Contact: Ann Abbas
SMU Public Affairs
(214) 768-7655

October 15, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- A $1.5 million gift from the Texas Instruments (TI) Foundation to Southern Methodist University will endow a faculty chair to be held by a reading specialist of national stature. The chairholder also will serve as director of a new Graduate Institute for Reading Research at SMU.

Primary responsibilities of the faculty chair-institute director will be to administer and advance SMU’s Head Start Preschool Initiative, conduct and disseminate research on the reading progress of English speaking and non English speaking children from pre-kindergarten through third grade, and direct activities of the new institute.

The SMU Graduate Institute for Reading Research will merge several graduate certificate programs into a coordinated entity. In addition to the university’s Head Start language and literacy program, the institute will include the SMU Learning Therapy, Bilingual and Master Reading Teacher graduate certificate programs. The institute also will address adult literacy needs.

“The concept for the Graduate Institute for Reading Research goes beyond the traditional teacher education structure to approach reading as an academic discipline such as English or mathematics,” said SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ross C Murfin. “We expect the institute’s research component to help chart new directions in reading instruction.”

“The TI Foundation has long been active in creating and funding programs to address the needs of our most vulnerable children at a critical point in their education,” said Mike Rice, president of the TI Foundation. “This grant is a natural extension of our partnership with SMU and will allow our local success to be replicated on a much larger scale.”

In 1990, the Texas Instruments Foundation and Head Start of Greater Dallas started a collaboration by establishing the Margaret H. Cone Head Start Center in a low-income, African American neighborhood near Fair Park. In 1993, the foundation asked SMU to develop an intensive pre-reading language enrichment program for children at the Cone Center. Nell Carvell of SMU’s Learning Therapy Program became the principal investigator on the project, which resulted in the Language Enrichment Activities Program (LEAP). The LEAP curriculum is rich in developmental activities such as using picture charts to build vocabulary, reading books to children that encourage their interaction and teaching children to make the connection between letters and sounds. In 1997, a second model addressing special education needs of Hispanic children was created in the Jerry R. Junkins Child Development Center in West Dallas.

LEAP has received wide acclaim and has now been endorsed by First Lady Laura Bush as part of her education platform. At the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development in July, the First Lady cited the Margaret Cone Center as an example of a successful pre-kindergarten reading program and recognized Carvell and Ann Minnis, director and grants administrator of the TI Foundation, for their roles. The Cone Center was the model for the $15 million statewide Ready to Read pre-school funding program approved by the Texas State Legislature in 1999 at Mrs. Bush’s urging.

“The Margaret Cone and Jerry Junkins Centers are examples of an effective partnership between industry and education for the benefit of the community,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We commend the Texas Instruments Foundation for its visionary leadership and generosity in addressing the education needs of young children living in poverty, and we look forward to our continued partnership through the new institute. The foundation’s grant makes possible a program that has been needed on this campus and in this city for some time now.”

Before LEAP was introduced at the Cone Center in 1995, children entering the Julia C. Frazier public elementary school from the center scored as low as the 21st percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), a nationally normed instrument.

“After several years with the LEAP curriculum, the children soared to levels ranging from the 60th percentile to as high as the 94th percentile in vocabulary and pre-reading skills. Our ITBS and Stanford-9 data clearly shows that children from low-income, minimum family support environments can perform at levels comparable to children from a much higher socioeconomic level given a quality preschool experience,” stated Rice. “At the beginning of the collaboration, 42 percent of third graders passed TAAS. This year, 98 percent passed, and Frazier earned the coveted status of ‘Exemplary’ per the Texas Education Agency,” he added.

SMU’s Graduate Institute for Reading Research will be community-service oriented. Community volunteers will be involved in mentoring children at the noncredit level, and graduate students in institute programs will serve internships in local education programs.

“The outreach emphasis of the Graduate Institute for Reading Research will strengthen the university’s ties with the Dallas community and the Dallas Independent School District,” said Robert A. Patterson, dean of Education and Lifelong Learning at SMU. “The institute also will have a strong focus on the diverse reading and literacy needs of children and adults in the changing demographic climate throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.”

A national selection committee for the SMU faculty chair-institute director will seek a leader in the field of reading who supports a research-based approach to development of pre-reading and early reading skills with an emphasis on phonological awareness, multisensory teaching, bilingual education and interactive learning.

In addition to the new gift for the Graduate Institute for Reading Research, the Texas Instruments Foundation and the family of Jerry Junkins gave $5 million to SMU in 1999 to support construction of a new engineering building named in memory of the late Texas Instruments chief executive officer and SMU trustee. The Jerry R. Junkins Electrical Engineering Building is currently under construction on the campus.

Gifts for both the Graduate Institute for Reading Research and the Junkins Electrical Engineering Building are part of SMU’s $400 million capital campaign launched in 1997. This five-year campaign is the most ambitious fund-raising effort in the university’s history, with the largest goal ever sought by an institution in North Texas. The campaign seeks endowment and other support to continue strengthening the quality of students, faculty, academic programs and selected facilities at SMU.