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Richard Snow, educational psychologist, dies at 61

"When I think of the Stanford University School of Education, I think of Dick. He was part of the very fabric of the school. He stood for so many good things about scholarship, teaching and caring," Richard Shavelson, dean of the School of Education, said of his colleague Richard Snow.

Snow, the Howard H. and Jessie T. Watkins University Professor Emeritus of Education, died at his Stanford home Dec. 5 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.

A specialist on learning styles, Snow devoted much of his work to the study of different aptitudes and the ways in which teaching methods can take these differences into account.

"The psychology of human differences is fundamental to education," Snow once said. "Yet designers of policy and practice often ignore its lessons. My work seeks to change that fact, to promote educational improvement for all."

Born in Newark, N.J., in 1936, Snow earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and his master's and doctoral degrees in psychology from Purdue University. He came to Stanford in 1966 as a research associate for the Stanford Center for Research and Development in Teaching and joined the faculty a year later. From 1983 to 1985, Snow served as liaison scientist for psychology in Europe and the Middle East for the U.S. Office of Naval Research in London.

Early in his career, Snow collaborated with Lee Cronbach, professor emeritus of education, in studying the field of human ability. According to Lee Shulman, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the work of Cronbach and Snow "literally revolutionized the study of human abilities in the 1970s. Snow went on to make a specialty out of the study of volition ­ the importance of motivation and will as a determinant of why people do what they do and how well they do them."

Snow was the author of three books, more than 50 book chapters and 40 journal articles. In 1991 he received the American Psychological Association's E. L. Thorndike Award for Distinguished Psychological Contributions to Education. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and was elected to the National Academy of Education in 1993. Snow held honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and the University of Leuven, Belgium. Earlier this year, the Educational Testing Service honored Snow for Distinguished Service to Measurement, for his contributions to the development of methodology for educational research and evaluation.

Friends and colleagues remember Snow as a man of few words who had a rumbling basso voice and New Jersey accent. He was a die-hard football fan and enjoyed Irish music. His passion for research and teaching never let up even in his most difficult days. Diagnosed with cancer last spring, Snow continued his work to the end. He taught two seminars fall quarter and nearly finished a book.

"He really wanted to leave a book that would be his final statement about aptitude and human abilities," Shulman said.

"He was so committed to the School of Education that he continued to teach throughout his illness," added Alberta Siegel, professor emerita of psychiatry. "Even if it meant coming to class in a wheelchair, he did it."

Snow is survived by his wife, Joan Talbert; children Ryan of Stanford; Shenandoah of Yakima, Wash.; September, Alec and Erich of the Bay Area; and brother, Robert, of Sarasota, Fla.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, in Memorial Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Snow's memory to the American Cancer Society or the charity of one's choice.


By Elaine Ray

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