EHE professor acclaimed as Ohio State 2017 Distinguished Scholar
Children, families and educators around the world — from Australia to Denmark, and from Yucatán, Mexico, to the economically challenged Weinland Park neighborhood in Columbus — benefit from the remarkable scholarship of EHE Distinguished Professor Laura Justice.
The talented speech-language pathologist has dedicated her impressive career to fostering early language and literacy development in children with and without disabilities. She has become one of the most renowned and respected researchers in her field.
For these reasons and more, she was honored in February with Ohio State’s highest award for scholarship. Dean Cheryl Achterberg, Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron, Senior Vice President for Research Caroline Whitacre, Department of Educational Studies Chair Eric Anderman and Senior Associate Vice President Jan Weisenberger presented Justice with the Distinguished Scholar Award, surprising her as she lectured to graduate students and faculty.
“Dr. Justice has a very impressive record of research and scholarship — one that is more in keeping with someone at the end of her career rather than one in midcareer,” said Hugh Catts, professor and director of the School of Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University. “Such a record of productivity in our field is truly exceptional and would rank her in the top 1-2 percent of scholars in communication disorders/early childhood intervention.”
The prestigious honor recognizes faculty members whose scholarly activities and research have brought distinction to themselves and The Ohio State University.
Using research to drive practice
What sets Justice apart is her remarkable skill at translating research results into practice.
“I know of very few scholars who so thoroughly and creatively incorporate the latest findings and methods in developmental science into field-based studies of early learning and classroom process,” said Robert C. Pianta, dean, Novartis US Foundation Professor of Education and professor of psychology at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia.
Consider one of her most well-known studies: “Use of Storybook Reading to Increase Print Awareness in At-Risk Children,” which appeared in the highly ranked American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.
This rigorous study was one of the first to show that a particular way of reading storybooks to children can substantially overcome their pre-reading difficulties, especially for children reared in poverty.
The study underlies Justice’s popular, no-cost supplemental curriculum, Read It Again Pre-K, which can be used by any practitioner for read-aloud story time to improve children’s grammar, vocabulary, print knowledge and rhyming skills. She currently has funding to make the effective supplement, for use twice a week, into an app.
Justice’s record of funding for studies such as this one is exceptional compared to nearly any scholar in the social or behavioral sciences, said Eric Anderman, chair of Justice’s home department. “Since joining Ohio State in 2007, she has received external grants to date in the amount of $53.7 million as principal investigator, and $28 million as co-investigator.”
Among her many projects, Justice directed one of only six research teams nationwide funded by the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences to study how children learn to read for understanding and how best to teach it. Her team of seven universities and institutions, including Ohio State, formed the Language and Reading Research Consortium.
Over five years and across all the consortium studies, the researchers learned from an enrolled 3,500 students in 660 classrooms, including their parents and teachers, with an additional 500 children and 75 teachers for an English language learners study.
Among Justice’s other innovative studies, one looked at 135 childcare programs for low-income children and showed that not all are created equal. She documented wide variations across programs in the quality of instruction provided to children. Her results have stimulated a large body of subsequent research that seeks to improve the instructional quality of early childhood education programs.
Little wonder she has received numerous honors for her research and service activities, including the Annie Glenn Leadership Award in Speech-Language Pathology, a Fulbright award for research abroad and the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering presented by President George W. Bush.
The Crane family recognizes excellence
Closer to home, Justice’s influential scholarship led four generations of Columbus’s Crane family to bestow a gift of $2.5 million on the college. It allowed Justice and colleagues to establish the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy (CCEC), which is housed at the college’s Schoenbaum Family Center.
Justice, as executive director of both, has attracted many Ohio State colleagues, as well as city of Columbus policymakers and Ohio educators, to collaborate with her and her team on interdisciplinary work to benefit the education and development of young children.
For example, each year, Justice is the driving force behind the CCEC’s Symposium on Children that engages participants in strategic thinking about early childhood education and policy in Ohio. Discussion is based on lectures by noted researchers and experts in the field. This year’s symposium will be October 13.
A caring colleague and mentor
Given her dedication to research, one might think Justice would have little time for service. The opposite is true. Not only does she serve her professional organization and on college and university committees, but she also is praised as supportive by faculty colleagues whom she helps in their research. Her doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers express heartfelt appreciation for her guidance.
“Dr. Justice has become one of the most influential people in my life,” wrote Jaclyn M. Dynia, Justice’s postdoctoral researcher at the CCEC. “I am constantly amazed by the force that is Dr. Justice and the impact she has had not only on me as a person and a researcher but on the community and the field of early literacy.”