Vlach, Matthews Earn Understanding Human Cognition Awards from McDonnell Foundation

September 20, 2018

UW-Madison’s Haley Vlach and Percival Matthews each recently received an Understanding Human Cognition Scholar Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF).

These awards, of which only 10 were given out this year, each provide $600,000 of funding to be used over the next six years.

Vlach is an associate professor with the School of Education’s No. 1-ranked Department of Educational Psychology and is the director of the Learning, Cognition, and Development (LCD) Lab. Her project that’s receiving funding via JSMF is titled, “The Development of Higher-Order Cognition: Words, Categories, and Concepts.”

“I am honored to receive this award from an organization that I admire so much,” says Vlach. “I look forward to starting this line of research, which will address fundamental questions about children's cognitive development and generate new technologies for studying children's learning.”

Matthews is an assistant professor with the School of Education's Department of Educational Psychology and he heads the Mathematics Education Learning and Development Lab. Matthews’ project being funded by JSMF is called, “Theoretical and Pedagogical Implications of the Nonsymbolic Ratio Processing System.”

“This award is truly humbling,” says Matthews. “One of the first things you learn upon entering academia is about how many people are doing great work. To be selected from among my peers means a lot. I deeply respect this award. It will be of great help in helping me push my agenda to forge greater connections between math education research and cognitive psychology as I strive to find ways to translate insights from basic research into forms that aid everyday educational practice.”

The Understanding Human Cognition Scholars Awards were revamped in 2010 in an effort to re-emphasize the central role of cognitive psychology in advancing the understanding of neural and cognitive bases of behavior. At that time, the James S. McDonnell Foundation reiterated its commitment to research applying cognitive principles to problems in teaching, learning, and recovery from brain injuries.

JSMF utilizes a rather novel approach to soliciting applications for this award, as proposals are accepted by nomination only. The foundation works in confidence with a broad network of senior scholars in cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology and cognitive science to help identify potential applicants. Selected applicants are then contacted and invited to submit proposals for review by the JSMF Understanding Human Cognition Advisory Panel. Following review, applications recommended for funding are presented to the JSMF Board of Directors for final funding consideration.

Founded in 1950 by aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, JSMF was established to “improve the quality of life,” and does so by contributing to the generation of new knowledge through its support of research and scholarship.