Remembering Nick Certo

Nicholas J. Certo, former Professor and Chair of the Department of Special Education Department passed away on October 14, 2017 after battling cancer for over two years. Nick joined the Department of Special Education in 1992 and served as the Chair of the Department for twelve years, until retiring in 2012. He continued to serve the Department in the Faculty Early Retirement Program (FERP) for five years as the Intern Coordinator for Special Education Teachers and became a Professor Emeritus in June 2017. Throughout his career, Nick contributed to improved systems for inclusion of people with disabilities, specifically in the transition to adult living and meaningful employment. With his colleagues and students at the national and regional levels, Nick developed the Transition Services Integration Model, designed to achieve post high school employment for students with significant disabilities. As a Professor and Chair, Nick mentored many junior faculty to succeed in their academic careers and to learn the “ropes” of the RTP process. Always willing to share his understanding and knowledge of administration, he coached many faculty to understand program management, budgeting processes and program assessment in response to university and program accreditation requirements. However, Nick’s generosity and compassion were most expressed with students, as he placed students first and explored all avenues to assist each individual to navigate pathways to succeed in program completion. In May 2017, the Communicative Disorders Program dedicated the Speech and Language Clinic as the “The Nicholas J. Certo Communicative Disorders Clinic." Nick’s legacy continues in the Department and programs that he developed. He is deeply missed by his colleagues and friends in the Department, College and University.

Colleague Comments

"Nick was the most supportive person I worked with."

Carol Barraco


"I'm thankful to have known Nick for over 20 years as a colleague in the field of severe disabilities, a fellow faculty member, and as a friend. His work in educational policy and systems change culminated in the development of a cutting edge and student-driven approach to transition planning for students with significant disabilities who are moving from school to adult life. During the years that he was chair of our department, he used his political experience and astuteness to maintain the stability of our department through some very dark budget years to ensure that all programs in the department endured. As a friend, he was always there with support, encouragement, and kindness."

Pam Hunt


"Over the many years I have known Nick, I grew to admire him as a treasured mentor and colleague. A special connection we shared was to Teresa (pseudonym), an autistic woman whom we both knew at different stages of her life. I initially met her as a young child in elementary school while Nick knew her as a young adult participating in a supported employment program. Teresa is a delightful and remarkable person who overcame many adversities and is now leading a happy and productive life as a fully accepted and contributing member of our community. It was not unusual for Teresa’s name to come up when I went to Nick for advice, especially in moments when I felt I was at my wits end in facing issues. Her success served to remind us both as to the reasons why we entered our field and academia in the first place. In my last conversations with Nick, I expressed my appreciation for his tireless efforts to support our students as they enter careers as special educators, therapists, and advocates for people with differing abilities and unique kinds of minds. I also made certain that he knew just how important his support meant to me, both professionally and personally. I will always remember Nick, and when I visit with Teresa, I will think about all his good work and the inevitable influence it will have on the generations to come."

Pamela Wolfberg


"Nick lived a great life and left a wonderful legacy. He was a dedicated educator, leader and champion for inclusion of disabled students in public schools and independent living for young adults with disabilities."

Victoria Narkewicz


"I remember Nick coming to talk to the Elementary Education faculty some years ago, and helping us figure out how we could do some restructuring in the department. I remember clearly the depth of his administrative experience and I appreciated his openness and willingness to share and help our department. His gesture was very unusual. I also remember how well-dressed Nick always was, and how he had such an urbane presence about him that I admired. He will be missed."

Daniel Meier


"My first meeting with Nick in 2002, when I applied as a faculty member at SF State, convinced me to join the Department. When I asked him about his philosophy for leading the Department, he simply replied that he wanted his faculty members and staff to be happy! Over the 15 years that I came to know Nick as a mentor, colleague and friend, I learned the depth of that statement. Nick’s door was always open to me (and all of us) to seek advice on writing grants, steps to promotion, navigating the university procedures, managing limited budgets, helping students and many more difficult issues. He helped me to see both sides of all issues and to reach solutions that benefitted each party involved. I learned to be an administrator from Nick and continued to receive his counsel through email for difficult decisions. His guidance and mantra for faculty members, staff, and students to be “happy” has taken on so much meaning over the years. He continued to be my mentor in many difficult decisions and finding a way for win-win solutions, so each person found some positive outcomes in the most complex situations."

Nancy Robinson


"When I arrived at San Francisco State in 2002, one of the first individuals to welcome me and offer their assistance in any way was Dr. Certo. He came down to my office and we had a lovely conversation. We shared our journey to SFSU and how we could work together as Department Chairs. I came to SFSU as a tenured full Professor and Chair of the Department of Secondary Education. Because both Nick and I were Department Chairs, we were very close. I was Department Chair for 12 years and during this time Nick and I became very close both professionally and personally. Nick was my mentor in many ways. I learned many of the procedures regarding budget/scheduling from Nick. We confided in one another and he was always there for me. I could drop in on him anytime and he would make time for me. Often we would just go for a walk on campus and talk. I had many personal times with Nick that I will always cherish. Nick was a wonderful colleague and friend."

Natalio Avani


"I first met Nick when I was a full-haired, young whipper-snapper, looking to take SFSU by storm. Nick was my office next door neighbor when I arrived at SFSU. There was also Doris Flowers, Jack Fraenkel, Andy Dubin, Ruth Love, and Gilda Bloom. I was surrounded by giants. Nick was not the only person with whom I became friends, but our connection was solid from the start. He took the elder statesman role and explained the ropes of what it took to be a successful Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University. I was from a different college and department, but Nick took pride in giving me guidance as I tried to navigate my way through SFSU. I am in debt to him, my elder statesman. I carry and have passed on many of the lessons he taught me. I am saddened by his passing and I know that there is no way to comfort his family. But all of his family should know that Nick was a powerful force in many people’s lives and his legacy quietly and overtly lives on."

Rob Williams