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Beth Sorensen
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Reed College professor named a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow

Jennifer Henderlong Corpus will receive $55,000 to further her research in developmental psychology and academic motivation


PORTLAND, OR (June 21, 2005) - Reed College assistant professor of psychology Jennifer Henderlong Corpus was recently named a 2005-2006 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. The fellowship award of $55,000 will help to cover her salary and research expenses for the fellowship period. Corpus, whose research explores developmental psychology and academic motivation, was one of twenty fellows selected from a competitive pool of nearly two hundred applicants.

The National Academy of Education, an honorary educational society, administers the fellowships. They are funded by a grant to the Academy from the Spencer Foundation.   Now in its twentieth year, the fellowship program has more than five hundred alumni, nationally or internationally.

Corpus' project proposes to determine why certain children are motivated by the love of learning while others lack this same intrinsic motivation. "My goal is to identify the constellation of beliefs and goals that enable some children to maintain an intrinsic orientation while their peers are showing substantial declines in intrinsic motivation," Corpus says.

She intends to use the award to aid in her investigation of the relationship between the motivation, beliefs, and goals of elementary and middle school children.   "I hope to use the study," Corpus says, "to determine how children's levels of intrinsic motivation may be related to their beliefs about the malleability of intelligence, their focus on mastering new material versus outperforming others, and the extent to which their teachers emphasize deep conceptual understanding rather than flawless performance."

Corpus' study in intrinsic motivation is a culmination of her efforts at Reed over the last four years. Her project seeks to determine the predictive power of motivational variables in order to begin designing motivational interventions for children.

Currently, the field of motivation comprises a number of "mini-theories," but lacks an overarching framework for how those theories work together.   Corpus believes that her project may help establish that framework. Eventually her findings may help develop methods for teachers and parents to increase the intrinsic motivation among students. "I hope that my findings will identify specific beliefs and goals that promote and sustain intrinsic motivation," Corpus notes. "Once identified, these beliefs and goals could be more explicitly promoted by parents and teachers, which ideally would prevent the loss of intrinsic motivation among students."

Corpus is dedicated to the theories behind intrinsic motivation in children. "Much of my work has focused on the relationship between 'intrinsic' (learning for the sake of learning) and 'extrinsic' (learning as a means to an end) sorts of motivations for academic pursuits," she says. "Relative to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation tends to be associated with a host of adaptive behaviors, such as challenge seeking and involvement in school.   Unfortunately, children's levels of intrinsic--but not extrinsic--motivation dissipate as they progress through the elementary and middle school years. I believe this is a real societal problem in need of further investigation."

Reed students will also play an important role in her project. "A small team of students has assisted with the planning of the project," Corpus notes, "and a number of additional students will join the project for data collection in the schools. In addition, my ideas for the project have been shaped by conversations with students in my motivation course and senior thesis students working in my lab."

Jennifer Henderlong Corpus received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Stanford University, and her B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan. She has been a member of the Reed faculty since 2001. She is a member of the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association.

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Reed College
Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is an undergraduate institution of the liberal arts and sciences dedicated to sustaining the highest intellectual standards. With an enrollment of about 1,360 students, Reed ranks third in the undergraduate origins of Ph.D.s in the United States and second in the number of Rhodes Scholars from a liberal arts college (31 since 1915). For more information, visit web.reed.edu.