In Memoriam: Sedat Serdengecti

Harvey Mudd College Engineering Professor Emeritus Sedat Serdengecti, known for his dedication to learning and caring for others, passed away Nov. 30 from a heart attack at the age of 87. 

Serdengecti began teaching at the college in 1961 as an assistant
professor in the physics department, later joining the engineering department. He became a pivotal faculty member,
developing comprehension courses to help students understand computing theory
and practice, creating the system sequence for the engineering program,
chairing the college’s computer science group and contributing significantly
to the Mathematics and Engineering Clinics.

HMC
alumnus Cliff Sedlund ’84, who was a student in Serdengecti’s Advanced Systems
Engineering class, described his former teacher as a tough but caring person.

“He definitely had a reputation as being a tough teacher,
and gave hard tests, and grades were typically pretty low,” Sedlund
said. “I think it helped the students … to
really figure things out and not just skate through the class. The way he
taught was methodical and he went over it enough so you could eventually
understand it … He drilled it into us enough so it finally started making
sense.”

HMC Engineering Professor Emeritus James Monson
echoed these sentiments, recalling his experience developing the foundation of
the engineering department with Serdengecti. The
two had both entered the engineering department in 1961 as two of the first engineering faculty
members. During this time he grew to know Serdengecti not only as a colleague, but also as a friend.

“He was a very special person in that he had very high
standards both for students and for himself,” Monson said. “His idea was that giving a hard test was really respecting a
student’s
ability. He was always so dedicated and concerned with his students. He was a really extraordinary person [and] a really great
reason why the engineering program is where it is today.”

HMC Physics Professor Emeritus Thomas Helliwell highlighted the more caring side of
his former
colleague, describing him in an email to TSL as possessing an “intellect, warmth, and careful, clear way of speaking.”

Helliwell recalled an experience when he asked Serdengecti
to substitute for one of his classes so he could have the morning off to
prepare for his thesis defense at the California Institute of Technology.

“My oral
thesis defense was scheduled for the early afternoon on a day when I was
supposed to teach our junior-level physics course in thermodynamics and
statistical mechanics in the morning … so I
asked Sedat if he would be a guest lecturer in my course,” Helliwell wrote. “He graciously agreed. I still remember that his
lecture was embarrassingly good compared with my own, a model of organization,
clarity and insight.”

According to HMC’s website, Serdengecti was born in İzmit, Turkey in 1927, and
went on to graduate from Kütahya Lyceum in 1944. He later received an M.E. from
Syracuse University in 1951 and an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1952, followed by a Ph.D. in jet propulsion and engineering cybernetics in 1955, both from Caltech.

Serdengecti is survived by his wife Sue, his daughter Alysa and son Kemal.

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