Audrey Champagne was a pioneer at LRDC

Audrey B. Champagne, a pioneer who studied science and mathematics learning at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), died Aug. 14, 2019, at 84.

Her former colleague Richard Goldman, who met Champagne when she joined the School of Education as a lecturer in 1968, said, “Audrey is the smartest person I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot of smart people.

“She really respected teachers and practitioners,” he recalled. “She respected what teachers did and saw teachers as the catalysts for improving science education, not researchers and professors.”

Alan Lesgold, LRDC senior scientist and former Renée and Richard Goldman dean (2000-16) of the School of Education, remembered Champagne as “energetic and imaginative, and just plain kind.

“In the early years of the Learning Research and Development Center, it was really doing something new” in studying the psychology of learning inside the classroom. “Schools of education were very much in the ivory tower at that moment. … Research journals weren’t even interested in publishing research that took place in classrooms.”

Champagne was an innovator in bringing research out of this cloister: “She was a major contributor to … this new enterprise,” he said. “She helped to build the good strengths that the school and the LRDC have today.”

Two years after joining Pitt, Champagne became a research associate at the LRDC and earned her Ph.D. in education at Pitt in December 1970. She became a research assistant professor at the school in 1971, and two years later was named co-director of the Individualized Science Project. The next year, she was promoted to research associate professor.

At LRDC, she led the way in developing instructional software for physics and elementary mathematics. She was well known for collaborating across disciplines and wrote widely on such topics as expert and novice performance in problem solving, knowledge about physical properties, problem solving in science teaching and reasoning about physical concepts. 

She served on the editorial boards of the journals Science Education and Studies in Science, and for the yearbook of the National Science Teachers' Association. She was also a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Educational Research Association, and Kappa Omega Phi.

From July 1984 to June 1986, she took a leave of absence to direct the Project for Science and Technology Education Planning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C., departing Pitt in 1987 to become AAAS’s associate director for education. Later, she joined the faculty at State University of New York–Albany, with joint appointments in educational theory and practice and in chemistry, from which she retired an emerita professor.

She served on several prestigious committees, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which created science frameworks and performance standards, and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), researching science education. NARST awarded her its Distinguished Contributions to Science Education Award. In 2016, she and her co-authors won the William Elgin Wickenden Award from the American Society for Engineering Education.

Goldman recalled the years in which their families were friends, including their young children. When his kids were in preschool, Goldman said, Champagne would lead family hikes in the woods. “She would make science lessons for hours, just on a short little hike, on flora and fauna and mushrooms and all kinds of things lay people would never see.”

— Marty Levine