SUNY New Paltz Professor Dr. Daniel Schackman died Nov. 20 from a heart attack. Schackman, who worked as an assistant professor in the Communications and Media Department, was 47 years old.
News of Schackman’s death first reached the campus community the morning after the heart attack. Interim Chair of the Department for Communications and Media Eugene Heath was notified of his death by Schackman’s brother.
“I had received an e-mail from Dan’s brother asking for me to call him,” Heath said. “When I got in contact with him he told me that he had died during the night. I was so surprised and shocked to hear the news.”
Schackman earned his Ph. D. in mass communications from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He earned his M.S. in film from Boston University and his undergraduate degree at Clark University. Schackman served as the senior story editor and supervising producer for National Geographic T.V. from 1999 to 2001.
The news of Schackman’s death came as a shock to third-year communications major Joe Neggie. Neggie said he had a feeling something may have been wrong before Schackman’s death.
“He said a couple of times throughout the semester that he wasn’t feeling well,” Neggie said. “But since we missed so many classes in the beginning of the semester he couldn’t cancel class. I remember thinking he must have had something serious since he cancelled his last class before we heard the news, but I didn’t imagine anything like that would happen.”
Schackman had first arrived in New Paltz in 2008 as a lecturer while completing his Ph.D at Syracuse. Heath said Schackman was a leader in shaping the media management program.
“He played a pivotal role in the department,” Heath said. “He was the person to help revise and leading the development of our media management program. He was a fine teacher and a great colleague and a scholar who was contributing already and had a lot to contribute.”
Within the department, Schackman’s colleagues said he was a conscientious “teddy bear” not just as a professor, but as a man.
“Dan was such a presence in our department,” Professor Lynn Spangler said. “It’s so hard to believe we won’t see him anymore.”
Spangler also said Schackman spear-headed new directions for the Communications and Media Department when he first arrived.
“Dan indeed was the one to bring us into the 21st century in a very collaborative, wonderful kind of way,” Spangler said.
A memorial service was held for Schackman on Dec. 7. In an e-mail to the campus community, SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian said all students, faculty and staff were invited to attend to pay tribute to Schackman’s memory and support his family, students and colleagues grieving the loss of a “truly remarkable man.”
At the memorial service, Heath, Christian and Spangler talked about Shackman and the energy he brought to the classroom and the department. Assistant Professor Gregory Bray also shared his memories of Schackman.
“I am so grateful for the time that I spent with Dan Schackman,” Bray said.
Bray, along with other professors in the department, volunteered to teach Schackman’s classes for the rest of the semester. Heath said “almost all” of the classes Schackman was assigned to teach in the spring 2012 semester have been taken by other professors as well.
While the positions are filled, students and faculty said Schackman’s death has left an impact on all associated with the department.
“It’s a blow, there’s no question about it,” Heath said. “It weighs on us in lots of different ways. We’re all trying to move forward but it is very, very difficult.”
Neggie said he will remember Schackman fondly as a “straight-forward” professor who always had something interesting and meaningful to say.
“I’ll remember him as a man who loved his job,” Neggie said. “He was passionate about everything he talked about and wanted his students to share in that passion.”
Colleagues said Schackman was passionate about enabling students to travel and share their projects with professional organizations, proposing the idea of donating part of the winnings from a trivia night to helping students do so. To continue Schackman’s passion for this, the Daniel Schackman Memorial Fund for students has been set up in his memory.
The Department of Communication and Media set up the fund and said the “purpose of this fund will be to defray the expenses of students studying within our department who wish to present their academic work at a conference or submit their creative work for review or evaluation by a recognized organization.”
With Schackman’s death, Neggie said he is trying to move on as best as he can.
“They (the department) let us know that they were there if needed,” Neggie said. “They assured us that we were in good hands.”
While still processing the loss, Schackman’s colleagues said the memory of Schackman will be with them always.
“The thing that we have to remember is that his affect on us is lasting,” Spangler said. “He will forever be in our hearts and our minds.”