The Deirdre Hackett Award for Experiential Learning

photo of deirdre hackett

The Deirdre Hackett Award for Experiential Learning

Starting this year, undergraduate and graduate students in the English department will be eligible for a new fellowship: the Deirdre Hackett Award for experiential learning. This opportunity has been made possible by Matt Hackett, who has established the Deirdre Hackett Endowment in English to honor the memory of his late mother, Deirdre, who was a Class of 1987 English major at UC Davis.

Matt has designated the award to help students whose education would benefit from experiences beyond the classroom–research trips, workshops, internships, etc.–to reflect the types of experiences that his mother benefited from and sought out during her time at UC Davis. Matt describes Deirdre as “a real believer in public education” who was “proud to have attended a public institution.” This award honors that legacy by funding important, community-serving opportunities that might otherwise be unpaid or unsustainable for students. 

This award also demonstrates the continuing influence of a literature degree, as Deirdre tried to pass on what she learned from her classes to Matt—often in the form of extra homework. Matt recalls how his mother supplemented his education by teaching him sentence diagramming at home, which she lamented was no longer taught in high school. Or how she would review his literature syllabi and sometimes “assign” him extra reading, typically Victorian poetry, which was her favorite object of study at UC Davis. 

After graduating from UC Davis, Deirdre developed a successful career as an editor, during which she primarily edited business and trade publications. Throughout her career, she maintained a passion for literature and the arts and “always returned to literature when times were hard,” Matt recalls. She also had a talent for giving others exactly the right book when they needed it; the giving and receiving of books was a type of love language for her. Matt recalls the impact of a recent book that he gave his mother–the innovative and polyvocal Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: she was “floored” by the language and structure of the book and the two of them spent many hours bonding through their discussion of the novel. 

Matt, who was just a baby when his mother was finishing her degree at Davis, recalls the stories his mother told him about her time in the English department—many of which involved her favorite class with poet Gary Snyder and occasional Allen Ginsberg cameos. Matt says that she also loved meeting people across campus, and one of her lifelong friendships was with a student in the agricultural program who later became a rancher in California. To Deirdre, being able to move from niche discussions of poetic form to learning about the social habits of horses from her friends represented the best of what a public education had to offer. Matt hopes that this gift will allow students to pursue their passions and explore the paths that seem most meaningful to them, even if they aren’t exactly sure where they will take them.

Congratulations to the inaugural winners of the Deirdre Hackett Award:  Harrison Dietzman, Laura Frater, Grace Hayes, Aleksia Silverman, Spencer Rico, and Emma Tolliver.