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‘There was never a moment where he wasn’t all in’: Statistics professor John Dobelman passes away


Photo courtesy Rice News

By Spring Chenjp     6/7/23 2:28pm

John Dobelman, a professor in the statistics department, passed away May 9 at the age of 65 after battling cancer intermittently for 25 years.

In addition to being a professor, Dobelman was the founding director of the professional masters program in the statistics department and the associate director of the Center for Computational Finance and Economic Systems. 

Dobelman received his bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees from Rice in electrical engineering, business and public management and statistics, respectively. His career began as a research engineer in the space physics and astronomy department, later working as lead engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration’s facilities and equipment program before eventually returning to Rice. 

Grace Nie, a third-year doctoral student, said her time as Dobelman’s teaching assistant made a deep impression on her, inspiring her to put together a digital memory book in his honor.

“[Another teaching assistant] was looking for jobs and I remember Dr. Dobelman would ... keep an eye out for any opportunities that might be appropriate,” Nie said. “That detail is very amazing to me. It’s not like he and the [teaching assistant] had met many times or was his research student … Dr. Dobelman really tries to help each and every student and person he gets to know.”

Nie said she was touched by Dobelman’s concern following her own mother’s passing from cancer, especially in light of his own diagnosis.

“He asked me about her last moments,” Nie said. “The emphasis was on what me and my dad were going through during the last moments of her passing. I think he might have wanted to know what his family members might go through and his worry for them and love for them really shone through when he was asking me that.”

According to Katherine Ensor, professor of statistics and the director of CoFES, Dobelman was remembered by his students and peers for his dedication and inventive thinking.

“We wanted to set up this trading competition with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange,” Ensor said. “He spent his winter break making sure that was ready for when the semester started. We’d never done anything like that before. To do something for the first time takes a lot of learning and he brought that to us … There was never a moment where he wasn’t all in.”

Ensor added that Dobelman’s involvement with the department, including his work with CoFES and the statistics masters program, surpassed the typical responsibilities of a professor.

“[Dobelman was] generous with his time and interactions, [he] truly, truly cared about everyone,” Ensor said. “His contributions [to CoFES] have been tremendous in helping with the programming, outreach to industry leaders and keeping our alumni connected.”

Rudy Guerra, chair of the statistics department, remembers Dobelman for his commitment and care for his students.

“He was an outstanding administrator, but his love and passion was for our students and their

successes,” Guerra wrote in an email to the Thresher. “He was very approachable and always had the student’s best interest in mind, often continuing to follow their careers well after leaving Rice.”

Guerra added that Dobelman’s contributions to Rice went beyond the statistics department. Dobelman helped to develop courses for the masters in industrial engineering, served as the director of Friends of Fondren Library and was the faculty sponsor for three undergraduate student organizations: the Chabad Jewish Student Life Club, Rice Undergraduate Finance Club and Rice Computational Finance Club.

Dobelman’s family declined a request for an interview. According to Rice News, Dobelman is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

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