Professor honored by Obama for research

Steve Opalko

Presidential award recognizes top 100

Assistant professor Katherine Rawson of Kent State’s Department of Psychology was recognized as one of the top 100 researches in the country by President Barack Obama last month by earning The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The award, established by President Bill Clinton in February 1996, is coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: Pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

“I feel greatly honored to be recognized in this way, and I’m very thankful to everyone who has trained and supported me throughout my early career,” Rawson said in an e-mail interview. “This honor further renews my excitement for pursuing this research, which I believe has the potential to make a significant contribution to enhancing student achievement.”

Graduating from high school in Canal Winchester, Ohio, Rawson did not immediately enroll in college. After working a number of years as a restaurant manager and being frustrated by the lack of support given for training new employees, Rawson decided to pursue a degree in higher education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“I often wondered how one could improve educational practice,” Rawson said. “When I decided I wanted to go to college, I knew I wanted to study how people learn and how to improve learning, and psychology was the right field for that.”

Upon graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1999, Rawson went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 2004.

Since 2004, she has collaborated with colleague John Dunlosky to identify study strategies and study schedules that lead to “durable and efficient student learning.” Their goal is to develop a “study buddy” that can be used across a wide age range of students as a supplement to classroom instruction

“A primary goal of education is the acquisition of durable knowledge, not just a transient increase in the familiarity of information,” Rawson said. “Students are often expected to learn a great deal of material across multiple classes with a limited amount of time and energy to invest in studying those materials. Thus, the challenge is developing an intervention that leads to high levels of durable learning, but that is relatively economical in its time demands.”

She said one of the most interesting aspects of her studies so far involves self-testing. Self-testing is a process in which the student is prompted to try to recall target information from memory. Early on in the study, the most common kind of response was a commission error (student generates a response that is completely wrong). When students were shown the correct answer alongside their entirely incorrect response, they still rated their own response as partially correct, or even completely correct, a surprising amount of the time.

“We can’t ignore the fact that students have difficulties evaluating their own learning because they use these evaluations to make decisions about when to stop studying,” Rawson said.

Contact college of arts and sciences reporter Steve Opalko at [email protected].