Founding Director of the Center for Disabilities Studies, Bob Stodden, Retires (HI UCEDD)

August 10, 2015

One of the University of Hawai'i's longest-serving leaders, Dr. Robert Stodden, called an end to over three decades at the helm of the Center on Disability Studies (CDS) on December 31, 2014. Dr. Stodden, founder of the CDS, lead the center as it became a top-rated research and technical assistance unit with over 100 faculty and staff, and netting a whopping $17 million revenue a year in grants. As a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the CDS rose to local and regional prominence through Stodden's unique leadership style and sweeping vision of inclusion that was unstoppable for decades. His decision to retire brought to a close a remarkable career of continuous service to the University and to the disability and education sectors at large.

The CDS staff and faculty did not release their boss to the wild frontiers of retirement until the farewell parties and lunches ended, culminating in a ‘Retirement Party to Remember' at the University President's house, a sprawling tropical villa complete with a grand piano, winding staircases and 19th century furnishings. Over a scrumptious dinner and special recital by famed jazz pianist Betty Loo Taylor, 140 people bid farewell to the beloved leader.

Robert Stodden's career narrative is the classic academic rags to riches story. In 1988, Stodden, along with Mr. Tom Uno (now with the Arizona Center), founded the Hawai'i Center (University Affiliated Program) as an Organized Research Unit (ORU) recognized by the University Board of Regents. Over the years the Center successfully competed for research and training funds across almost all federal agencies and private foundations, contributing significantly to disability issues nationally, regionally and throughout the State of Hawai'i. Dr. Kelly Roberts, principal investigator of multimillion dollar grants at the Center, said, "Working under Bob on so many grants and initiatives afforded me new insights and meaning as to what leadership is and should be. He will be sorely missed."

For numerous early and mid career academics and practitioners, Stodden's leadership and mentorship style jumpstarted a multitude of next generation movers and shakers. Serving as a professor of Disability Studies and Special Education at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Stodden supported and mentored numerous doctoral students and junior faculty toward successful careers addressing disability issues in health, human service, and education fields. "If it wasn't for Bob's tremendous leadership, I would not be where I am today," said a teary-eyed retirement well-wisher.

Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Robert Stodden's work has and will continue to inspire the next era of researchers, educators and advocates who seek justice, equality and inclusion for all. He has been widely published and recognized as a leader and researcher in the areas of school to adult transition, career/vocational assessment, postsecondary education services and supports, and secondary education preparation for integrated employment. But above all else, for many of his staff, friends and colleagues, he was kind and generous in his approach towards others. The words of another retirement party well-wisher summed up Stodden's character when she said, "He made us feel we could accomplish anything if we put our minds to it, that nothing was impossible to achieve. That is a big WOW in my book."

Dr. Stodden will continue to participate in the disability community as an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Be on the lookout for sporadic sightings of a classic sports car parked on lower campus with a crumpled beach towel in the back seat.