Roberta Golinkoff, noted for her work with children and infants, is the 2011 recipient of the Francis Alison Award, the University's highest faculty honor.

UD's highest faculty honor

Roberta Golinkoff to receive 2011 Francis Alison Award

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10:39 a.m., May 12, 2011--Roberta Golinkoff, H. Rodney Sharp Chair in the School of Education, is not only an educator in the traditional sense of the word, teaching students in university classrooms, she is also an educator of the public. She writes and speaks to diverse audiences of researchers, parents, teachers, and health care professionals about how children learn.

This month, her work was recognized by her selection as the 2011 recipient of the Francis Alison Award -- the University's highest faculty honor.

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Established by the Board of Trustees in 1978 to recognize the scholarship, professional achievements, and dedication of the UD faculty, the award consists of a $10,000 prize and confers membership in the Alison Society.

Early in her 36-year career at Delaware, Golinkoff developed a method to assess language comprehension in babies who do not yet speak.  Her Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm (IPLP) “tricks” babies to reveal their knowledge of language.  Because of her research, it is now known that infants do not sit passively while words wash over them; instead they are actively analyzing what they hear and extracting language’s rules and regularities.

Letters from Golinkoff's scholarly peers underscore the importance of her work.  She has been in “the forefront” of her field, and as a result “altered our understanding of how children learn language and develop thought.”  Yale University’s Edward Zigler, the driving force behind Head Start in the 1960s, said that he “would be hard pressed to name a scholar that I admire more than Roberta.”

To support her work, Golinkoff has received sizable grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Children’s Health and Human Development.  She has also won a prestigious John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, a James McKeen Cattell sabbatical award, and a full year in Delaware’s own Center for Advanced Study. 

In 2009, the American Psychological Association awarded her the Distinguished Service to Psychological Science Award and this spring she received the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society.

Nancy Brickhouse, interim dean of the College of Education and Human Development, said, “Roberta is highly effective in translating her research for the larger public.  This kind of engagement is critically important not only because of its implications for creating better learning environments for children, but also because it illustrates how public funds are used to support research that matters to the lives of its citizens.”

Golinkoff is also passionate about the importance of play in children’s lives.  Her research supports the benefits of play to society as well as to the health and wellbeing of the young.  She argues that Americans underestimate the value of play and maintains that to ignore the role of playful learning in children’s lives is to doom the next generation to follow orders rather than innovate, and to memorize rather than create. 

Golinkoff’s book, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, won the 2003 Books for a Better Life Award given by the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.  She also gave a congressional briefing and continues to present at the U.S. Department of Education on early childhood education.

“Roberta has been a tireless worker,” said Robert Hampel, interim director of UD's School of Education.  “Since I met her in 1985, her goal has been to propel our department, school and college forward to be recognized among the leaders in the nation.  In addition to serving as H. Rodney Sharp Chair and member of the departments of Psychology and Linguistics, she has written more than 100 articles, 50 chapters, and 12 books on language acquisition, human development, and playful learning.”

He added that her commitment to students’ development as thinkers and scholars "is remarkable, helping her students at all levels learn the skills they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond.

“In her lab we not only learn how to do research but also how to teach undergraduates and parents about why we conduct projects, how we design experiments and what our results mean both to academicians and to parents,” said one former student.

Golinkoff obtained her bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College and her doctorate in developmental psychology at Cornell University, and received a postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center.

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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