Honoring the life and legacy of Carol Connor – Early Learning Network
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Honoring the life and legacy of Carol Connor

Carol Connor In Memoriam

Honoring the life and legacy of Carol Connor

Early Learning Network principal investigator Carol McDonald Connor, Ph.D., chancellor’s professor in the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education and a renowned education psychologist, passed away May 14, 2020 after battling ovarian cancer.


Her untimely death is a significant loss to the network and to the field of early childhood research.


Carol will have a lasting legacy through her distinguished contributions to early learning practice and research, and the indelible impact she made on the many researchers, scholars, practitioners, children and families whose lives she touched.


Carol was a passionate researcher, prolific scholar, and a warm and caring colleague and friend. She was known for her contributions to the field of early literacy development in diverse learners, and in particular, for her work on individualized student instruction interventions and the lattice model of reading development.


Her work focused on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms, with an emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.


Carol was an innovator in the use of technology to help teachers personalize instruction for students with differing knowledge and skills. She led the network’s assessment team and developed the web-based Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students (OLOS) Observation System. OLOS is currently being used in classrooms across the U.S. as part of the network’s research studies to improve teachers’ practices and student outcomes.


Among her many achievements, Carol was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers presented by President George W. Bush in 2006. She held appointments at top universities and was principal investigator for studies funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.


Read her full CV and learn more about Carol life’s in memorial published in the New York Times.


Carol’s life was celebrated May 21 by immediate family. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure everyone’s safety, a celebration of life will be held with her family, friends and colleagues this fall or early next year at UC-Irvine.


The family has established a fund to honor Carol’s passion for educational research, teacher support and children’s reading success: The Dr. Carol Connor Fund.


Reflections from ELN researchers


“In academia, there is a saying, “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” Carol Connor was distinguished both by her brilliance and her kindness. She epitomized class and poise in her professional life. She was relentlessly committed to excellence for herself, her students, and the children and teachers she aimed to help with her research and clinical work. Her generosity, both with her time and her knowledge, was unmatched.It has been an honor to work closely with her these last years. Her contributions to the worlds of reading research and early childhood have forever changed the field and her presence in my life has forever changed me. I will miss her dearly.”

—Ashley Adams, UC-Irvine team


“Carol always brought such positive energy and a tangible lightness into the Early Learning Network. She was incredibly gracious sharing her Individualizing Student Instruction measure with our team and in answering our many questions. We will miss her greatly.”

—MDRC team, University of Michigan, Harvard and Boston Public Schools team


“Carol was truly a tremendously positive and energetic person. She brought great enthusiasm to her work and just by being in her presence those around her could not help but be captured by her ideas and energy and be swept into that flow. Her groundbreaking scholarship provided a trail of strong scientific support for the idea that classroom experiences are of great importance for students’ learning — and that what teachers teach and when they teach it can have profound consequences for students, particularly those who are less advantaged. She truly was an innovator with a vision — for systems of classroom supports in the areas of assessment and curriculum and teacher professional development that would align to children’s learning trajectories. A vision to which we all can aspire. I will miss her great enthusiasm and energy and good cheer.”

—Bob Pianta, University of Virginia team


“I had the pleasure of meeting Carol just under a year ago while attending the OLOS training. She went above and beyond to show her genuine appreciation for the contributions we were making to the OLOS project. Being around her was a joy, however, her positive influence did not stop there. No matter what, Carol’s kindness and thoughtfulness poured out into any and all of her day-to-day interactions. She was determined to make a difference in the lives of so many, and her commitment to the fields of research and education speaks volumes to the type of person she was. Without a doubt, she will be greatly missed in research and beyond.”

—Brittany Rettig, University of Virginia team


“Carol was a brilliant researcher, an inspirational leader, and a warm and wonderful person. Her passion for children’s learning and development, and her innovations and vision, will live on in the many mentees and collaborators with whom she worked. I feel very privileged to have been part of that circle over the recent past. Although her absence will be felt, her presence in the Early Learning Network will continue to enhance our work for years to come.”

—Sue Sheridan, University of Nebraska–Lincoln team


“Carol and her work preceded our formal introduction and collaboration on the Early Learning Network. Carol’s work with colleagues on an often neglected and marginalized topic, the role of African American English vernacular on Black children’s language and development, showed her tenacity, rigor and integrity in supporting the learning of all children. This tenacity, rigor and integrity will live on through her work, but most importantly, through her mentees and collaborators. I send my deepest condolences to her family, friends, colleagues and mentees. Carol’s collaborative and innovative spirit will be missed but never forgotten.”

—Iheoma U. Iruka, HighScope Educational Research Foundation, University of Nebraska–Lincoln team


“I appreciated Carol’s passion for her work and her commitment to identifying innovative assessment methods to positively impact the educational experiences of students. She did not back away from obstacles but rather worked to identify mutually beneficial solutions. Carol confronted adversity with strength and positivity and she always exhibited collegiality. Her perspective and collaborative spirit will be greatly missed.”

—Lisa Knoche, University of Nebraska–Lincoln team


“Carol’s too-soon passing leaves a striking void in our Early Learning Network and the entire field of early childhood development and learning. Carol has been an outstanding contributor to research on early learning, a phenomenal mentor of emerging scientists and a positive force on many scientific networks and panels. We will sincerely miss her smiling face, great ideas and collaborative zeal.”

— Ohio State University team