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Inaugural lecture of Allan Wigfield

On Thursday, June 9, 2016, our new Honorary Professor Dr. Allan Wigfield from the University of Maryland gave his inaugural lecture (”Antrittsvorlesung“) at one of the most impressive places of our university: the Great Hall (”Alte Aula”), a very special place for academic ceremonies like this one. Allan Wigfield was invited in the name of our faculty by our colleague and current dean Birgit Spinath (educational psychology). Allan is a specialist for achievement motivation and its development.This picture shows him together with our Dean Dr. Birgit Spinath, both wearing a gown in the color of our faculty.

Our Dean introduced Allan with the following words that described some of his activities and also a little bit of his personality:

  • “The work of Allan Wigfield and his colleagues has given us important insights into the development of children starting with school entry until adolescence and beyond. Thanks to Allan, we know that early ability beliefs and task values are crucial for choices and behavior later in life, e.g., prevalent gender differences in choice of career domains and actual achievement cannot be understood when one looks only at the stages in which these choices take place. To change gender differences in achievement-related behavior, these differences have to be addressed as early as elementary school or earlier.
  • A second field of research for Allan is reading improvement; together with John Guthrie, Allan has developed CORI, which stands for Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction; in this training approach, the insights of motivation research are used to improve students’ reading ability; many empirical studies have shown that this approach is effective, so that it is widely used today.
  • Some personal remarks on Allan Wigfield: I have met Allan in person for the first time in 2003 at a conference in Bielefeld (rumors that Bielefeld does not exist are exaggerated). I was immediately impressed by his strong dedication to his research topics and his modesty in spite of his accomplishments. In 2007, I met him again in Chicago at a conference with 13.000 participants. Sitting next to him in a large symposium, I could not but asked: What does it feel like that your name is on almost every slide that is presented? He reacted in his now to me very familiar way in smiling and then asking me what I thought about the work being presented.
  • Allan also has a great sense of humor. Just recently he had organized a symposium that challenged a new construct introduced by Angela Duckworth, the “grit” concept. Again, the symposium was a great success with 900 participants and journalists attending it. One of the journalists wrote an article about the symposium in favor of grit and Angela Duckworth. In this article Allan and others were called “nerdy gritty quantitative researchers”. Because he liked that so much, Allan had made buttons saying “nerdy gritty quantitative researcher”. Allan, I know a lot of people who would love to wear these buttons, including myself!”

After this introduction, the inaugural lecture took place. The title of his presentation was “Expectancies, Values, Performance, and Choice: Research Findings and Personal Reflections”.

In his talk, Allan first adapted a statement from another famous American guy by saying in perfect German language “Isch binn ain Haidelburger” before he looked back on his work (developments in the expectancy value model), presented ongoing work on reading motivation, CORI) and gave an outlook on future plans. We learned his critical position concerning grit, the now famous concept due to Angela Duckworth’s bestselling book about it.

After the ceremony, our faculty gave a public reception at the “Bel Etage”. We were glad to see not only members of our faculty, but also colleagues from Mannheim University, Marburg University, and Dortmund University who wanted to celebrate the new Honorary Professor. Later, a more intimate dinner party was arranged in a nearby restaurant.

Bel Etage

We are happy to have Allan now as a formal member within our faculty (see our list of faculty members) and to have his expertise and advice not only for members of our department but also for our students. Welcome, Allan! Hope to see you often at our department! And we will think about our own mascot - now that we have learned that the U Maryland mascot is Testudo the Terrapin, we have to discuss our options…

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