UC Berkeley professor Randi Engle dies at 45

Tom Kunh/Courtesy
Randi A. Engle, Associate Professor of Cognition and Development

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Randi Engle, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Education, died in her home Friday after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 45.

In 2005 Engle joined the UC Berkeley faculty, where she quickly became known as an optimistic and devoted scholar who was committed to her students.

“She was someone who, no matter what you did, no matter who were, she always believed in you,” said graduate student Aditya Adiredja, who had worked with Engle for the past seven years. “She wanted you to have your own voice.”

Engle’s family, former students and researchers described her as energetic and vigorous. Engle tried to celebrate her students’ successes often, even holding dessert parties at her home to celebrate the end of the semester.

“She approached everything with a serious passion for life,” said Adam Mendelson, a graduate student who had worked with Engle for the past six years. “She wanted to make sure that everybody’s successes were recognized and celebrated, no matter how small.”

Engle was born and raised in New Jersey. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and mathematics. In 2000, she received her doctorate in symbolic systems in education from Stanford University. She joined the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley in 2005 as an assistant professor and received tenure as an associate professor in 2011.

As a mentor, Engle broke down traditional divisions with students to develop deeper relationships.

“She was inviting and transparent in a way that I had never experienced with any other professor,” said Mendelson. “She let us feel like we were a part of what she was doing.”

Engle’s research at the school focused on understanding methods of effective teaching. She received a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation in 2009 to investigate how methods of instruction can encourage students to transfer what they have learned between different educational settings. While at the school, she also received a Hellman Family Faculty award and a dissertation fellowship from the Spencer Foundation, among other awards.

“Randi was a truly remarkable researcher, teacher, and mentor,” said Judith Warren Little, dean at the Graduate School of Education, in an email. “Her passing leaves an enormous void in the Graduate School of Education.”

Engle shared a similar dedication toward her family, said Tom Kuhn, her husband of 21 years. She “cared deeply” about the couple’s two daughters, Rebecca Engle and Gwendolyn Kuhn, and enjoyed spending time outdoors. She is survived by her husband, two daughters, brother, mother, father and stepmother.

“She loved exploring places, both new and old,” Kuhn said.

Despite her passing, Engle’s legacy continues through the work of her students. Adiredja now serves as a math GSI on campus and credits his experience with Engle to be a leading influence in his relationship with his students.

“She inspired me to be the instructor I am today,” said Adiredja.

Contact Andrea Guzman at [email protected].