A Leader in Writing English and Secondary Education becomes the First School of Ed Endowed Professor

Robert Yagelsi in studio photo and Dorothy Griffin '34 on the shop floor of her longtime business.
Robert Yagelski, the new Dorothy G. Griffin Professor in the School of Education, and Griffin, a 1934 alum who went on to careers in teaching, business and philanthropy.

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 10, 2021) — The first endowed professorship in the School of Education has gone to Professor Robert Yagelski, a more than 20-year member of Educational Theory & Practice (ETAP), an associate vice provost and director of the University’s Program in Writing & Critical Inquiry (WCI).

Yagelski becomes the inaugural holder of The Dorothy G. Griffin Professorship in English Education, established under the auspices of a planned gift in 1995 by Dorothy Griffin ’34, who began her career as an English teacher at Draper High School in Schenectady, went on to great success in business, and became a noted philanthropist to secondary and postsecondary institutions.

“Professor Yagelski’s professional career has focused on the improvement of English Education and he has been a prominent leader in our secondary education program,” said Jason Lane, the former dean of Education. “I’m thrilled that he has been named the inaugural holder of the professorship. It's also a wonderful example of our how our alums seek to pay forward the value of their UAlbany education to future generations of educators.”

Scholarship and Integrity

Lane nominated Yagelski for the Griffin Professorship, noting a scholarly record that includes three books, 25 peer-reviewed articles and six textbooks focused on teaching writing. The third edition of his college writing textbook, Writing: Ten Core Concepts, was published this year.

His ETAP colleague, Associate Professor Carol Rogers, commented, “Dr. Yagelski's integrity shines through not just in research on writing, but in his teaching, his leadership in teacher education, his departmental leadership, and the establishment and leadership of WCI.”

Yagelski said, “I see the Griffin appointment as an acknowledgement of my efforts to improve the teaching of English in our schools and a statement about the importance of that work. I feel especially privileged to be the first person to hold this special appointment.”

Commitment to English Education

Griffin arranged her gift to the University with the intent on supporting academic excellence in teacher education programs with a specific emphasis on English education. Yagelski’s commitment in this area is reflected in his leadership of the Capital District Writing Project (CDWP), a site of the National Writing Project and an important collaboration between the School of Education and local school districts. He secured grant funding to help re-establish CDWP at UAlbany in 2004 and served as its director until 2017. CDWP continues today under the leadership of Kelly Wissman, associate professor of Literacy Teaching & Learning.

Among his extensive University service, Yagelski helped design and then developed and led WCI, a program that has prepared countless incoming undergraduate students to succeed in University-level writing and has played a significant role in the University’s broader student success and retention initiatives.

He sees education in the United States as in a “period of significant transition,” including growing online education and remote instruction — factors accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “These technologies have changed the way we communicate — and the way we think about and use written language,” said Yagelski. “In some ways, writing has never been more important, and the need to prepare new teachers to teach writing effectively has never been greater.

“Historically, we in the U.S. collectively have done a rather poor job of teaching writing and of preparing teachers to teach writing. But we do know how to do both well, and our challenge now is to adapt to emerging technologies and improve how we prepare future teachers so that they in turn can prepare their own students for the world we live in.”

Dedication to Future Students’ Lives

Yagelski agreed to serve as interim ETAP chair in 2019-20 academic year to help lead a rejuvenation of UAlbany’s secondary education program and to launch the School’s new 4+1 degree pathways — the foundation for the Great Dane Teacher Pathway. “This is a very significant development for UAlbany,” he said. “It enables undergraduate students interested in pursuing a career in education to dedicate themselves to that goal early in their college careers and to have appropriate guidance and mentoring in pursuit of that goal.”

Yagelski plans to continue working on a new book, Writing and well-being: Teaching writing as a practice of living. “My new book will explore the connections between the practice of writing and the development of emotional, social and even physical well-being,” he said.

“Over the past eight years I have had the great privilege to help design, implement and direct WCI, working with an outstanding faculty. The more I have been engaged in that work, the more I have come to see well-being as a central — if not the central — goal of what we do. I have been teaching writing for nearly 40 years — at the high school, college and graduate levels — and increasingly I find that the focus of my work is as much on helping students learn to engage in writing to live more fully, more mindfully and more humanely as it is on helping them develop effective writing skills.”