Psychology Professor Sandra Russ among four to win Distinguished University Professor Award



Psychology professor Sandra Russ studies the relationship between creativity and pretend play. Harsha Chanduplatla/Observer

Anastazia Vanisko, Staff Reporter

Psychology professor Sandra Russ was awarded the Distinguished University Professor Award at fall convocation on Wednesday, Aug. 27. Russ was among four professors who were given the award, the others being nursing professor Barbara Daly, School of Medicine professor James Kazura and School of Medicine professor Kurt Stange.

Russ, who has been working at Case Western Reserve University since 1975, does research on the connection between a child’s creativity and pretend play. Through her research, she developed the Affect in Play Scale, which uses carefully spelled-out criteria to rate a child’s imagination, the quality of the story they are telling through play, and the level of comfort the child has while playing.

To standardize the experience, the children were all given the same toys, although younger children were given a wider variety. Some younger children also needed adults to begin the play by “modeling” examples for them.

Russ’ research shows how pretend play can help children generate their own ideas rather than taking them from other sources and adapting them to fit their needs. According to Russ, even an activity as simple as playing with LEGO can show how a child is able to manipulate ideas and create symbolism with their own imagination.

Russ also studied the amount of times that emotion is displayed in a child’s play. The more emotion shown in play, the better the child’s emotional development. This allows children to better attribute emotion to their memories.

Russ became interested in child’s creativity as an undergraduate, and eventually wrote her honors and master’s theses on the subject. She then worked for four years in a clinical setting at Washington University in St. Louis before coming to CWRU.

Beyond her research, Russ is very involved on the CWRU campus. She has been involved with the faculty senate, worked with the Minority Scholar’s program and served as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for a year.

“In terms of what I enjoy most, it’s really the research,” said Russ. “And the teaching, because it’s fun to kick around ideas with students.”

Russ hopes to continue teaching, while still expanding on her research. She recently started working with a group in Sweden to see if play can help young children cope with cancer.

For Russ, being recognized for her work with the Distinguished University Professor Award is both encouraging and thrilling.

“It spurs me on,” she said. “It’s recognizing the value of the work… of research.”