This message was sent from President Kim Cassidy on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:
I am glad to have the opportunity to share a longer remembrance of Leslie Rescorla, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Class of 1897 Professor of Science Emeritus, who passed away on Oct. 12. Professor Rescorla was a mentor to me as a new faculty member when I joined the Psychology Department in 1993, and in the years following. She modeled passion for teaching, and taking joy in watching students learn; demonstrated that a commitment to research goes hand in hand with good teaching; and was an exemplar of service to the College. She brought extraordinary energy, determination, and creativity to all parts of her work and her life.
Psychology was not Professor Rescorla’s original field of study. She majored in Modern European History at Radcliffe College, where she graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1967, and earned a M.A. in Economic History at the London School of Economics in 1968. Her scholarly interests then shifted, and she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Child Development and Clinical Psychology from Yale in 1976, and to complete her clinical training at Yale, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center. She remained a licensed clinical and school psychologist through her career, and directed Bryn Mawr’s School Psychologist Certification program for many years, helping scores of children and families over her many years of practice.
Professor Rescorla came to Bryn Mawr in 1985, where she taught in the Psychology Department as well as directing the College’s Phebe Anna Thorne School and, until 2018, the Child Study Institute. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 1991, to Professor in 1997, and was awarded the Class of 1897 Professorship in Science in 2010. In 2002 she received the McPherson Prize for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service to the community.
Professor Rescorla’s research focused on late development of language in children; she also collaborated with her husband, Professor Thomas Achenbach of the University of Vermont, in international comparative study of the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment of child behavior. She published more than 150 scholarly papers, including her longitudinal study of late talking toddlers and the Language Development Survey that she created, which has been adapted and used in many languages to aid in early identification of language development issues. She gave invited talks and papers around the world, often choosing to brush up on her many languages so that she could give the talk (and sometimes even answer questions) in the host country’s language. Professor and Chair of Psychology Marc Schulz remarks that “Leslie had a remarkable career. Her prodigious output and influence on the field is a reflection of incredible smarts combined with a work ethic and efficiency that was second to none.”
Professor Schulz goes on to say, “Leslie’s scholarly activities were never just about contributing to science and knowledge. Students were always very much at the center of Leslie’s research efforts.” In addition to teaching courses across the curriculum, from the Introductory Psychology 105 to Abnormal Psychology to graduate seminars, Professor Rescorla supervised over 70 undergraduate senior research projects, 26 M.A. theses, and 45 Ph.D. dissertations.
Her service to the College included 20 years of leading the doctoral program in Clinical Developmental Psychology; chairing the Psychology Department, uniting what was once the human development department and the psychology department into a single department; leading the Katharine Hepburn Center; serving as Commencement Grand Marshall; overseeing the Child Study Institute for over 30 years; and perhaps most notably, directing the Thorne School throughout her career at Bryn Mawr. Retired Director Marilyn Henkelman, who led the Thorne School from 1985-2018, recalls that “Leslie was available whenever we needed her, whether for budgeting concerns or child and parent consultation and support; and she was totally hands off when she knew we could operate on our own. She will have an enduring legacy at Bryn Mawr of not only outstanding teaching and research, but also for creating and supporting programs that enhance the lives of young children—she was a phenomenon!” Current Director Amanda Ulrich describes Professor Rescorla as a forward-thinking visionary who was a “mentor to teachers, therapists, speech pathologists, and me.”
Professor Rescorla was generous in extending her care and expertise to families and children that were part of the Thorne, CSI, and campus communities. Professor of History of Art Emeritus Christiane Hertel recalls that Professor Rescorla immediately offered to help when she and her family negotiated complex state requirements for child services, writing “I was struck and humbled by her straightforward, objective, professional approach, and with that, her personal kindness and commitment to a child she had never met, and to our family.”
Professor Rescorla was a remarkable colleague, teacher, and friend who gave tirelessly to the College, to her colleagues, and most especially to her students. She touched the lives of so many of us and she will be greatly missed.
Professor Rescorla is survived by her husband; her siblings Will, Peter, Jacoby, and Tamar; her sons Eric and Michael; and grandsons Darwin, Lincoln, Alex, and Nicky. Condolences may be sent to Leslie’s brother, Will Altman, at 6 East Mercer Avenue, Havertown, PA 19083.