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August 31, 2017

Obituary: Tsung Wei Sze

Tsung Wei Sze, former Fessenden Professor (1957-62) and Westinghouse Professor (1962-65) in the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, died Aug. 11, 2017. He was 95.

Sze – known to friends as Wayne – joined the Pitt faculty in 1954 and served as associate dean for graduate studies and research (1970-77), as well as acting dean of engineering (1972-73). While at Pitt he worked as a consultant to Remington Univac Company, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Westinghouse Airbrake Company and Wheeling Steel Corporation, and was named a NATO Senior Fellow in 1968.

Sze established the University’s Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Laboratory in 1976, and was its director through the rest of his career. He was instrumental in introducing computers to his engineering students, and wrote textbooks for early classes on computer systems and programming languages. He also mentored 32 PhD students’ dissertations.

Ching-Chung Li, faculty member in the Swanson School’s electrical and computer engineering department, recalled Sze’s work to develop the engineering graduate student program and how Sze mentored new faculty such as Li.

“He was an excellent teacher, especially of graduate students,” Li said. “He devoted his whole life to education, and to Pitt.”

Sze’s son Daniel remembered watching Pitt football games at Pitt Stadium from his father’s office window in Pennsylvania Hall (now K. Leroy Irvis Hall), and attending all the home games during Pitt’s 1976 championship season.

“He was very dedicated to his field,” Daniel said. “He often worked so hard and so late he would go for many days a week without eating dinner with his family.”

Sze retired in 1993.

Born Sept. 13, 1921, in Shanghai, China, Sze attended National Jiao Tong University for engineering, where he helped lead the anti-Japanese underground resistance prior to World War II, then left to join the Chinese Army as an English interpreter to the U.S. Air Force. He was discharged in the U.S. as a lieutenant colonel.

Remaining in this country – with just $30 – he earned a BSEE at the University of Missouri, an MSEE at Purdue University and a PhD from Northwestern University in 1954.

Sze worked to connect Pitt to engineering talent in China and Taiwan throughout his career. Appointed an adjunct professor at Jiao Tong University, he helped establish exchange programs for electrical engineering students and faculty between its campuses and Pitt.

Sze is survived by his wife of 65 years, Frances Tung Sze; children David, Daniel and Deborah Sze Modzelewski; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Memorial donations are requested to the Tsung Wei Sze Fund at The Lifespace Foundation, 1290 Boyce Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15241, for construction of a new gazebo. Condolences may be emailed to


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 1

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