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Students and faculty mourn Engineering lecturer

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 10, 2013

Jason Daida, an associate research scientist and lecturer at the University, died Wednesday night after a battle with cancer. He was 53.

Daida was an instructor for Engineering 100 and 101 courses, and was also a frequent visiting faculty member at the University’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University joint institute in China, where he also taught first-year engineering courses.

He is survived by his wife, Sandy, and his three children.

Engineering Prof. James Holloway sent an e-mail on Thursday morning to Engineering undergraduates announcing Daida’s death and expressing sympathy to students and faculty.

“He will be sorely missed by colleagues, students and staff in the College, across the University and at SJTU,” he wrote. “Jason’s loss is tragic, but he had such a positive impact on so many, that truly his life was blessed.”

In a joint statement, Jim Slavin, chair of the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, and Engineering Prof. Mark Daskin, expressed grief for students who will never be able to benefit from his instruction.

“We are especially grieved to think of the students who will now never be able to learn from this extraordinary teacher and mentor,” the statement said. “Jason’s ENG 100 students were always inspired by their first taste of working on engineering design teams and they became part of a much larger mentorship network with him at its center.”

Daida’s research focused on the theory and application of computational intelligence supporting open-ended problem solving, discovery and innovation. His research is also applicable to earth and space sciences and genetic programming.

He earned the Engineering’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2004, the Best Paper Award in Genetic Programming from the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference in 2003 and the Coca-Cola Foundation Faculty Recognition Award in 1999.

A founding editorial member of the Journal of Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines, Daida contributed extensively in the latter field. The journal includes reports and papers related to hardware implementations, artificial life, molecular computing and emergent computation techniques.

Daida graduated with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1992, where he worked as a research assistant from 1990 to 1991. In 1991, he worked as an adjunct assistant professor at the University, where he became a lecturer and associate research scientist in 2000.

Diada also reached out to students on a personal level. Engineering sophomore Aditya Chintalapati, wrote in a statement that during his first Thanksgiving in the United States, the Diada family opened their home to students alone for the holiday and helped familiarize them with an American tradition. Chintalapati recounted how he and two other students felt completely at home with their professor discussing everything from coursework to Daida's own college experiences.

“We were homesick, and eating a meal with a family (although you knew it wasn't your family the Daidas made us feel like we were one of their own) felt incredibly comforting," Chintalapati wrote.

Daida consistently challenged and inspired his students through unorthodox teaching methods. Chintalapati highlighted Diada's lecture on the many ways the world could end, at the end of which he presented solutions and a challenge for his engineering students to use their skills to prevent the apocalypse.

“He then made us stand up, put our hand on our chest and repeat a bunch of lines — basically (making us pledge) to be problem solvers and dream makers," Chintalapati wrote. “He was committed to making a difference and the world needs more people like him.”


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