In December, Dr. Rose A. Sevcik (Distinguished University Professor of Psychology) closed the 2013 Centennial Lecture Series with her presentation, "Developing Symbols - From Communicating to Reading and Calculating." The lecture traced two types of development: The primary focus was symbol learning by typically and atypically developing children, and the cognitive and behavioral consequences of symbol competencies that emerge across childhood. Dr. Sevcik's research interests center on the development of symbolic processes, in particular, oral and written language development. Her work has focused on children and youth with, or at risk for, developmental and learning disabilities and on language and reading interventions designed and implemented for these populations.
But the talk also captured the development of Dr. Sevcik's own research program on these processes across the years. The lecture surveyed her impressive research career to date, beginning with studies of vocal communication in monkeys at Yale University's Haskins Laboratories, and continuing at Georgia State University with her world-renowned research on great ape symbol learning, comprehension, and use. That research with bonobos at GSU's Language Research Center was complemented by parallel investigations of augmetative and alternative communication devices (e.g., computer-based keyboards for that produce speech sounds) and the effects of such interventions for children and youths with language challenges. Those investigations developed into the ongoing studies of reading, literacy, and computational competencies that were described above.
Professor Sevcik's focus on symbols provides the thread that connects both types of development illustrated in her talk. The research is interdisciplinary, international (with collaborators across the nation and the globe), impactful--both with respect to scientific knowledge and also with respect to the individual children and families who are helped by her work--and highly translational, with direct implications for human health and education. Consequently, it was fitting that Georgia State University's centennial celebration should end with recognition of this psychology professor's scholarship.