Science of Reading Trailblazer and Protégé Conversation

Featuring Dr. Barbara Foorman and Dr. Adrea Truckenmiller

Meet the Trailblazers Part II:  Drs. Barbara Foorman and Adrea Truckenmiller

By: Dr. Maria Murray

I hope you were able to join our inaugural Science of Reading Trailblazer and Protégé Conversation that took place on May 9. It featured Dr. Joe Torgesen, the first director of the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR), and Dr. Yaacov Petscher, an associate director at FCRR and director of its Quantitative Methodology and Innovation Division. Our upcoming conversation on June 6 continues the FCRR theme. We’ll spotlight a recorded conversation between Dr. Barbara Foorman, FCRR’s subsequent director, and Dr. Adrea Truckenmiller, her protégé and research associate at FCRR.

I had the honor of planning this conversation with Barbara and Adrea in January. The challenge was figuring out how to whittle down a career of stellar, groundbreaking accomplishments into a one-hour recorded conversation. Barbara Foorman’s single-spaced curriculum vitae is 37 pages long, displaying a jaw-dropping history of her education at Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, her illustrious awards, and the numerous titles and memberships on notable boards and panels. It includes pages of the books, chapters, monographs, and papers she’s written, and a dizzying list of awarded grant monies that funded her pivotal research.

Despite these accomplishments, how many people are learning about the science of reading yet don’t recognize her name?

As I lamented in my last blog, the histories of our science of reading “giants,” on whose shoulders many subsequent scientists stand, are largely unknown. The Reading League (TRL) designed this ongoing series of Trailblazer and Protégé conversations to address this problem. A protégé is paired with each trailblazer to ensure that current research taking place is also elevated and does not go unnoticed. We should know what the brilliant and dedicated Adrea Truckenmiller and her students at Michigan State University are doing and understand its connections to the body of research that Barbara Foorman constructed. 

As you’ll hear, I met Adrea when we were doctoral students studying statistics at Syracuse University. I first saw Barbara from afar when she met with Dr. Benita Blachman while visiting SU. I knew I was in the presence of someone doing BIG THINGS, but I never would have deigned to approach or interrupt their meeting. When we finally met to plan this upcoming event, I was bowled over to hear her retrospective of the highlights of her career (by the way, she’s retired but remains a mover and shaker, thankfully). 

She referenced many of the conferences that she’d helped to organize. These conferences, funded by The Dyslexia Foundation (established by the late Will Baker), were working conferences. Scientists stayed on for many days to discuss and plan current research findings and areas for future research. Can you imagine? Barbara mentioned there must be some photos of the scientists at these conferences somewhere. I was eager to track them down.

Barbara Foorman

Will Baker’s 2008 conference in Brazil.
Barbara Foorman is in the lime green jacket, standing between Laurie Cutting and Maryanne Wolf. Linda Siegel (U of British Columbia) is two to the right of Laurie Cutting. Two more to the right are Ken Pugh (Haskins), and then Peggy McCardle. David Francis (with a mustache, U of Houson, is behind Ken Pugh). In the same row as David Francis is Richard (Dick) Olson (U of Colorado Boulder). To Dick’s right is Elena Grigenko (U of Houston). Of course, Will Baker is seated in front. Can you spot other reading and neuroscientists?

Barbara Foorman

Barbara Foorman with her husband, Dr. Justin Leiber
A close-up of Barbara Foorman with her husband, Dr. Justin Leiber, standing in front of the 2008 conference site in Brazil.

Barbara Foorman

Barbara Foorman ready to climb into a Land Rover with other scientists to tour an archeological site in South Africa, outside of Johannesburg.

Last month I was in Washington, DC to represent The Reading League at an annual meeting of the National Joint Council on Learning Disabilities. I asked members of a dozen other national organizations if they knew someone who could help me locate photos of the Foorman conferences. Dr. Nancy Cushen White put me in touch with Dr. Benjamin N. Powers, director of the Global Literacy Hub at the Yale Child Study Center, who told me he just happened to have a meeting later that day with Dr. Peggy McCardle, a research scientist at Haskins Labs. Within hours, I had numerous photos, a few of which are highlighted here. The science of reading network is not only vast, it is also very accommodating!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. These glimpses into Barbara Foorman’s Memory Lane instill a thousand words of gratitude within me. I hope you won’t miss the chance to listen to her speak of these amazing years of service to reading science and to enjoy the brilliance of her protégé, Dr. Adrea Truckenmiller. We have a lot to learn and a lot to be grateful for.

Video clips from Science of Reading Trailblazer and Protégé Conversation featuring Dr. Barbara Foorman and Dr. Adrea Truckenmiller.

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