Married Penn State Guggenheim Fellows a rarity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When both partners of a married couple are building careers in academia, it can be a struggle to live in the same town. Whether teaching, conducting research abroad or on sabbatical, Penn State distinguished professors Judith Kroll and David Rosenbaum have always made it their priority. 

Last year Rosenbaum received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work connecting cognitive psychology and motor control. He deferred it for a year, while Kroll applied for several fellowships so she could travel with him to UCLA in Los Angeles and conduct research in bilingualism and second-language acquisition. Among the fellowships she applied for was the Guggenheim Fellowship. She assumed it was a long shot.

“I applied for it with no expectations, so when I did receive it, I was surprised,” said Kroll about winning a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2013-14. “It’s such a pleasure to receive one.”

While the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation could not confirm with 100 percent accuracy that the two are the only married couple to both receive the Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of psychology, they are the only two noted on record so far. It is a rarity — as is the fact that their academic careers have been able to follow close paths.

The two met at Stanford University when he was working on his doctoral degree there in psychology and she was working on her doctoral degree in psychology at Brandeis University. When they completed their degrees in 1977, she started as an assistant professor at Swarthmore College and, three hours away, he was a member of the technical staff in the Human Information Processing Research Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. The distance was too far for them, but happily, Kroll was offered a position at Rutgers University. She took the job on one condition — that they live in Manhattan. He agreed, and she commuted to Rutgers in Newark, about 30 minutes from their apartment, while he commuted to Bell Laboratories, about an hour and a half away.

When Kroll became pregnant with twins — a pleasant surprise — she also found out that the building she was working in was being investigated for high rates of cancer. Kroll was eager to find work elsewhere and the couple moved with their twin daughters, Nora and Sarah Kroll Rosenbaum, to Massachusetts. Kroll taught at Mount Holyoke College and Rosenbaum taught at Hampshire College.

“We both went from research institutions to small teaching institutions. We sacrificed our research and salaries to stay together,” said Rosenbaum. “But we enjoyed it and have been committed to teaching ever since.”

While they did make some career sacrifices, their careers soon found much success. They both managed to become fellows from 1989 to 1990 at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and they both ended their time in New England with professional ties to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Ten years after their visit to their Netherlands they returned in 1999 as visiting professors at the University of Nijmegen. And in 1994, they moved to State College to teach and do research at Penn State. Kroll is a distinguished professor of psychology, linguistics and women’s studies and the director of the Center for Language Science. Rosenbaum is also a distinguished professor of psychology, a member of the Center for Motor Control, and a virtual faculty member of the Cognitive Interaction Technology research cluster at the University of Bielefeld, in Germany.

Rosenbaum’s work as a cognitive psychologist focuses on the planning and control of physical activity. His research focus on motor control (mainly reaching and grasping objects) uses computer modeling and recording of behavior. He will continue this work during his Guggenheim Fellowship.

Kroll’s work is on bilingualism and second-language acquisition. She has developed a foundational theoretical model of how language is represented cognitively. She will spend her year as a Guggenheim Fellow examining the consequences of second-language learning and bilingualism for native language use.

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Last Updated May 22, 2013