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Patricia and Rodes Hart Chairs

hart chairs

Patricia and Rodes Hart Chairs from L to R: David Cole, James Booth, Carolyn Heinrich, Laurie Cutting, Camilla Benbow, Dr. Robert Miller,


Bruce Compas | Not pictured: Dr. Sam Chang, Ellen Goldring, Gary Henry


No two educators better exemplify the breadth and scope of Peabody’s groundbreaking research than professors James Booth and Carolyn Heinrich. One delves into the brain to learn more about the underlying mechanisms of how we learn reading and math. The other creates and influences educational policies around the world. Both are two of the ten faculty members at Vanderbilt who hold endowed chairs created by Patricia and Rodes Hart.

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Booth, the newest Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair, is Professor of Psychology and Human Development. He was among the first to use Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to study learning and learning disabilities in children.

“I was excited and enthralled by the idea of being able to non-invasively peer inside a child’s brain while they’re doing reading or math tasks and look at how the brain is working. It was amazing in the early days, and quite a challenge,” he says.

Today, his work has expanded to include children as young as five—before they learn to read—to try and predict who will excel in reading or math and who might possibly fall behind. The goal is early identification and intervention if necessary.

“There are many people at Peabody whose work is related or complementary to mine, and that creates nice synergies that allow you to do bigger things,” he says. “Science nowadays is a collaborative process.”

Carolyn Heinrich, who was named a Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair in December 2016, is Professor of Public Policy and Education, International Education Policy and Management. Heinrich’s work takes her from her Peabody classroom to educational settings elsewhere in the U.S. and around the globe where she becomes an observer and adviser to school districts in need.

“I see my work as building human capital,” Heinrich says. “We want to make our education systems more effective in developing a better workforce. We also focus on social welfare policy and how to overcome barriers associated with poverty and unequal access to opportunity. We identify policy tools to eradicate those barriers.”

Heinrich also focuses on the challenges of integrating technology into classrooms in low- resource areas that may not have reliable internet service. The support she receives from the chair endowment helped fund her work in Africa.

“Kenya has a presidential initiative to bring technology to schools but faces a lot of constraints,” she says. “I was able to support two students there over the summer working on different models for integrating the devices. In both the U.S. and in Kenya we’re collecting data to assess how technology improves learning.”

When asked about the importance of having an endowed chair, both professors cite the flexibility it gives to pursue their interests and new ideas.

“My next area of interest is looking at literacy in the deaf,” Booth says. “I’m in the process of collecting pilot data. I can use the support from the endowment to test some ideas which I can hopefully leverage into larger grants.”

Helping children learn and inspiring young researchers, improving education across the life course and influencing policy on a global scale—just a few of the many examples of the power of an endowed chair.