In memoriam: David Kirkner, associate professor of civil engineering emeritus

Author: Karla Cruise

Candles in the Grotto

David Kirkner, associate professor of civil engineering emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, passed away Feb. 19 from complications related to heart failure. He was 74.

Kirkner earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Youngstown State University and a doctoral degree in structural engineering from Case Western Reserve University. A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1979, he served as department chair, participated in the foundation of the Notre Dame chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and published a number of research articles and a textbook. He is remembered by faculty and students as a dedicated teacher.

“He was a passionate teacher, one of our best. He cared deeply about our students,” said Joannes Westerink, the Joseph and Nona Ahearn Professor of Computational Science and Engineering. “His clarity and conciseness in teaching mechanics were simply superb.”

Brian Smith, associate teaching professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences, was Kirkner’s student and later colleague.

“As an undergraduate, a brief conversation with Dave was a major reason why I decided to focus on structural engineering,” Smith said. “He was a highly respected professor who challenged students and got the best out of them. When I became a faculty member, Dave’s informal mentorship helped me navigate my early years, and his advice put me in a position to be successful. He was one of the most influential people in my life.”

“Dave was more than a colleague, but a dear friend,” said Yahya Kurama, professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences. “Being far away from my own parents who lived in Turkey, Dave was like a father figure to me. I will miss him very much.”

Kirkner’s expertise, research and publications crossed disciplinary boundaries but were rooted in advancing finite element analysis and stochastics. He was awarded a Fulbright scholar grant in 2000 to conduct research at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland, and he subsequently wrote a comprehensive introduction to the field of stochastic modeling of material microstructures with his colleague Kazimierz Sobczyk.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Carol Kirkner, as well as three children and a sister, niece and nephew.