Dr. Darwin Shane Koch, who had won the 2021 Mentor Award, passed away after a battle with cancer on May 14th, 2021. This passing, however, did not define the life and legacy that lives on. Through his professional work, he was able to secure several grants and created projects that supported hundreds of individuals over his tenure. Although his academic career spanned decades, serving in many roles within and outside of behavior analysis, his true impact was felt in how he supported his students and clients.

Dr. Koch taught us to treat difficult situations “as an opportunity for spiritual growth” fostering an openness to obstacles and adversities that came with trying to change the world. In doing so, he encouraged us to examine systems that didn’t work and figure out ways to, with the resources we had, best support the people we served in the way that they wanted to be supported – not the way we “thought” they should be supported, based on our own unique experiences. In encouraging this approach, Dr. Koch shaped the heuristic problem solving behavior necessary to foster creativity, genuine empathy, and positive regard for others values. These lessons taught us that (1) there are many possible avenues of success, (2) success is contextual and should be defined by those we serve, (3) it is OK to be frustrated along the process of change but that (4) we need to keep striving for excellence in order to create environments of success for everyone.

Dr. Koch challenged everything we thought we “knew”, asking us to defend positions that were not our own at first, sharing stories about folks he had met in his lifetime, and teaching us how to be compassionate, thoughtful, and genuine people. These lessons, his jokes, the laughs we shared, the tears, his impressions, and his care for the well-being of everyone around him are precious moments that hold great value in all of our hearts.

Following are some words from those who worked closely with him, and shared many of these wonderful memories:

“Dr. Koch shared with me some of my darkest hours. Through our heart to hearts (some easier than others) he gently put his hand on my shoulder, smile, and in his booming voice say, “Manish, you’re fine my friend. I’m here for you.” Losing Dr. Koch has been poignantly surreal, especially because, in the words of Ernest Hemmingway, “he possessed a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, and the discipline to tell the truth, and most importantly, the capacity for sacrifice.” He listened, was never quick to judge, always gave everyone a chance, and believed in the most absolute sense, in the goodness and beauty of others. Dr. Koch, until his last breath, epitomizes the values of compassion, love, and servitude. It would be an honour to walk in his path and serve others the way he showed us how.”

— Manish

“Dr. Koch’s effortless style of support was second to none. I miss his impressions, the random check-in calls, and his ceaseless curiosity. His passing was a hurt that will weigh not only in sadness for this loss, but for the privilege of sharing his values with all we meet. The compassion he showed to everyone will stay with me forever. He took a rag-tag bunch of doc students without a home and created a family that will do great things.”

— Rocco

“Dr. Koch was a compassionate professor that guided my family to overcome the obstacles for international students in the U.S. Laurent and I will remember him as a person open to provide the support we need to succeed both in academia and in our personal lives. I loved how we shared our time to help others and grow spiritually! I feel so fortunate to learn from him about philosophy, Buddhism, compassion, and the importance of helping others.”

— Sebastian

“It is difficult to describe the impact Dr. Koch had, and continues to have, on my personal and professional lives. He truly built a supportive and nurturing research lab with colleagues that I consider my academic brothers. I am grateful to have learned from him and know that my time with him has shaped who I am as a behavior analyst. I am hopeful that his legacy of compassion, curiosity, and yearning to learn will live on through the work of his former students, including myself.”

— NataliA

“Dr. Koch was a true pragmatist, and a very ‘cool’ human. He was very particular in how he supported students in their various roles as professionals, researchers, parents, and spouses. Dr. Koch demonstrated a caring and sincere interest in what his students shared and welcomed diverse perspectives on how to manage difficult situations. In many ways, he modeled the flexibility necessary to address the difficulties plaguing human existence today. Dr. Koch taught us to value open communication, group values on wellbeing, and genuine humility, and flexibility in our approach to life, friendships, and all other important professional relationships. His presence will definitely be missed by me and my ‘family’, but his ideas will live on through the bright lives he has touched.”

— Kwadwo