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Rodney W. Skager: 1932– 2021

By Leigh Leveen
Rodney W. Skager, UCLA emeritus professor and former Associate Dean of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies

Scholar of educational psychology served as former program director of the Center of the Study of Evaluation, led California study of youth substance use. 

In memoriam, Rodney W. Skager, 88, UCLA emeritus professor and former Associate Dean of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, died at home in Salinas, CA on June 2, 2021. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009.

Professor Skager’s career history started as a research psychologist, 1961-1965, at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1966, he came to UCLA as the program director for the Center of the Study of Evaluation, currently named the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), and as a professor of educational psychology. He served as assistant dean of student affairs from 1976-1983 and associate dean of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies from 1985-87.

Skager was also a senior educational research specialist for the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg, Germany from 1975-1976; senior research associate for WestEd, 1989-1994; and a consultant for the Drug Policy Alliance, 2002-2008.

Professor Skager was founder and co-director of the California Student Survey, an assessment of youth substance use conducted by WestEd, Inc., and sponsored by the office of the Attorney General of California and CA Departments of Education and Alcohol and Drug Programs. He was also the recipient of several awards: the Dr. Andrew Weil Award for Achievement in the Field of Drug Education; Innovative and Effective Research Approaches; the CA Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs; the Mark L. Greenfield Faculty Award for Distinguished Research in Applied Education, UCLA; and the Lifetime Achievement Award, University of Redlands. Skager was the author of many policy and research journal articles, survey reports, book chapters, and  

“Rod Skager was a trusted colleague and a dear friend,” says UCLA Professor Emeritus of Education Marvin Alkin. “He arrived at UCLA several years after I had been here. We became friends because of a shared interest in the field of evaluation. Rod had a particular interest, namely the evaluation of lifelong education and some variations of that theme. What was most interesting to me about his career was the way in which his evaluation of programs, particularly some drug abuse programs, led him to more broadly research drug and alcohol abuse. He did many studies on alcohol and drug abuse in California middle and high school students. I was always intrigued by the discussions we had on this topic. On a personal level, my wife and I engaged socially with Ron and his first wife Ann. After her death, we apparently were the first people at UCLA to meet Nancy and were very pleased to see what a wonderful person she was and how she fit with Rod so splendidly. Rod will be dearly missed.”

In retirement, Professor Skager could be found reading history or biography books, writing or traveling extensively as professor and consultant for Drug Policy Alliance. Rod was a wonderful, caring, kind, respectful, humorous man who was admired by all, including students from UCLA who continued to keep in touch and visit up until his death.

“During my years at GSE from 1977-1985, Professor Skager was my teacher, mentor, dissertation chair and eventually a lifelong friend. For several years I participated in the GSE student government and Rod, as the Dean of Students, was our faculty liaison. Many may have seen it as a thankless job, but Rod relished it. He championed our causes and always strove to make the GSE experience more personal, meaningful and connected for the students. As a dissertation chair he was thoughtful, and most of all patient, especially for those of us who took a very long time to finish. He maintained lifelong friendships with many of his students, a testament to his caring nature. Rod had a way to make everyone feel special. I will miss him greatly,” said Mitchell Nides.

“Rod was one of many mentors but more than anything, he was a great friend. I appreciated his uncompromising support. We worked on a number of projects regarding substance abuse, and we learned a lot together. Anyone who enjoyed his friendship knows what I mean. I will always miss him,” said JoAnne Barge, PhD.

"Professor Rod Skager was a wonderful mentor, dissertation chair, a research leader, and leader in the field of education and society at UCLA and beyond," says UCLA alumna Paula Bagasao. "Early on (1978-1982), I came to learn about and see Rod's strong values regarding the equality of education and the role that UCLA's School of Education plays and can play in building education leaders who also believe in diversity. My regards to Rod for his concern that the UCLA School of Education was doing its part. He "walked the talk."   

Rod was born in Glendale, CA to Olive Prescott and Carl Skager, a Swedish immigrant, on September 16, 1932. After graduating from the University of Redlands in 1954, Rod served two years in the US Army, part of the time at Ft. Ord, CA. After the Army, Rod earned an M.A. degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in psychometrics from UCLA, 1961.

Rod has two children from his first marriage to Anne Roxburgh of Newcastle, England, Eric (Woodland Hills) and Kristin (Greenbrae). After Anne’s early death in 1990, he married Nancy Sorensen in 1992 and moved to Salinas with her sons, Andy and Jack. Rod is survived by his wife, Nancy, his children Eric and Kristin Skager, granddaughters Allison and Sofia Skager and stepsons Andy and Jack Sorensen, and his beloved dog, Buddy.

"[Rod] was a really good man, not just intelligent but very witty and professional," says Nancy Sorensen Skager. "He was the kind of man that all women should have - very kind and respectful.

"One of the most interesting things is how [Rod’s] students continued to keep in touch with him. About six weeks before he died, one of his students who now lives in Minnesota, flew in to San Jose and rented a car to visit friends and relatives in Bakersfield, but stopped here to see Rod on his way. He had dedicated his most recent book to [Rod] and brought him a signed copy. His students really loved him, and that meant more to me than than anything."

“Our father created an idyllic childhood for us in Woodland Hills, California where we were lucky to explore the chaparral lined hills with total freedom,” says Kristin Skager. “He taught us to love the outdoors, and as children of a professor we enjoyed many summer trips camping and driving across country in our parents’ orange VW van.

“First in his family to attend college, he didn’t forget where he was from, and he never turned down graduate students who needed a supportive advisor to help with their dissertations. We have cherished memories of visiting him in his office at Moore Hall and enjoying his summer parties with his students at our home. His identity as a college professor was an indelible part of who he was, even at the end of his life. We are proud of his work at UCLA, a lasting legacy for our families.”