Vahe Kludjian was a dedicated Long Beach State civil engineering professor who was known for his dry sense of humor and the straw hat he often wore to class.
Kludjian, known to students as “Professor Vahe,” died on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 17 of what appears to be natural causes. He was 73.
According to University Police Department Capt. John Brockie, Kludjian was found dead that morning in Engineering 3 classroom 121-B by another faculty member.
Brockie said there was no evidence of foul play and that Kludjian was already dead by the time Long Beach Fire Department and law enforcement officials arrived on the scene Saturday morning.
An instructor at CSULB since 2005, Kludjian worked with the American Society of Civil Engineers student competition team and was often seen on campus helping the team before its competitions.
According to Lisa Star, associate professor of civil engineering and acting department chair, Kludjian was a “great instructor” who “generously” devoted his time and knowledge to his students and the department.
“His dedication to his students both in his classes and during extracurricular activities was inspiring to the rest of the faculty,” Star said. “We in the department are going to miss him deeply, both personally and professionally.”
Gabriel Bazan, a civil engineering major who graduated from CSULB in 2019, took a civil engineering lecture and lab with Kludjian during the fall 2017 semester. He said that Kludjian “was one of the popular professors” in the civil engineering program and all his students would refer to him by his first name.
“Knowing Professor Vahe passed away in the same building we all shared together at one point during his time at CSULB really dramatizes his earnest dedication to his students,” Bazan said. “His passing is a tragic and unfortunate loss to all.”
Kludjian was known for his “no-nonsense demeanor,” Bazan said, and that although he would “thoroughly scrutinize” students’ civil engineering software set-ups in front of the rest of the class while “lacking few reservations about it, his teaching style came from a good place.”
“Professor Vahe was full of so much insight. There couldn’t have been anyone better,” Bazan said. “He was passionate about his field of study and it showed. He would go into great detail about the day’s subject and, albeit stoic, his face would light up whenever someone had a question during lecture. He’d go as far as to educate us on the history of theorems and methods.”
During lab sessions, Bazan said that his class would walk on lower campus to and from the engineering building and the Walter Pyramid, and he and his classmates would often “crowd around” Kludjian just to listen to him speak.
“Professor Vahe really knew his stuff,” Bazan said.
Matthew Mendoza, co-president of the ASCE, said that Kludjian “was an incredibly important part” of the ASCE student chapter and was “responsible for the success of not only our teams but many of the students he worked with.”
“He was devoted to his students and was everything you could’ve asked for in a professor, leader and mentor,” Mendoza said.
Reddit user NeoCEmatrix, a CSULB alumnus, said they fondly remember being in Kludjian’s class as he would often integrate life lessons into his teaching.
“I’ll never forget our talks during surveying class with him having his straw hat on while gazing into the distance, monitoring [the] surveying progress of the whole class simultaneously dropping life gems on me,” they wrote. “Much love and respect, I hope his family knows he was loved and appreciated.”
Mary Jreisat, civil engineering major who graduated from CSULB in 2015, said she was “fortunate enough” to take a few civic engineering classes taught by Kludjian, including a surveying and mapping lecture and lab as well as a concrete design and fluid mechanics lab.
She said she “made it a priority” each term to take any classes that he was teaching and even arranged her entire schedule to do so.
“Professor Vahe was a special person in the engineering department, super funny and could always be found sitting in one of his laboratories,” Jreisat said. “He was so knowledgeable and eager to teach. He was the type of professor that went out of his way to explain things when someone didn’t understand. He was a treasure to the engineering department.”
Jennifer Iuarca, an academic coach in CSULB’s Learning Center, said she had met with Kludjian regarding a private student situation and said he was “incredibly supportive of that student, and it made all the difference in that student’s experience.”
“He was always out helping students in the parking lot with surveying equipment too,” she said. “He was easy to find because of that.”
According to Raul Cervantes, a fourth-year civil engineering major, all civil engineering majors have to register for surveying and mapping, which requires them to take at least one class with Kludjian.
“He had a very dry sense of humor, but it was hilarious as long as you weren’t the one at the end of it,” Cervantes said. “He was an extremely dedicated man, and he helped no matter what time of day it was.”
Cervantes said that his lab partner called Kludjian on the phone to ask for help one day, and he walked her through the entire surveying lab, which Cervantes said was “not short.”
“You really grow to respect people like him that are that dedicated to their craft,” Cervantes said.
Another one of Kludjian’s civil engineering students, Evert Vencer, said that although Kludjian instructed with “long lectures and labs,” his teaching style “shows how dedicated he was to teaching and caring for his students.”
“He was a good man,” said Vencer, a fourth-year civil engineering major. “He’d make sure to walk you through the lab and would be with you no matter how long it took for you to understand how to do the work. May he rest in paradise.”
In honor of Kludjian, the College of Engineering held two separate virtual memorial services as “a safe space for COE students, faculty and staff to share their grieving processes and discuss coping and self-care strategies,” according to Tracy Bradley Maples, interim dean of the engineering department.
Facilitated by Counseling and Psychological Services and the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, these gatherings occurred via Zoom, one for students and one for faculty, and were “very well attended,” Maples said.
The engineering department also collected cards and notes and sent them to Kludjian’s family.
According to a family member, a funeral service will be held Tuesday, Nov. 10 in honor of Kludjian.
This story was updated on Nov. 5 to correct information regarding Kludjian’s passing.