Remembering Iris Hui

Iris Hui
Iris Hui

We at the Bill Lane Center for the American West are devastated as our entire community mourns the recent loss of our beloved colleague, mentor and friend, Iris Hui. A brilliant scholar, whose research interests lay at the nexus of geography and political science, Iris joined the Lane Center as a postdoctoral fellow in 2013, transitioning naturally to the Center’s associate director of academic affairs shortly thereafter. In 2016, she became our senior researcher, leading the Center’s rigorous and impactful research efforts for the past five years. She died on Thursday, August 26, leaving behind family, friends, students and colleagues who regarded her with endless admiration, respect and love.

During her time at the Center, Iris mentored hundreds of Stanford students, many of whom were tackling the same issues Iris cared so much about – urgent, real-world problems facing the American West, from the governance of natural resources to climate change to police reform and more. With warmth, humor and approachability, Iris worked every day to challenge her students intellectually and encourage them to explore their unique passions and interests. She did this while extensively publishing her own research in subjects where she’d cultivated profound expertise: the environment and governance; demography and migration; applied geography and spatial analysis; California politics and more.  

Bruce Cain and Iris Hui sitting side by side
Bill Lane Center Director Bruce Cain with Senior Researcher Iris Hui in the summer of 2021

Novices and seasoned researchers alike benefitted from Iris’s mastery of diverse topics and methodologies. She generously shared her talents with the Stanford community, advising undergraduate and graduate student projects, co-authoring papers with students and colleagues, and leading a spirited, biweekly working group on the American West, which welcomed attendees from across disciplines and departments. 

Without exception, students who have researched, interned or otherwise participated in Lane Center programs have characterized their relationship with Iris as meaningful and enriching. At times, students credited Iris’s mentorship as the inspiration for their academic and career goals in environmental policy and politics. In return, Iris had a deep respect and admiration for her students – not just for what they achieved but for who they were as people. 

There is a heaviness at the Bill Lane Center as we remember the scholar, team member and collaborator whose achievements were as far-reaching and impressive in the remote workspace as they were in real life. We appreciated her keen understanding of human psychology and behavior; her deft problem solving; her swift responses to any ask at any time; her dry sense of humor; her laudable work ethic; her huge heart. Before her death, Iris was in the process of transitioning to a new role as the Director of the Global Social Impact Lab at the Graduate School of Business, and what an impact she would have made. We honor her contributions to the Bill Lane Center, the Stanford community and the fields of political science and beyond. We will miss her terribly.

From left to right, the Bill Lane Center's Surabhi Balachander, Iris Hui and Bruce Cain pose for a photo with student research assistants in the summer of 2019.

I had the pleasure of meeting Iris in 2016 when I spent my sabbatical at the Bill Lane. She was great at her field but she was so generous and welcomed me in full solidarity. I only have words of gratitude. May her soul rest in peace.
Dr. Gabriela Muñoz Melendez
Iris was a beloved member of our community, a wonderful person to work with, a dedicated researcher and scholar, and will be greatly missed by all who knew her. This is a tragic loss, but her scholarship and the important research she worked on will endure and be her great contribution and mark on the world. I’m so incredibly sorry for this unimaginable loss.
Devon Ryan
She was an incredible researcher who helped me in so many ways and was invaluable to my whole Stanford experience. She encouraged me to stick to the political science major, gave me invaluable help in my thesis work, and really made me who I am today.
Cade Cannedy, '20
Iris was a brilliant researcher and an even better mentor. I worked with her for three years, and she was unwavering in her support for my research and career development. She had immense patience when fixing my many statistical blunders, and I was continually blown away by her brilliance and her kindness. She was unbelievably knowledgeable and always willing to take the time to help me learn new skills. I would never have completed my research without her steadfast support, and I always enjoyed coming into the office to meet with her. She was universally loved at the Bill Lane Center and she will be deeply missed.
Benek Robertson, '20, MA '21
I’ve always thought a lot about Iris as I move through my life at the University of Michigan, her alma mater. Especially, as a teacher, I can’t help but constantly be thinking about the way Iris could bring students in, get them on board, and so quickly empower them to become confident researchers. And I also think about all the things she did for fun, like her legendary 2 a.m. dates with Franklin at Meijer (we loved to talk about grocery shopping). And then just about how much she cared to connect people, how she took the time to introduce me to the folks she knew in Ann Arbor when I moved. I’m really going to miss Iris wherever I go.
Surabhi Balachander, '17
I am incredibly saddened to hear of Iris's death. I had worked with her last school year with plans to continue the work with her this school year. Iris was an incredible mentor. She was knowledgeable, warm, and kind, and it was a pleasure and privilege to know her.
Angela Zhao, '23
Iris brought thoughtfulness, humor, and joy to all her work. She was especially wonderful about connecting people across different fields. Iris will be badly missed.
Paul Nauert
Iris was always so kind and thoughtful during my interactions with her. I looked forward to seeing her smile and hearing her witty jokes during our meetings. I’m so saddened by this loss and sincerely send my love and prayers to her family.
Hunter Johnson, M.S. ‘21
students sit and eat lunch with faculty outside
Bill Lane Center students, faculty and staff meet for a summer lunch in 2021