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Rutgers University Psychology Professor Visits Wilson

Byline: Xiaomeng Li

Posted: October 19, 2010

Rochel Gelman, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, visited Wilson from Oct. 4 to 5 as a Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Visiting Scholar.

During her stay, Gelman participated in a graduate school panel, gave a public lecture in the auditorium of the Harry R. Brooks Complex for Science, Mathematics and Technology, visited several classes and talked to Women With Children program students.

Gelman's Contribution to Phi Beta Kappa

Amy Ensley, Director of the Hankey Center for the Education and Advancement of Women, introduces that, "Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest and most widely known Academic Honor Society. Every year, nationally, there are 12 Phi Beta Kappa scholars who go to different chapters to give lectures, talk to the faculty and student. Dr. Gelman was a member of Phi Beta Kappa as an undergrad. Wilson as one of the 280 chapters sent application and invited her to come."

Gelman's Background

Before going to Rutgers, Gelman taught at the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA. Early in her career, she decided to focus on finding ways to show that preschoolers and infants were conceptually more competent than assumed by existing theories. Her work on early cognitive development and learning has brought her many honors, including membership in the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has received awards from the American Psychological Association (Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award), the Association for Psychological Science (William James Fellow) and the Society for Research in Child Development (Lifetime Contribution to the Study of Child Development).

On Mon, Oct. 4 at 6:30pm, Gelman gave a public lecture entitled "Early Cognitive Development and Beyond" in the Science Center auditorium. She discussed that the paradoxical fact that infants and preschoolers know much more about math and science than people thought while older students have real problems mastering the material they are supposed to learn in these domains.

A "Remarkable Woman"

"Dr. Gelman is a remarkable woman. She has been in her field for 40 years. She is a pioneer in researching young children's cognitive development in Math and Science. She is working and writing for very prestigious organizations in the country. As the coordinator of Institute for Women in Science, Mathematics and Technology (WISMAT), I think Prof. Gelman's area of expertise covers so many programs on Wilson. A large proportion of Wilson could benefit from her visit," said Ensley.

On Tues, Oct. 5, Gelman attended two psychology classes on campus. One of them was Learning and Memory taught by Prof. Carl Larson. The students read an article by Gelman before class. Gelman then described some of her research relevant to that article and responded to questions from the students. "Dr. Gelman's areas of expertise are developmental psychology and human learning. She has developed theoretical concepts which argue that humans may have innate capacities for learning about certain aspects of their environment, such as mathematical concepts, animate versus inanimate attributions and causality. This perspective is very different from the traditional view in the area of learning that human knowledge is largely based on simple principles of association," said Larson.

Larson also mentioned that he was impressed by the students' interaction with Gelman and hopes that similar programs could happen more often and in a variety of areas on campus, "Some areas, such as English, dance, and fine arts do bring noted individuals who augment what students hear and do in their classroom experience. It is truly important for us to pursue such experiences."

Ensley explains the limitations of Wilson College, "Wilson is a little isolated in location which makes it sometimes difficult for outside scholars to visit. But the goal of Phi Beta Kappa is to promote scholars to come to such locations so we can learn from them. We are so fortunate to have Prof. Gelman here because she is really famous in her area. She publishes books and speaks all over the world."

Gelman's visit was one of the Science in Society Seminar Series that Wilson kicked off at the beginning of this academic year in order to bring prominent women in their fields to speak at Wilson. According to Ensley, on Thurs, Nov. 11, Annalisa Crannell, Professor of Mathematics at Franklin & Marshall College, will visit Wilson and discuss the relationship between mathematics and art.

Last Updated: September 25, 2011

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