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A passion for literacy: Anne Britt named 2020 Board of Trustees Professor

April 22, 2020

As the daughter of a professor and one of 10 children, Anne Britt grew up with a keen awareness of the value of learning, the range of individual ability and the importance of teachers and teaching tools.

Those early experiences helped shape her career as a professor of cognitive psychology. And she’s now recognized internationally for her extraordinary talents, both as an educator and for her research on reading, learning, thinking and comprehension.

Professor Anne Britt from the Department of Psychology has been named the 2020 Board of Trustees Professor.

Northern Illinois University has named Britt as its 2020 Board of Trustees Professor – the top university honor reserved for faculty members who demonstrate excellence in all facets of teaching, service, leadership and research or artistry. Each BOT Professorship is accompanied by a stipend, renewable annually during a five-year term.

“I am continuously impressed with her dedication to improving students’ lives globally through her research and locally through her leadership within the NIU community,” says colleague Leslie Matuszewich, former psychology chair.

With the BOT Professorship, Britt also becomes one of the most decorated professors on campus. NIU previously recognized the 20-year veteran with the Presidential Teaching Professorship, Presidential Research Professorship and the Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Her list of achievements is lengthy. They include:

  • Current director of NIU’s Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy.
  • Recipient of more than $6 million in research funding from the likes of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the German Research Foundation.
  • A leadership role in developing NIU’s highly successful Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day.
  • Director of 10 undergraduate honors theses, seven master’s theses and eight dissertation projects at NIU.
  • Since coming to NIU, co-author of three books and 76 publications; 59% of her published papers include at least one student co-author.
  • 36 invited presentations, over half of which have been in Europe.
  • Two-time invited Scholar to the University of Poitiers in France.

Britt’s research sheds light on how we think and learn. It has broad implications in education and other fields, as well as among the general public, evidenced by her 2019 analysis on ways to address fake news.

“More than ever before, the nature of literacy is changing and the need for advanced literacy skills are becoming increasingly evident,” Britt says. “My research has primarily focused on helping students to acquire complex reading skills so they can learn new information, evaluate that information and make informed decisions.”

Britt helped to identify the characteristics of highly skilled readers and to create tools for helping less-proficient readers to acquire those skills. Her pioneering theoretical contributions include a 2018 model for how readers use situation-derived goals to guide their reading decisions (already cited by other researchers nearly 125 times) and a model for how readers interpret information from multiple sources.

“Her work on multiple text comprehension is a systematic and high-impact line of research that has transformed the field of discourse processes, education, psychology and reading in significant ways,” says Professor Panayiota Kendeou, the Guy Bond Chair in Reading at the University of Minnesota. “We will all be benefiting from her work for years to come.”

Britt’s passion empowering NIU students is equally impressive.

Rachel Pollock, a senior psychology major, first encountered Professor Britt in a course titled “Thinking.” The general education course is designed to develop and promote critical-thinking skills related to social and behavioral sciences. Britt introduces students to current psychological theory and research and to activities designed to help them apply scientific knowledge to the development of their own critical-thinking skills.

“It was clear from the very first day of class that Dr. Britt goes above and beyond for her students,” Pollock says.

Professor Britt recruited Pollock to be an undergraduate research assistant, spent many hours helping to develop her student research project, encouraged her to join the honors program, introduced her to other researchers and gave her sage advice about graduate school.

“She was by far the most supportive and encouraging professor that I have ever met,” Pollock says. “Dr. Britt truly cares for every one of her students and strives to see them succeed.”

Britt notes that she’s benefited from having excellent students and colleagues.

“I value deeply my NIU community, and I have tried to make a difference,” she says. “Overall, my passion for literacy, and empowering others through it, has guided my research and engagement with students and colleagues, both at NIU and abroad.”