Campus remembers leader in cybersecurity, machine learning, high performance computing

John Cavazos Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Delaware, died on Nov. 3, 2018. He was 49.

“John left us all too soon,” said Kathy McCoy, chair of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences. “Throughout his courageous battle, he remained incredibly optimistic and continued to work on his passion at the University and at his company. He cared deeply about his work and his students and his colleagues. He will be sorely missed.”

Dr. Cavazos was born in Harlingen, Texas, on July 3, 1969. He received a doctoral degree in computer science from the University of Massachusetts and joined UD in 2007. During his time at UD, he was a JPMorgan Chase Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Financial Services Analytics. He was also founder and CEO of AI Cyber Security start-up Cyber 20/20 Inc.

As a researcher, Dr. Cavazos published extensively in the areas of cybersecurity, machine learning, high performance computing and compilers. He was one of the first researchers to work on applying machine learning to improve compilers, a field of research that has since grown and flourished. In 2010, he received the prestigious NSF Career award for his research on applying machine learning to compiler optimizations. Later, he focused on large-scale static and dynamic analysis of malicious applications.

“John has left quite a mark on the University of Delaware and on his research field,” said McCoy. “He has had a wide variety of collaborations resulting in funding and publications with people from across campus to around the world. In addition, he has made significant marks on several fields — often applying machine learning techniques — to parallel programming, high performance computing, compilers (optimization), financial analytics and cybersecurity. In recent years, cybersecurity was his passion, and in 2015 he founded and launched a company, Cyber 20/20. He had great vision and passion for his work and led with a great deal of creativity. He shared some of that passion and vision in a cutting edge graduate class in Cyber Analytics in spring 2017 — applying machine learning techniques to cybersecurity.”

McCoy continued “John thoroughly enjoyed working with students — from Ph.D. students to undergraduates. When in the middle of a great project, he would be in almost constant contact driving the project on — in the middle of the night if that is what it took. John also had a softer, mentoring side. He has some education and mentoring grants to his credit and has participated in workshops in that area. He several times attended the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference — most recently he went in 2017 accompanying a group of students from our department.”

Babatunde Ogunnaike, former dean of the College of Engineering and William L. Friend Chair of Chemical Engineering, said, “To me, John was that rare academic ‘tri-athlete’ who excelled in each of the three modern academic missions of Knowledge Transmission (i.e., teaching), Knowledge Generation (research) and Knowledge Translation (practice and entrepreneurship). As a teacher and mentor, John loved interacting with students and students loved interacting with him; as a researcher, John is known globally and well-respected in the community for his expertise in machine learning, high performance computing, predictive analytics and more recently in cybersecurity. And as an entrepreneur and visionary leader, John took the unusual step (unusual in today’s academia) of translating his significant contributions to cybersecurity into the start-up company, Cyber 20/20, for which he served as CEO until the very end. We will miss him for a long, long time.”

Dr. Cavazos is survived by his wife, Victoria Stephanie Emma Kumaran of London, UK; two sons: John Matthew Cavazos of New Castle, Delaware, and Louis John Cavazos of Germany; daughter, Emma Luisa Cavazos of Germany; father, Juan W. Cavazos of Brownsville, Texas; mother, Maria Reyna Cavazos of Trenton, Illinois; and three sisters: Patricia Cavazos-Rehg (Mike) of Trenton, Illinois, Jessica Cavazos-Rochat (Ross) of Chesterfield, Missouri, and Roxanne Vara (Robert) of Kingwood, Texas.

A visitation and graveside service were held on Thursday, Nov. 8.

Contributions can be made in memory of Dr. Cavazos here, on University of Delaware’s secure website. Because of Dr. Cavazos’ care for and mentoring of students and his love for travel, contributions in his memory will be used to fund student conference travel in his name. If you wish to contribute to this effort, please select “CIS Student Enrichment Fund” here. Contributions can also be mailed to the University of Delaware, Gifts Processing, 83 East Main St., 3rd Fl., Newark, DE 19716. Please make checks payable to “University of Delaware” and include on the memo line “in memory of Dr. Cavazos.”