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William D. Rohwer Jr.
In Memoriam

William D. Rohwer Jr.

Professor of Education, Emeritus

UC Berkeley
William (Bill) D. Rohwer Jr. died on June 26, 2016. He had enjoyed his final years in well-deserved retirement, pursuing a long-standing interest in fine wines. Before retiring in 1996, he had provided 34 years of remarkable service to the University of California, Berkeley, to the field of educational research, and to the graduate students he prepared to begin their own careers as researchers.

Bill was born on October 2, 1937, in Denver, Colorado. He was educated at Harvard University and completed his doctorate in psychology at Berkeley, then was appointed assistant professor of education in 1964 at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education (GSE). He immediately embarked on a program of research and writing that established his reputation as a rigorous and productive researcher, enabling him to rise to full professor in just six years. In this initial wave of studies, he employed carefully designed experiments to examine learning and memory processes in young students of different ages as they performed “laboratory” learning tasks. In his later research, the focus shifted to more natural tasks involving the kinds of studying that students would do in learning school subjects. In all of this research the goal was to gain a better understanding of the mental processes that students might actively employ in learning, and to see how those processes might change in the course of their development. Rohwer wanted to help educators foster the development and use of effective learning strategies among their students.

Bill’s research received ongoing support from such agencies as the U.S. Office of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Articles based on his research appeared often in the principal refereed journals on educational psychology and child development. Bill was also invited to contribute chapters to important edited volumes, including the Handbook of Learning and Cognitive Processes and Carmichael’s Manual of Child Psychology. In addition, he made numerous presentations at conferences of major organizations such as the American Educational Research Association, where he was both an invited speaker and a recipient of the prestigious Palmer Johnson Award. While publishing his own research, Bill was often asked, by the editors of several journals, to review manuscripts submitted by others—a good indication of the respect for his research acumen among leaders in the field.

At the same time that Bill was establishing himself as a topflight researcher, he was also becoming known as a congenial, conscientious, and capable colleague. In faculty meetings at Berkeley, he gained a reputation as someone who was particularly good at framing issues clearly and constructing well-reasoned arguments for one course of action versus another. That reputation led to opportunities for leadership on the Berkeley campus and beyond. He served as speaker for the GSE’s Division of Educational Psychology, as vice-chairman of the school’s faculty, and as associate dean of education. While associate dean, he played a key role in rebuilding the GSE to national prominence, especially through his successful efforts to recruit a large number of new faculty members. He was then, in 1990, chosen in a national search to serve as dean of the school. In that role, he solidified the national stature of the GSE by recruiting additional faculty and by improving the school’s organization. After his tenure as dean, Bill retired in 1996, then was appointed to the position of acting director of Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development in 1997-98.

In addition to these administrative assignments, Bill’s committee service for the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate included membership on the Committee on Courses of Instruction (1969-71), and the Committee on Admissions, Enrollment, and Preparatory Education (1980-84), which he chaired for two years. At the systemwide level, he served on the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (1981-83), and the Special Committee on Student Affirmative Action.

As an instructor, Bill effectively taught a variety of courses offered by the GSE, including some that were open to undergraduates. By all accounts, he was an especially effective mentor for graduate students whom he involved in his research, and for whom he served as an advisor on theirs. Indeed, many of Bill’s former advisees went on to have successful careers as educational researchers themselves, and they were very quick to credit him with giving them a firm foundation for what they accomplished later. There was a particularly noteworthy occasion, at the 1987 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, when an entire session was devoted to presentations by several of Bill’s former students, with Bill serving as honorary chair of the session.
Bill is survived by his wife, Carol, and by four children. No consideration of his legacy would be complete without mention of the time and caring that he always gave to his family.

Paul Ammon
Elliot Turiel