Patricia A. Edwards, an internationally recognized literacy scholar, was named a Michigan State University Distinguished Professor in June 2023. The honor is one of high distinction at the university, and only given to select faculty members to recognize distinguished achievement in teaching, research and public service.
Edwards joined the MSU College of Education in 1989 and was promoted to full professor in 1994. Her work centers on supporting literacy learning and development for families of color, with particular attention to the roles of parents in children’s literacy development.
Her research — which includes more than $100 million in grant-funded projects and 12 books (and counting) — promotes practical, sustainable and inclusive strategies to improve reading and literacy for children. Her ideas, such as two national literacy programs, have been incorporated into many educational contexts.
Moreover, her expertise has guided national conversation. In 1989, one of Edwards’ programs was recognized as one of ten promising literacy programs nationwide in “First Teachers,” a book by First Lady Barbara Bush. In 2009, she was the scholar in residence for the National Alliance of Black Educators.
“I cannot think of a scholar who is more deserving of this accolade,” said Tanya S. Wright, associate professor of language and literacy in the MSU College of Education. Wright led the nomination effort on Edwards’ behalf. “I have witnessed her brilliance and steadfast engagement in powerful and impactful research, public service and teaching that promotes a more just society, educational system and thriving world.”
THE PATH OF A TRAILBLAZER
As Wright explained in her nomination letter, Edwards “authored the role of a leading African American woman in contexts where she was often the first or only woman of color present.” This is illustrated at various points in her career:
- 2006: Named the first African American president of the National Reading Conference, which was later named the Literacy Research Association (LRA). In 2010, she became president of the International Reading Association.
- 2012: Inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame. At the time, she was one of a few African American women to attain this accolade.
- 2019: Received the Scholars of Color Distinguished Career Contribution Award by the Committee on Scholars of Color in Education at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference.
- 2020: Named the first African American winner of the Oscar S. Causey Award from LRA, considered the most prestigious award in reading research.
Though Edwards can be described as a trailblazer, she also ensured others had a pathway as well. She was co-author of an initial proposal that eventually resulted in the LRA Scholars of Color Transitioning into Academic Research institutions (STAR) program. From 1994-1996, Edwards was also part of the Sesame Street Board of Directors and supported the program in using culturally responsive material that ensured interests of children of color were supported and shared.
She will continue the trend with a forthcoming book: “Teaching with Literacy Programs: Equitable Instruction for All” (Harvard University Press), which will be published in October 2023.
It is perhaps no surprise that Edwards has often been tapped as a keynote speaker and utilized as an expert in news outlets from around the world.
The U.S. government has also recognized the importance of Edwards’ contributions: She was saluted by then Louisiana Representative Clyde Hollaway in 1989 for her work in family and intergenerational literacy. Within the state of Louisiana, Edwards has received a commendation from the LA House of Representatives (2001), and Donaldsonville, LA recognized February 13, 2001 as “Dr. Patricia Edwards Day” in recognition of her work with a local elementary school. In 2022, she was selected to be featured in The HistoryMakers, a digital repository of the Black experience in the U.S.
“We are tremendously proud of Patricia Edwards and thankful for her countless efforts toward inclusivity and advancement in the field of reading,” said Jerlando F. L. Jackson, dean of the College of Education and MSU Research Foundation Professor of Education. “She exemplifies the will of a Spartan: Someone with a drive to change the world, and the sustained commitment to pursue a better tomorrow for all.”
* Edwards was on faculty at three Louisiana higher education institutions prior to her arrival at MSU.