The University Record, March 14, 1994

Spencer grant funds doctoral training in educational research

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

The School of Education has received a $450,000 three-year grant from the Spencer Foundation to train doctoral students planning careers in educational research. Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, the Jean and Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Professor of Reading and Literacy, has received a related $50,000 mentor grant from the Chicago-based foundation.

The award, for an initial period of three years, will allow the School to support nine new students beginning this fall.

The School of Education is one of six research universities to receive a grant, which provides support for doctoral students. Palincsar is one of 17 distinguished scholars across the nation selected for their capacities to provide unusually strong research training.

“The Spencer Foundation grant is very important because it acknowledges the position of the School of Education among the top half dozen schools in the country,” says acting dean Samuel J. Meisels.

Dean Cecil Miskel, on administrative leave until June 1, concurs: “This grant represents the progress the School of Education has made in the last several years in strengthening and reformulating its programs and bringing together an exceptionally strong faculty. The award really indicates that we’ve moved into the top ranks.”

In addition to supporting new doctoral students, Meisels notes, the Spencer grant will allow the School of Education to initiate a new colloquia for graduate students next fall. It will focus on student-faculty research, and will serve as a new means of involving students in research.

Commenting on the selection of Palincsar as a mentor grant recipient, Miskel noted that she “ is a truly exceptional person of national repute. Not only is she an exciting, productive scholar, blending practice and theory, she’s an interpersonally effective and stimulating person—a natural mentor.”

Palincsar currently is collaborating with Shirley J. Magnusson, assistant professor of education, on a project funded by the National Center on Science Teaching and Learning, and she looks forward to using the Spencer grant to work with two new doctoral students on this project.

Interdisciplinary Guided Inquiry is a way of helping teachers and children connect what might otherwise be disparate, isolated bits of information and understanding. “We talk a lot about how children need to see connections between subjects,” says Palincsar. “This is a strategy for helping them do that.”

As the primary adviser to seven doctoral students, Palincsar thinks of her role as a mediator or facilitator, encouraging and helping students to identify a piece of the research project they can make their own. “It’s important for everyone to be involved in a meaningful activity in order to learn.”

Palincsar also believes strongly in “scaffolding” student efforts—consciously supporting what students are doing by sharing with them her knowledge as a researcher—and a person—and helping them to build upon it. On her office door is the following saying: “The value of knowledge increases as it is shared.”

The other institutions receiving Spencer grants are UCLA, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.