In memoriam: S. Jay Samuels

S. Jay Samuels, circa 1990

The College of Education and Human Development and Department of Educational Psychology were deeply saddened to learn that our distinguished colleague S. Jay Samuels, passed away on December 12, 2020. Professor Samuels was highly regarded for his major theoretical and empirical contributions to the field of reading, including his seminal article “Toward a theory of automatic information processing in reading” (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974) and subsequent field-shaping scholarship regarding the role of fluency in reading comprehension.

S. Jay Samuels graduated from Queens College in New York City with a degree in elementary education and taught for more than ten years in New York and California (all grades except first grade!). In 1965, he took a position as an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, where he continued to teach classes on the psychology of teaching and conduct research on the reading process until his retirement in 2013.

Samuel’s scholarship included developing materials and methods for improving word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. He also investigated young readers’ understanding of moral themes in text as well as how best to measure fluency.

Professor Samuels received the National Reading Council’s research award in 1985 and the International Reading Association’s (now International Literacy Association’s) award for research on the reading process in 1987. In 1986, he received the College of Education Distinguished Teaching Award. He was inducted into the Reading Hall of Fame in 1990. He is also a recipient of the International Reading Association William S. Gray Research Award and the National Reading Conference Oscar Causey Research Award. He was a member of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development National Reading Panel, and helped author its highly influential report in 2000.

He spent much of his time consulting with school districts, state departments of education, and with publishers on how to improve and measure reading fluency; and was a mentor and beloved colleague to many graduate students and faculty in the Department of Educational Psychology.

S. Jay Samuels will be deeply missed, and we know his scholarship will continue to have an important and lasting impact on teaching and learning, particularly in the area of reading, and on those who had the opportunity to learn with and from him. In an article he wrote as he neared retirement entitled “Looking Backward:Reflections on a Career in Reading” he noted the following:

“I like to leave my students with the following message, borrowed from Marva Collins: “Enter to learn, leave to serve.” I certainly hope that these words are a fitting description of what I have been trying to do these many years” (Samuels, 2006, p. 343). 

These words truly are fitting to Professor Samuel’s work and contributions to the field.