In Memoriam

Joseph F. Traub, Computer Science Department Founder and Longtime SEAS Professor

Joseph F. Traub, 83, a pioneering computer scientist and founder of Columbia’s Computer Science Department, died on August 24, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Traub was among the first to fully grasp the potential of computers and spent his career exploring new algorithmic methods while building and strengthening institutions that promoted computer science.

Traub, Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Computer Science, was most known for his work on optimal algorithms and computational complexity of continuous problems. In collaboration with Henryk Woźniakowski, now professor emeritus of computer science, Traub created the field of information-based complexity, where the goal is to understand the cost of solving problems when information is partial, contaminated, or priced. Understanding the role of information about a problem was a unifying theme of Traub’s research.

He contributed many significant new algorithms—including the Jenkins-Traub algorithm for polynomial zeros, the Kung-Traub algorithm for comparing the expansion of an algebraic function, and the Shaw-Traub algorithm to increase computational speed—and wrote or edited 10 monographs and 120 papers in the fields of computer science, mathematics, physics, computational finance, and quantum computing.

Dean Mary C. Boyce said, “Joe’s contributions to Columbia’s Computer Science Department have been instrumental in establishing the strong foundation of excellence of our Computer Science Department today, enabling our ongoing frontier leadership in this field. He will be sorely missed by all of us at Columbia and by the computer science community across the globe.”

Traub attended Bronx High School of Science and City College of New York before entering Columbia University in 1954, where he earned his PhD in 1959 under the Committee of Applied Mathematics at Columbia. After graduation, Traub joined Bell Labs, where he began his work on computational complexity. In 1971, he was appointed chair of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University; under his direction, the department grew from fewer than 10 faculty members to 50 to become one of the top computer science departments in the country. In 1979, at the invitation of Engineering Dean Peter Likens, Traub returned to his alma mater to become founding chair of Columbia’s Computer Science Department.

Because of his reputation and contacts, he was able to raise funds for the new department and attract top faculty and students. Within a year, the department was awarding BS, MS, and PhD degrees. Traub chaired the department for 10 years, and, in 1982, he oversaw the construction of the Computer Science Building.

In 1985, he became the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Complexity, a position he held at the time of his death. He founded also the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies, serving as chair from 1986 until 1992, and again in 2005 and 2009.

His numerous awards and honors included election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1985, the 1991 Emanuel R. Piore Gold Medal from IEEE, and the 1992 Distinguished Service Award from the Computer Research Association (CRA). He was a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), and the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS).

In 2012, his 80th birthday was commemorated by a symposium at Davis Auditorium to celebrate his research and contributions to computer science.

At the time of his death, he also was an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute and played a variety of roles over the years, often organizing workshops to bring together those working in science and math. He is survived by his wife, Pamela McCorduck, and two daughters, Claudia Traub-Cooper and Hillary Spector.


Devoted alumnus and retired engineering professor Daniel Dicker EngScD’61, who taught at Stony Brook University for many years, passed away on April 4, 2015, in Jericho, NY.

Daniel received a BS from City College, ME from New York University, and EngScD from Columbia, all in civil engineering and engineering mechanics. After graduation, he worked in New York City, including a stint at C.L. Bogert and at Praeger- Kavanagh Engineers, where he did structural engineering for the Sprain River Parkway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and the Cleveland subway.

An expert in boundary value problems of solids and fluids and the aeroelastic analysis of suspension bridges, Daniel joined SUNY–Stony Brook as a professor of engineering and applied mathematics. He received the Norman Medal and the Arthur Wellington Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers for his analyses of the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the 1967 collapse of the “Silver Bridge” over the Ohio River.

In 1969, Daniel was elected a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. He was a visiting research fellow at Harvard and MIT and visiting professor at Imperial College of Technology in London and the University of the West Indies in Barbados.

At Columbia Engineering, Daniel was a singularly devoted alumnus. Over the years, he was a class agent for the Engineering Fund, a member of the Leadership Gifts Committee, president of the Columbia Engineering Alumni Association, and chair of the CEAA executive committee and the Egleston Medal Selection Committee. In 1994, he received the Alumni Federation Medal for his service to the University.

He is survived by his wife, Belle, and his children, Stephen and Barbara.

Health care businessman and philanthropist Stanley Dicker EngScD’61, a University benefactor and longtime, loyal supporter of Columbia Engineering, passed away peacefully on April 15, 2015, at his home in Kings Point, NY.

Stanley received his BS from Brooklyn Polytechnic and his EngScD from Columbia Engineering, both in mechanical engineering. He began his long, successful career in the health care industry shortly after graduation from Columbia. By the time of his death, Stanley owned and operated two nursing homes, a health homecare business, an adult day care center, and an ambulatory surgical care center.

Stanley credited Columbia with helping launch his career. “When I became a graduate student, I had a family with two young daughters that I needed to support,” he said. “SEAS helped me find a position as a research engineer at Columbia, which allowed me to complete my doctoral studies.”

His philanthropy combined his interests in engineering and health care. In 1996, he endowed the Stanley Dicker Professorship in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia, held by Van C. Mow, founding chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He later established two scholarships for undergraduates majoring in biomedical engineering in honor of his father and mother, the Jack Dicker Scholarship and the Freda Dicker Scholarship.

Stanley is survived by his wife, Eileen Shapins; daughters Marcia Trupin and Meryl Dicker; stepdaughter, Lisa Lawrence, and her husband, Jon; and four grandchildren.

Edward “Ed” James Alfano BS’05 of Southampton, NJ, died May 25, 2015, after a fatal fall in a rock-climbing accident. He was 31. Ed graduated from high school near the top of his class, then went on to pursue an engineering degree at SEAS, where he majored in chemical engineering. He graduated magna cum laude in 2005.

“Ed was a close friend, and I am deeply saddened by his death,” said Edward Leonard, longtime professor of chemical engineering at SEAS. “He was a very broad gauge, thoughtful, energetic, and morally good person.”

Shortly after graduating from Columbia, Ed worked as a consultant at the Monitor Group and subsequently at Extera Partners. In 2007, Ed and his brother, Mark, cofounded Lumina Prep, an online educational company. The startup enjoyed some success, including pro bono contributions to several local charities whose mission was to improve the educational prospects of low-income students. Ed soon returned to school, earning both his MS and MBA from MIT in 2013.

He met wife, Waenyod Wongtrangan, in 2008, and they wed on August 4, 2013, in Bangkok. They shared the same adventurous spirit and love for travel. After graduating from MIT, Ed joined McKinsey & Co. as a consultant. While there, he spearheaded an effort to reform internal conflict-of-interest and disclosure policies and practices. He also worked on teams in Texas, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, and elsewhere. In 2015, his efforts were recognized with a promotion to engagement manager. Around this time, Ed and Waenyod began to consider settling down in Bangkok, where they planned to raise a family.

According to his obituary, “His family, his loving wife, and his many friends will miss his ready wit, his forgiving disposition, his fierce loyalty, and his thirst to savor every hour before that eternal silence.” Ed is survived by his wife, Waenyod; his parents, Ronald and Marge Alfano; brother and sister Mark Alfano and Shelley Berad; brothers-in-law Pinrath and Makutchai; and Waenyod’s parents, Kanok and Chaloeylakana Wongtrangan.

Spencer I. Omuemu BS’14 of New York City, formerly of Blackstone and Framingham, MA, died suddenly on March 1, 2015. He was 23. After graduating in 2014 from SEAS, where he majored in biomedical engineering, Spencer worked at Blackrock Financial in New York City. According to his obituary, Spencer had a passion for the Big Brother/Sister organization, which he held dear to him. He did volunteer work in New Orleans and Argentina, loved to cook, and held a black belt in mixed martial arts. Born in Natick, MA, Spencer was the beloved son of Mercy Morgan and cherished nephew of Kate Morgan. He leaves siblings Stephanie, Sylvester, and Sophia. He also leaves his father, Sylvester Omuemu Sr., and many beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family, and friends.


We also have learned of the passing of the following alumni:

V. Hamilton Baillard BS’25, ’23CC
Charles J. Frehner BS’32, ChE’33, ’31CC
Cleveland R. Horne Jr. MS’38
Allan L. Tarr MS’38
William O. Jewett Jr. MS’39
Charles H. Doersam Jr. BS’42, MS’44, ’42CC
Francis A. Brandt BS’43
Dr. Gilbert M. Turner BS’43, ’43CC
Seymour F. Rappoport BS’44, MS’51
George Sege BS’44, MS’47
Thomas Sege BS’44, MS’48
Warren L. Serenbetz BS’44, MS’49
I. Meyer Pincus, Esq. BS’45, ’49LAW
August E. Sapega BS’46, MS’51
Barnet R. Adelman BS’47, MS’48
Roger W. A. LeGassie BS’47 ’48CC
Victor J. Magistrale BS’47
Irwin R. Schneider, USN MS’47
Fiorino Dipaolo BS’48
Morton H. Dorenfeld BS’48, MS’50
Varne M. Kimmick BS’48
Leon Lipson BS’48
George H. Snyder BS’48
Bernard J. Yokelson BS’48
Dr. Stanley W. Dziuban MS’49, PhD’55
Bob Gresl BS’49, MS’54
Howard E. Lustig BS’49, MS’51, PhD’56
Robert G. McCoy MS’49
William J. Herbert BS’50
Ralph A. Hess BS’50
John Q. McQuillan BS’50
William E. Thomas BS’50, MS’51
Dr. Raphael R. Thelwell BS’51
Dr. James J. Kauzlarich MS’52
Samuel Schalkowsky BS’52
Chichang Hsu BS’53, ’52CC
Elliot J. Brebner BS’54, MS’59, ’53CC
Dr. Mitchell Litt BS’54, MS’56, EngScD’61, ’53CC
Robert L. Simis BS’54
John B. Campbell BS’55
Harold Goldwasser MS’55
Dr. Robert B. Ash BS’56, MS’57, PhD’60, ’55CC
Dr. Frank P. Kuhl Jr. BS’57
Bruce Scott BS’57
Richard W. Bossert, PhD BS’59, ’58CC
Frederick G. Simpson BS’59
Dr. Joseph C. Wyman EngScD’59
Shelby T. Brewer BS’60, ’59CC
David M. Mandelbaum MS’60
William C. Abbott MS’61
Pablo G. Bechteler MS’63
Thomas H. Becker MS’64, PhD’68
Joseph P. Napolitano MS’64
Kenneth Brayer MS’65
Kenneth S. C. Fung EngScD’65
Dr. Benjamin F. Logan Jr. EngScD’65
Thomas L. Dutton BS’67
Dr. Aristides C. Fronistas MS’73
Eugenia M. Flatow MS’75
Terence W. Murphy MS’75
Franco A. Colalillo MS’79
Mark P. Pettigrew MS’79
Alice Christensen MS’83
Dr. Rakesh Bali MS’89, PhD’95BUS
Andrew Gabriel Merey BS’92
Charles Egidio Bettinelli Jr. BS’98, ’98CC
Sergio Coutinho de Biasi MS’08
Rustam Salari MS’08, ’04CC