June 2024
K. Charlie Lakin speaks from a lectern during the award ceremony.

K. Charlie Lakin, former director of the Institute’s Research and Training Center on Community Living, received the University of Minnesota’s highest alumni honor in a ceremony on June 6. Lakin accepted the Outstanding Achievement Award from Bo Thao-Urabe, a member of the University’s Board of Regents.

“Dr. Lakin led a ground-breaking research agenda, raising the profile of the University of Minnesota as a leader and resource in the disability services field,” Dean Michael Rodriguez of the College of Education and Human Development told invited guests, including family, longtime neighbors and friends, and former colleagues.

Lakin (pictured during his acceptance speech by University of Minnesota photographer Marjan Samadi) spent more than 30 years at the University, earning a Ph.D. in educational psychology before helping to create ICI as a beacon of research and training to improve the quality of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He authored or co-authored 300 publications and directed research projects that contributed significantly to the national shift from institutional care to community living.

In 2011, at age 65, he joined the U.S. Department of Education as director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, leading that institute until his retirement in 2014. Phillip Beatty, NIDILRR’s director of the Office of Research Sciences, was one of several speakers for the evening. Other dignitaries attending the McNamara Alumni Center event included John Tschida, executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities; Valerie Bradley, founder and president emerita of the Human Services Research Institute; and former University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, who co-founded and led ICI until 1991.

“We had the privilege of working together more than 40 years ago,” Bruininks told the gathering, referring to serving as Lakin’s Ph.D. adviser. “This award is conferred on very few people, for an enduring lifetime of contribution and achievement, and I believe Charlie Lakin richly deserves this award. Charlie has been recognized as one of the most influential scholars in shaping public policies in the United States and internationally…to enhance the independence and quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.”

Though his work far surpassed the boundaries of Minnesota, a deeply held love for his alma mater shone through the event. During his remarks, Lakin noted that every member of his immediate family has attended or worked at the University. Several longtime neighbors from the Como neighborhood near campus were present, along with ICI and other colleagues from the disability education and advocacy field.

“Much of what we learned from Charlie is ingrained in the soul and the organizational culture of ICI today, and for that I am forever thankful,” said Amy Hewitt, the Institute’s director, who said she joined the University community in 1988 in large measure because of Lakin’s passionate commitment to people with disabilities, his humble nature, and his research credentials. She praised his early leadership in partnering with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in research that would affect change in policy and practice in the field, and his role in shaping the careers of so many colleagues. “He showed by his actions what it meant to treat all people, including those with disabilities, with dignity and respect.”

With characteristic humility and humor, Lakin thanked his many colleagues in the room and beyond.

“I’ve never done anything alone; I always did it with you,” he said, recalling several major initiatives accomplished over the years and remarking on the current leaders in the disability field who have come from ICI. “Bob laid a strong foundation for the Institute and what it has grown into since the early days is nothing short of amazing. So, whatever merits got attributed to me for this award, it is a product of the environment I was lucky enough to find myself in almost 50 years ago. It’s been an honor to participate in this very kind, committed community that focuses on the wellbeing of people with disabilities.”