Professor Emeritus Laszlo Szijj, who taught in the Department of Biological Sciences for 40 years, has died of cardiac arrest after a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 88.
Szijj (pronounced “see”) immigrated to Canada from Hungary and received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He began his career at Cal Poly Pomona in the fall of 1963, when he was hired as an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences. He went on to teach ecology, ornithology, biogeology, vertebrate zoology, and animal behavior.
Professor Emeritus Glenn Stewart was hired at the same time as Szijj. He recalled what made Szijj’s lectures special, regardless of the topic.
“He was always interesting and informative,” Stewart said. “His lectures often were spiced with humor, generally subtle, and he had the ability to illustrate his lectures with accurate blackboard/whiteboard drawings. He was demanding on his students because he really wanted them to learn, but most of them appreciated this.”
Stewart, who shared an office with Szijj for five years, said they developed a series of field courses in the 1980s that included studying biology in Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Gulf of California. The opportunities allowed students to gain practical field experiences and exposure to different environments and cultures.
“Laszlo Szijj was the real inspiration and brains behind all of these courses,” Stewart said. “For a number of the students, the experience led to new career plans, jobs, or the pursuit of further education. For all of us, Laszlo will be greatly missed.”
One of the field courses in wildlife ecology gave students the opportunity to meet professionals from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
In 1989, with the help of John Baskin, Szijj started a field course called “Tropical Field Biology” in conjunction with the University of Venezuela in Caracas. CPP students had the opportunity to study there for three weeks and reciprocated by hosting small groups of faculty and students in Pomona. The course was later offered in Costa Rica.
In collaboration with other faculty, an upper division field course was developed called “Field Studies in Baja” on the Gulf of California. The course was hosted by a specialist in sea turtle biology who was a retired fisheries biologist with the government of Mexico.
Laszlo Szijj is survived by his son Antal, daughter Eva, and granddaughter Audrey.