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Professor emerita donates $7.5M to Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology

Largest gift by an individual in college’s history supports programs for children’s reading and literacy

Professor Emerita Gay Su Pinnell

Ohio State University Professor Emerita Gay Su Pinnell, MA ’68, PhD ’75, has committed $7.5 million from her charitable fund with The Columbus Foundation to the College of Education and Human Ecology — the largest philanthropic contribution made by an individual or foundation in the college’s history.

The gift will support an endowed professorship in reading, the first endowed clinical professorship at Ohio State, also for reading, and funds for literacy education.

In recognition of her Ohio State legacy, the Pinnell Professorship in Reading will honor her years of scholarship and practice that helped children who struggle to read. Through Pinnell’s tireless efforts, Reading Recovery, the intervention she helped bring to North America with colleagues 35 years ago, has provided high-quality reading instruction to over 2.3 million first-graders in the lowest 20 percent of their classes in reading.

Pinnell ensured that Ohio State holds the license to Reading Recovery and conducts the intervention in concert with 12 other university training centers in North America. Based on research evidence of effectiveness, the federal government’s What Works Clearinghouse ranks Reading Recovery the highest among 24 other reading curricula and literacy instructional strategies for students from kindergarten through third grade.

Pinnell focused her career on research to ensure the effectiveness of the intervention. A large study by independent researchers completed in 2015 showed that low-progress first-graders taught by Reading Recovery teachers were learning to read 120 percent to 166 percent faster than typical rates of learning for first-graders.

“These faculty positions and literacy funds will honor the scholarship and teaching of Dr. Pinnell in perpetuity,” said Bruce A. McPheron, executive vice president and provost. “Throughout her remarkable career, she has worked to foster greater understanding about how teachers can best position young readers for lifelong success.”

Pinnell was inducted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2015 in recognition of her many contributions. Her gift is also the largest to the college since last year’s launch of Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign, which has three core areas of focus: student success, discovery and healthy, vibrant communities.

“Dr. Pinnell has become a nationally known champion of young, struggling readers by increasing the college’s scholarly reputation and practice through programs based on rigorous research,” said College of Education and Human Ecology Dean Don Pope-Davis. “We greatly appreciate that Dr. Pinnell has chosen to invest in the education of children through this transformative gift.”

Pinnell has named the Mary Fried Endowed Clinical Professorship in honor of her colleague and friend who joined Ohio State in 1984 to take part in the original Reading Recovery pilot study. Fried has remained with Ohio State ever since, becoming well known nationwide as she provides professional development for teachers in Reading Recovery and the Literacy Collaborative.

"I consider teaching children to harness language through Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative vitally important,” Pinnell said. “I named the clinical professorship for my colleague and friend Mary because she exemplifies the consummate literacy educator. The ongoing professional development that she and the other educators provide opens the eyes of teachers and their coaches to the power and effect of their teaching.”

The Fried Clinical Professor will serve as a bridge between Reading Recovery and the Literacy Collaborative, which will be supported by the Literacy Collaborative Endowed Training Fund. The training fund will provide leadership and expert support to the collaborative, a comprehensive school reform project for grades K-8. Since 1986, the collaborative has partnered with school districts nationwide to train teams of teachers, administrators and coaches focused on improving children’s literacy skills.

Pinnell’s body of work includes her ongoing collaboration with Professor Irene Fountas, Lesley University, in creating The Fountas & Pinnell Classroom Guided Reading Collection, a literacy program published by Heinemann, a division of Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. This program helps children around the world advance their ability to process increasingly challenging books with fluency and comprehension.

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