National scholarship will allow student to pursue graduate studies in early reading cognition

April 22, 2020 By Doug Erickson

When Lauren Schilling studies the statistics on early literacy, she knows more must be done: Children who lack foundational reading skills fall behind academically, and the gap grows exponentially over the years.

As an undergraduate at UW–Madison, Schilling is already tackling the problem. Her research investigates how first-grade phonics curricula lay the foundation for important third-grade reading benchmarks.

Now, as the recipient of a major national scholarship, Schilling will receive substantial financial assistance to continue her research in graduate school. She is among 18 college juniors nationwide selected to receive a 2020 Beinecke Scholarship, which provides $34,000 for graduate study in the arts, humanities or social sciences.

Lauren Schilling leaning against a railing by a lake

In graduate school, Schilling hopes to work with researchers who are developing novel literacy interventions and exploring cognitive mechanisms that predict individual differences in reading.

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established in 1971 by the Sperry & Hutchinson Company to support the graduate education of students with exceptional promise. UW–Madison’s last Beinecke Scholars were Brontë Mansfield (art history and English, 2014), Joanna Lawrence (anthropology, 2013) and Asad Asad (political science, 2010).

Schilling, of Minocqua, Wisconsin, is majoring in psychology and education studies and pursuing comprehensive honors in the liberal arts and psychology. As the youngest of four children, she spent bedtime curled up between her brothers as their mother read to them, she says. Her affection for the written word continues and informs her research and advocacy.

“Reading allows us to immerse ourselves in circumstances historically or geographically distant from our own and open our minds to new perspectives,” she says. “Every child deserves to read.”

Schilling currently works with Vilas Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor of Psychology Mark Seidenberg in the Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, where she is a project manager.

“Our project is the very first cross-comparison of reading programs using computational models,” Schilling says. “We are analyzing two major reading curricula that reach tens of thousands of American children annually.”

By identifying instructional practices that are effective at helping children learn to read, Schilling hopes her research will help eliminate educational opportunity gaps for students from low-income backgrounds and those with learning disabilities.

“I want to help children to love reading by enhancing their educational language environment,” she says.

“Reading allows us to immerse ourselves in circumstances historically or geographically distant from our own and open our minds to new perspectives,” Schilling says. “Every child deserves to read.”

Faculty Director of the Letters & Science Honors Program and Griebsch Bascom Professor of German Sabine Gross remembers Schilling seeking her out as an honors freshman to interview her about her reading research.

“I learned that for years it had been Lauren’s goal to conduct research on reading in order to improve educational equality and provide opportunities for learners,” Gross says. “In her sophomore year, she engaged me in a lengthy discussion about the relevance of a number of factors she was considering in choosing a lab for her graduate studies. I have rarely encountered a student of Lauren’s caliber who has pursued the goal of a career in research with such early and single-minded dedication.”

Schilling has been a research assistant with UW–Madison’s Learning, Cognition and Development Lab and with the Educational Neuroscience Lab. Additionally, she is working with Professor Annalee Good, a researcher and evaluator at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, to develop an after-school phonics curriculum for young students from low-income backgrounds in Madison.

Schilling has augmented her academic research with work as a volunteer middle-school literacy tutor through the Schools of Hope program in the Madison School District and as a member of Badgers Reach Out and Read, a student organization that promotes early literacy.

In addition to institutional awards from the Psychology Department and the College of Letters & Science, Schilling is the recipient of a $10,000 Herb Kohl Student Excellence Scholarship, a statewide award for leadership, citizenship, school and community involvement, and academic achievement.

In graduate school, Schilling hopes to work with researchers who are developing novel literacy interventions and exploring cognitive mechanisms that predict individual differences in reading.