Deborah Dillon is Professor Emerita of Literacy Education and Guy Bond Chair in Reading at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Deborah earned a B.S.E in Elementary Education and Music Education, and an M.Ed. in Elementary Education-Reading from the University of Nebraska. She taught 5th and 6th grades for four years in a rural school in Nebraska, then earned her Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of Georgia in 1985. After graduation from UGA, Deborah began her university teaching and research career at Purdue University where she earned the rank of Professor and served as Associate Dean for Research and Development in the new School of Education.
While at UGA, Deborah met her future spouse and life-long research partner, David G. O’Brien. Deborah and David’s research focused on effective literacy practices for teachers and learners in K-12 schools (particularly adolescents), the role of motivation in teaching and learning, literacy across disciplines, digital literacies: construction of supportive programs for adolescents and struggling adolescent readers, using digital literacies to engage adolescents; and bridging traditional print literacies with multimodal literacies and new media. Across their careers, Deborah and David engaged in long-term classroom research projects, working side-by-side with outstanding elementary and high school teachers, learning how students learn and how teachers work to motivate them even when learning is challenging.
Deborah served as Chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Department in the College of Education and Human Development at the U of MN between 2001-2005. After stepping down from this administrative position, she worked on several grants with David and other colleagues in the Institute for Community Integration: National Center on Educational Outcomes. Prior to Deborah and David’s retirement in Spring 2021, Deborah served as the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Programs from 2013-2021.
Over her career, Deborah published 5 books, including Kids InSight: Reconsidering How to Meet the Literacy Needs of All Students, 25 technical reports, and 62 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as the American Educational Research Journal, Reading Research Quarterly, National Reading Conference Yearbook, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, and Theoretical Models and Processes Reading (5th ed. & 7th ed.). Dillon also received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Archibald Bush Foundation, and the U. S. Department of Education, totaling over $16,774,296. Deborah and David O’Brien collaborated on much of the research and grant work listed above, while also maintaining lines of independent inquiry that each found interesting.
Deborah was president of the National Reading Conference (LRA), former Vice‑Chair of the English Language Arts Early and Middle Childhood Standards Committee of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and a former Associate Editor of The Reading Teacher and AERA’s Educational Researcher. Over her career Deborah was awarded a university and department teaching award at Purdue University, was honored with a 2004 University of Georgia College of Education Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award, and received the 2012 Minnesota Academy of Reading Recognition Award.
Deborah and David adopted their daughter, Erin Margaret O’Brien in 1998. She is the joy of our lives. Erin currently lives in MN and is studying to become an elementary school teacher—a decision that made her parents very happy.