Dr. Ronald Harvey Heck died on January 11, 2023 at the age of 71. With the College of Education (COE) since 1987, he was a professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration (EDEA). Heck was a nationally renowned education scholar and teacher, writing influential work on the effects of school leadership for more than 30 years.
Heck was born on April 4, 1951, in Santa Monica, California. His father owned blueprint businesses in Santa Monica and Tarzana, California while his mother taught middle school physical education and English. He earned a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology, a master’s degree in educational psychology, and a PhD in organizations and policy from the University of California Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara).
In 1978, Heck began his first job with Southern California’s Simi Valley Unified School District as a student teacher. He would go on to teach at the elementary level before becoming part of a team that created the Oak Park Unified District. During that time, he also taught curriculum development courses at Pepperdine University and would rise to become the district’s curriculum coordinator in 1986.
An avid surfer, Heck would often drive from Oak Park Schools to UC Santa Barbara where he would eventually complete his graduate degrees. An essential part of his routine was surfing up the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara on the way to his evening classes. His passion for surfing and the ocean would bring him to Australia, Indonesia, Saipan, and more surfing destinations. His other hobbies included music, literature, and art.
Joining the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa as Assistant Professor of Teacher Education in 1987, Heck was promoted to the rank of full professor in 1992. His work in the COE was tied closely to the Hawai‘i Department of Education and other UH Mānoa units. He was instrumental in reshaping the academic programs in EDEA and worked with hundreds of students who have gone on to elevate the quality of public schools in Hawai‘i through their teaching and leadership. In 2006, he was appointed as the prestigious Dai Ho Chun Endowed Chair.
Heck published more than 100 empirical papers on leadership in education as well as numerous books, technical reports, and assessments. Aside from his widely acclaimed research on school leadership effects, he also made other important programmatic contributions to teacher quality, higher education administration, and applied statistics.
“Ron’s first love was always teaching, and he believed everything else flowed from his time with students,” said Scott Thomas, close friend and colleague. “As a public school teacher in 1986, Ron proclaimed, ʻThere’s nothing I’d rather do than sit down in the afternoon and read a neat story to seven or eight-year-olds.ʻ He went on to say that ʻyou use the same principles of learning whether you are teaching six-year-olds or adults. You just have to adjust the content. I believe if you can teach, you can teach anything.ʻ”
In addition to his brother Robert Gordon (Cherie) Heck, Ron is survived by Loretta Yee, her daughters Christina Yee and Marissa Yee, and his nieces, Katherine Heck, Jennifer Welch, Carly Heck, and Alexis Sutfin. While no services are planned, Heckʻs loved ones shared that he would encourage all of us to remember him by taking time to go out of our way to read to a child, listen, and reflect on the gifts we give through being there for one another.
Heck’s support and advocacy for his colleagues was widely recognized. He was a mentor to countless scholars who have gone on to push the boundaries of research at universities around the globe. He attracted some of the most talented academics in the United States, elevating the stature of the College and University.
“My first meeting with Dr. Heck was unscheduled and, like most who have had the privilege of knowing him, memorable. I had walked into the EDEA office to the very back to talk to the secretary when Dr. Heck walked in. There were only two chairs, and there were three of us. He tried to go out to grab a chair, but I had already sat on the floor, which he found unusual. Without passing any judgement and sensing that I was perhaps a little “different,” he got comfortable in his chair and our meeting ended up being a two-hour talk story session about life in general and particularly about surfing. From that moment on, he has been an amazing mentor for me and just an overall great great guy. He lua ole no.” (Kahea Faria, COE School of Teacher Education Assistant Specialist)
“Ron was such an inspiration, a kind and funny teacher, and a genius with statistics. He will be deeply missed.” (Jessica Miranda, COE Director of Assessment, Accreditation, and Accountability)
“Dr. Heck was my absolute favorite professor during my PhD in Exceptionalities and encouraged me to consider and ultimately choose mixed methods research for my dissertation. I met with him frequently in person, and he managed to break down the processes I needed to conduct with so much patience and clarity. Dr. Heck was a true expert in his field and a wonderful mentor. I should mention, I had just given birth to my second child barely two years after our first child while I took his course. His class was 4:30pm-7pm, but he knew I was commuting via city bus from Waiʻanae and was so understanding of me eating pounds of snacks during his lectures and always allotted time/space for me to be able to pump for my baby. Needless to say, he also served on my committee and went to bat for me at every stage. I will miss him dearly and know so many students and colleagues at UHM were also greatly impacted by his time there.” (Christina Keaulana, Leeward Community College Special Education Coordinator, Teacher Education Program)
“For many of us who knew Ron, he was the consummate advocate for students, devoting his entire career toward their success. Ron will be missed but never forgotten.” (Nathan Murata, COE Dean)