David Hakken impacted the lives of scores of students and researchers throughout his career, and he helped build the interdisciplinary spirit that is the hallmark of the School of Informatics and Computing.
Hakken passed away May 2, 2016, after losing a battle with cancer. The professor of informatics stayed involved in teaching until nearly the end of his life, and his bravery set an example for his students and colleagues.
“Despite his illness and treatment, he continued to be engaged with his students until the very last days,” says Erik Stolterman, chair of the informatics program. “Each of us not only grieves at the passing of a dedicated scholar, colleague, and friend but also for the loss his family, especially his wife, Barbara, suffers.”
Hakken was born Nov. 6, 1946, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and after earning valedictorian honors from West Ottawa High School in Holland, Michigan, he earned his undergraduate degree in history from Stanford University in 1968. He then received a Master of Anthropology degree from the University of Chicago four years later, and in 1979, he earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from American University.
“He was a person of enormous energy,” says his wife, Barbara Andrews, who is an adjunct associate professor at SoIC. “He was a very honest person. He was very principled. He believed that if something wasn’t right, you had to do something about it. It wasn’t somebody else’s responsibility. It was everybody’s responsibility.”
Hakken first landed at the State University of New York Institute of Technology at Utica in 1978, and he climbed the ladder by teaching courses in sociology, anthropology, computer science, and information design and technology. A chance meeting with Bill Aspray, the first full-time professor at the then-School of Informatics, at a meeting of the Society for Social Study of Science led to Hakken bringing his vision to IU in 2004.
“Bill said to him, ‘We’re expanding Informatics at IU. Would you be interested?’ Andrews says. “David said yes. Part of it was that Bill presented it as an opportunity to form the direction of things in this new program. It seemed very exciting to David. It came about pretty quickly.”
Hakken quickly became the director of the Social Informatics program.
“From the early days of the SoIC, David played a strong role in the vision and development of the school, as well as touching many colleagues and students,” said David Leake, executive associate dean and a professor of computer science. “He will be deeply missed.”
Hakken’s work earned him multiple awards and honors, including a departmental fellowship with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Trento in Italy. He also wrote five books and was the inaugural recipient of the American Anthropological Association’s Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology in 1999, and he was a Fulbright scholar. He also wrote hundreds of papers, but it was his influence on students that might have the most lasting impact.
“It is almost impossible to recount all the great things David did for me,” says Paula Mate, a current Ph.D. student who was advised by Hakken. “I would not be here if it weren’t for David. I feel indebted to him not only for his academic knowledge but also for his methods to approach problem solving and how to navigate the academic world. David was a good and honest person with a generous and kind soul. I mourn for the collegial relationship that will never be, the connections, the career advice, the opportunity to collaborate on future projects.”
Mate’s experience wasn’t unique.
“David was my doctoral advisor, but he was much more than that,” says Jennifer Terrell, who is now a lecturer in informatics at SoIC. “He was a mentor, a father figure, and certainly a dear friend. David helped me change my life forever. He always made time for me. He sat and talked me through a myriad of ideas, he challenged me, he comforted me, he frustrated me, but he always supported me. David's legacy, to me, is in the form of my mentoring, teaching, and the way I approach education. David taught me to be a mentor who cares about people as individual people. He taught me to question. He taught me to advocate. That's what I'll do, because David helped me find my passion for this.”
Hakken had the same kind of personal impact on his colleagues.
“David played a formative role in the development of our doctoral program and the interdisciplinary vision of the School of Informatics and Computing,” says Eden Medina, an associate professor of informatics and computing. “He was strongly committed to bringing insights and methods from the social sciences and humanities to the study of computing, and he instilled this commitment in our graduate students. He inspired students by engaging them in challenging conversations and provided a model for how scholars can push one another to clarify the assumptions underlying their work. He was a powerful intellectual force and a generous colleague.”
Outside of education, Hakken put his knowledge to work helping others through projects such as “Suitcase,” which utilized technology to support the continued independence of seniors, and “Transitions,” which was a process evaluation of three independent living center-based programs to help students with disabilities. Hakken also volunteered with a coalition for better schools, and he was part of a group of people in Utica who tried to organize a citizen’s review board of the police department.
“If there was something that needed to be done and people needed to get involved, he was one of the people who volunteered to help,” Andrews says. “That was what made him such a well-known and good person.”