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Remembering Emeritus Regents Professor Kendall Su

Atlanta, GA

By Roger Webb and David Hertling
 

Beloved Emeritus Regents Professor Kendall Su passed away October 26, 2021 at the age of 95. Kendall joined the Georgia Tech Electrical Engineering faculty in the fall of 1954, and retired in 1994, but continued teaching for almost ten years after he “retired.” He was an outstanding teacher, teaching undergraduate circuit theory every year for almost fifty years. He developed and taught a series of graduate courses on network synthesis, published twenty-six refereed research papers, supervised twenty PhD theses and authored six books.

Kendall was born in Nanping, China, on July 10, 1926. In the fall of 1943, he entered college at the National University of Amoy where he completed his bachelor’s degree in electrical and mechanical engineering in 1947. Through a fortunate set of circumstances, Kendall emigrated to the U.S. in 1948 and came to Atlanta, where he completed his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech in 1949. He then earned a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Washington in 1950 before returning to Georgia Tech to enter its newly established doctoral program. Ben Dasher was the school director and Kendall’s Ph.D. advisor. Kendall completed his Ph.D. in 1954 — he was the third person to be granted the Ph.D. in electrical engineering (EE) at Georgia Tech. Professor Dasher offered Kendall a position as assistant professor which he readily accepted and joined the EE faculty in fall of 1954.

During Kendall’s early years on the faculty, the School was severely understaffed, enrollments were continually increasing, faculty teaching loads were onerous, and there was little opportunity to engage in research. However, Kendall, by dint of dedication and talent persevered, publishing his first research paper in 1956, and continuing throughout his career doing research, publishing highly regarded papers and books, and never requesting relief from classroom teaching duties. He was without doubt the School’s first recognized scholar, gaining widespread recognition not only to himself, but also to Georgia Tech. He was the first School faculty member to be awarded the title Regent’s Professor.

Kendall was the mainstay of the required undergraduate circuits courses, so most EE graduates for five decades underwent the “Su treatment”. By a rough estimate, he taught over 10,000 students. When asked, the common student descriptions of Kendall were “tough” and “fair.” Most alumni credit his toughness in the beginning EE courses for preparing them for the rigor that would follow. David McElroy, one of Kendall’s twenty doctoral students remarks, “Dr. Su was an excellent mentor. The training and guidance I experienced under him prepared me well for what is now a 47-year-and-counting successful career at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I appreciate having him as my Ph.D. advisor, my mentor and my friend.

Kendall was universally liked, respected, and admired by his faculty colleagues. “Kendall was a remarkable man, incredibly kind and gracious, and a truly great educator and scholar,” said Professor Emeritus Ed Kamen, who underwent the “Su treatment” as an undergraduate and later knew him for several years as a faculty colleague.

Emeritus Professor and School Chair Roger Webb, who as a graduate student took all of Kendall’s courses and was subsequently his faculty colleague for almost forty years, said about Kendall, “He was by far the best instructor I encountered. His lectures were models of conciseness and clarity.  He was quite simply a master of elucidation”.

Respect and admiration of Kendall is certainly not confined to Georgia Tech. By virtue of his dedication to scholarship and the quality of the results of that scholarship he gained sincere admiration throughout the electrical engineering educational community.

Kendall is survived by his beloved wife, Jennifer, a remarkable person in her own right, and by their two children, Adrienne and Jonathan. Adrienne is poet-in-residence and professor of creative writing at Dickinson College, is the author of five books of poetry, and is the mother of two daughters. Kendall proudly placed the hood on Jonathan when he received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1997. Jonathan is a research scientist at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and has co-authored a textbook on estimation theory with Ed Kamen.

Kendall Su, a quiet, self-effacing, and gentle man, came to us as an immigrant, engaged in a profession at which he truly excelled, fathered a remarkable family, garnered the respect and admiration of all who knew him or of him, and leaves us with an enduring legacy.

Last revised May 16, 2022