from 1998 to 2002. He retired in 2004.

He was instrumental in a number of innovations in undergraduate engineering education at UC San Diego. In 1995 he helped introduce a revamped ECE curriculum starting with foundational engineering courses. He taught a hands-on freshman design course using his expertise in robotics to develop a class in which students built robots and raced against each other during their final presentations. Subsequently Sebald recommended an upper-division sequence containing both core courses and an elective area of specialization, and he taught an upper-division course in Neural Networks and Fuzzy Logic.

On retiring from the faculty in 2004, Sebald recalled the challenge and excitement of joining a relatively young campus. “It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch and collaborate in the creation of a whole new university from the ground up,” he said. “Everyone is encouraged to participate, and that has fostered an incredible sense of ownership among the faculty and staff. We need to recognize the entrepreneurial spirit that sets UCSD apart and embrace it as the university matures.”

Sebald’s research interests included the design and performance evaluation of intelligent systems, and he focused on game-theoretic and convex optimization-based control theory, as well as robust adaptive control. He published in the area of evolutionary programming and the design of fuzzy and neural systems capable of interacting with humans, and explored intelligent systems applications to communication, multimedia, control, and energy.

“Beginning in the mid-1980s, Tony very presciently became a leader in the design and control of passive solar-heating systems and homes with zero greenhouse gas emissions,” said electrical engineering professor and alumnus Ken Kreutz-Delgado (Ph.D. ’85), who did his doctorate under Sebald. “He even went so far as to rebuild one side of his own home as a Trombe wall [commonly used to absorb heat during sunlit hours of winter then slowly release the heat overnight]. The wall was entirely in keeping with Tony’s belief that we have an obligation not only to others, but to this planet that sustains us.”

Another former student of Sebald, David Fogel (Ph.D. ’92), recalled his advisor’s mentorship skills in a remembrance published on LinkedIn this week. “Tony taught about half of the graduate courses I took in the engineering department at UCSD, and helped me prepare for the dreaded oral qualifying exam,” wrote Fogel, CEO of Natural Selection Financial, which uses evolutionary computing to advise investors on global stock and bond prices. “But more than that, [Tony] was an incredibly great cheerleader for me at a time when evolutionary programming was starting to get noticed.”

Sebald was the first in his family to go to college. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1976, Sebald joined the Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences (AMES) department at UC San Diego (out of which grew today’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Bioengineering and Structural Engineering departments). In 1989, Sebald and other faculty experts in systems science transferred out of AMES as a group to join ECE, which had become a standalone department in 1982. The move also brought three current professors to the department: Bhaskar Rao, David Sworder and Kreutz-Delgado.

Sebald later served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Jacobs School under Dean Bob Conn from 1998 to 2002. “Professor Sebald led the school-wide effort related to ABET 2000 and strengthened the school’s student services program,” recalled Denine Hagen, Executive Director of External Relations in the Jacobs School. “He also helped institute some admissions controls in an effort to improve student-teacher ratios, and he was a champion for student involvement in engineering throughout all four (undergraduate) years.”

Prior to joining ECE, Sebald had extensive experience in industry at General Electric and IBM, and, as a Papal Volunteer, he taught engineering at the Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso in Chile prior to getting his Ph.D.

Sebald is survived by his wife Kathy and their four children. In lieu of an open memorial, a small, private service took place. In lieu of flowers, the family encourages contributions to Alzheimer’s San Diego.

“Our family encourages other families to be mindful of behavioral changes in their loved ones that could be early signs of dementia,” Sebald’s family said in a statement. “Recognition of the early signs of dementia depends on supportive and observant people at home, work, and in social environments to raise any concerns openly and compassionately so that evaluation and treatment can begin as early as possible.”

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