When a mentor dies

Charles Atkin, chairperson of Michigan State University’s Department of Communication and a University Distinguished Professor of communication, has died. He was 66-years-old. Photo: Michigan State University

Charles Atkin was 66-years-old  when he died in his sleep this week.

The chairperson of Michigan State University’s Department of Communication and a University Distinguished Professor of communication was dearly loved.

Chuck, as he liked to be called by friends, left us too early. His friends, colleagues and family will miss him greatly. Our bittersweet consolation is that we will be surrounded by Chuck’s warm, compassionate spirit.

Chuck was a mentor and friend of mine, a great professor and brilliant researcher.  He worked with several federal agencies on health campaign design and evaluation research on topics such as binge drinking, drunk driving, safety belts, drugs, heart disease, and breast cancer.

While working on my graduate degree at MSU in the mid-1990’s Professor Atkin encouraged and consoled me as I initially struggled in his statistics course. I was stressed. He was unflappable. That was Chuck.
Professor Atkin’s kindness and patience in explaining research methodology and margin of error values helped me gain an understanding and appreciation for the power of statistics and qualitative and quantitative research. I have used these tools frequently as a reporter and now as a scholar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As I teach, I have also reminded myself of Professor Atkin’s patience and kindness with his students when mine sometimes put me to the test.
After graduating from MSU, I stayed in touch with Professor Atkin who insisted I call him Chuck. When I called, he was always willing to check my research methodology on investigative reporting projects that served the public interest. It was a relief to hear Chuck say my methodology was good. If it needed tweaking, Chuck had constructive suggestions that made my reporting better,, and me a better journalist.
For these kind acts, I will always remember Chuck. More importantly though, I will always be thankful for my friendship with Chuck and Sandi. One of my fondest memories is playing a round of golf with Chuck in northern Michigan in July of 1998. Chuck and Sandi were up at their summer place on Crooked Lake near Petosky. I was vacationing with my wife and two young daughters in nearby Harbor Springs.
I remember the sight of Chuck arriving at the golf course in his sporty Mazda Miata convertible. He had a mischievous grin on his face, his hair and mustache were flapping in the wind. We had a delightful afternoon talking about life as we played golf. I mentioned my hopes that perhaps one day I might be a professor too. Chuck talked about his love of time spent with Sandi at their summer place in the natural beauty of northern Michigan and his passion for all things related to the MSU Spartans.
I will miss Chuck. He found such humor in life. He shared it with each of us. In doing so, Chuck Atkin made our lives richer, and us wiser and happier. For this I will always be grateful.

A memorial service for Chuck Atkin will be at 4 p.m., Aug. 26, in Room 147 of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences Building at Michigan State University. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations can be made in memory of Dr. Charles Atkin to MSU — Department of Communications, 535 Chestnut Road, Room 300, East Lansing, MI 48824.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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1 Response to When a mentor dies

  1. Nick Bowman says:

    Thanks for sharing this! We posted a link at Chuck’s Facebook memorial: https://www.facebook.com/groups/262485060530189/.

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