A row of old books on a bookshelf.

History of the Ruth Harris Professorship
at the VCU School of Education 

The Ruth Harris Fellowship was established in 2007 by Dr. and Mrs. Louis Harris for the VCU School of Education.  The endowment was established with an initial gift of $100,000 toward the $250,000 necessary to elevate the Fellowship to a future Professorship.

The fund grew to endowment status and was formally renamed the Ruth Harris Professorship of Dyslexia Studies in 2010. 

Paul J. Gerber, Ph.D., professor emeritus in Counseling and Special Education and Foundations of Education, received the inaugural Harris professorship in 2010. 

In 2010, Dr. and Mrs. Harris received the Edward A. Wayne Medal award (one of the highest honors bestowed by VCU) in recognition of their extraordinary generosity and service to the university and the community.

In 2011, the Ruth Harris Professorship funded a lecture series. The inaugural event featured dyslexia researcher F. Xavier Castellanos, M.D., of New York University Medical Center. Dr. Castellanos delivered a lecture on "Mapping the Brain's Circuits for Reading'' before an audience of more than 100 people at VCU.  He also led a workshop with VCU doctoral and advanced graduate students on "Imaging the Brain's Intrinsic Function Architecture." And he toured VCU’s Department of Neurology and Virginia Treatment Center for Children to observe child and adolescent psychiatry.

In 2013, the VCU School of Education Ruth Harris Professorship funded a lecture featuring Anne Ford, author and great-granddaughter of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.  In addition, author/playwright John-Richard Thompson spoke at VCU about parenting children with learning disabilities. At the lecture, Ford shared her experiences parenting a daughter with learning disabilities, from initial diagnosis through guiding her toward an independent future. Despite having a wealthy, well-connected family, it was difficult for Ford to get a reliable assessment of her daughter Allegra's learning disability in 1970, when she was four years old, and find a supportive learning environment for her.

Also in 2013, Deborah Speece, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, VCU School of Education, presented “Predicting Problems in Early Elementary School” as part of a Ruth Harris Professorship lecture series. 

In 2014, H. Lee Swanson, Ph.D., presented Six Major Issues Confronting the Field of Learning Disabilities during the Ruth Harris lecture series. Dr. Swanson was the endowed chair and Distinguished Professor in Educational Psychology/Special Education at the University of California at Riverside. His prime research interests were in the area of intelligence, memory, mathematics, reading, and dynamic assessment as they apply to children with learning disabilities. 

Ruth Harris passed away at 94 on May 26, 2014.  

Kenneth Pugh, Ph.D., presented at the Ruth Harris lecture series held at the VCU Depot in October 2015.  At the time, Pugh was President, Director of Research, and Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories and a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Connecticut. He was also an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Yale University and Director of the Yale Reading Center. A cognitive neuroscientist and experimental psychologist, Dr. Pugh was best known for his work on the neural, behavioral, and cognitive underpinnings of reading and other cognitive activities.

Dr. Gerber retired in 2016. A renowned expert in the field of dyslexia, Dr. Paul Gerber dedicated much of his 38-year professional career to researching and writing about issues affecting those with learning disabilities, mainly after they leave school.

“It is both a crowning achievement and tremendous honor to be recognized for my contributions to the field of dyslexia research. This is my life’s work,” said Dr. Gerber. 

For more than 30 years, Dr. Gerber researched and wrote extensively on post-school and lifespan issues for adults with learning disabilities, particularly employment. He has written numerous chapters and articles and co-authored four books on adults with learning disabilities, one of which was chosen as a Top 20 Library Resource by the American Library Association.

The 2017 Ruth Harris lecture series featuring Jade Wexler, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education at the College of Education at the University of Maryland, was presented at The Depot in Richmond, VA, on Nov. 9. Dr. Wexler's presentation was titled “Meeting the Needs of Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: What Do We Know, What are Some Common Challenges, and What are Some Suggestions for Future Directions?”

Louis S. Harris, Ph.D., who served on the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine faculty for 44 years, passed away on June 10, 2019. 

In October 2020, Andrew Daire, Ph.D., was named the second Ruth Harris Professor.

On September 25, 2021, Tracy Weeden, Ed.D., president and CEO of Neuhaus Education Center, was featured as the guest speaker at the Ruth Harris Dyslexia & Language Learning Disability Symposium.  

Lisa Cipolletti, Assistant Professor And Elementary Program Chair, Teaching and Learning, became the Ruth Harris Fellow in 2022. In this role, she leads the Ruth Harris Professorship programs and initiatives as the collaborating faculty member.

The Ruth Harris Language, Learning Disability Symposium, was held on Saturday, October 1, 2022.  The symposium featured Kareem Weaver, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Full and Complete Reading is a Universal Mandate). 

Two virtual workshops were hosted in the Spring 2022, Dyslexia 101 and Final Exam Strategies for Students with Language/Learning Disabilities. 

Also in 2022, the inaugural Ruth Harris Scholars were named. The scholars included undergraduates, Darryl Baugh Jr., Katie Tuten, and Alie Linens, along with graduate students Vanessa Altman, Sarah Grissom, and Zoe Walker.

In 2023, the Ruth Harris Professorship funded and hosted three online workshops open to students, parents, advocates and professionals:

  • Resources for Families of Struggling Readers Learn about dyslexia advisors and how they support families in this online workshop
  • The Importance of Handwriting Instruction Did you know that handwriting instruction is an important skill to develop as a reader and writer?
  • Successful Study Strategies Learn more about specific study strategies designed for students with dyslexia and other language/learning disabilities

In June 2023, Dr. Daire departed the VCU School of Education to become the Provost at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  

To increase engagement, the symposium was re-named the Dyslexia Symposium, funded by the Ruth Harris Professorship.