Professor Emeritus Roger Schank Passes Away

Schank was a foundational pioneer in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and learning sciences

Roger Schank, professor emeritus of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and a foundational pioneer in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and learning sciences, passed away at age 76 on January 29, 2023.

Prior to joining Northwestern, Schank was a professor at Stanford University from 1968 to 1973, and at Yale University from 1974 to 1989. Among his many PhD students are several Northwestern faculty members in CS and LS: Chris Riesbeck (Stanford), Larry Birnbaum (Yale), Kris Hammond (Yale), Nichole Pinkard (Northwestern), and Andy Fano (Northwestern).

From the beginning, Schank was a proponent of CS+X. Riesbeck noted Schank’s strong opinions related to broadening participation and building alternatives to fields he perceived to be too narrow in scope or headed in the wrong direction.

At Yale, he and Robert Abelson in psychology created the Yale Cognitive Science program, a graduate of which is Brian Reiser in Learning Sciences. Schank joined Northwestern in 1989 as the John Evans Professor of Computer Science, Education, and Psychology to establish the interdisciplinary Institute for the Learning Sciences (ILS) at Northwestern University through a 10-year, $30 million grant from Andersen Consulting.

The ILS included a full-time staff of programmers, graphic artists, and content specialists in addition to faculty and graduate students from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, and the Department of Psychology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

The team — 200 members strong at its height — studied language processing, cognition, and memory organization and developed systems to aid in problem-solving, decision-making, planning, and learning.

Schank also chaired the Department of Computer Science following the first split of computer science and electrical engineering into separate units.

Schank authored more than 125 academic articles and 30 books. A fellow of the AAAI, he cofounded the academic journal Cognitive Science in 1977 and founded the Cognitive Science Society in 1979.

Schank founded multiple learning technologies companies, including Socratic Arts, Cognitive Arts, Cognitive Systems. Inc., and CompuTeach, Inc. He was also the founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Engines for Education.

McCormick News Article