From the Desk of the Dean – September 2020 – School of Education & Human Development






From the Desk of the Dean - September 2020

Dear School of Education and Human Development family,

It is hard to believe that we are well into the seventh month of adapting to a world changing pandemic, and it is difficult to contemplate all of the other world- and perspective-changing events that have occurred during this time. Shocking, painful and polarizing national and international conversations have framed our understanding of racism, remote education, policing, health disparities, climate effects and leadership. Our beloved UM campus opened a week earlier than planned for the fall 2020 academic term. We also welcomed back students who held their negative COVID test results in hand amidst a larger conversation about what is the right thing for institutions of higher education to do. So, here we are – and our SEHD faculty, staff and students have done an astounding job of adapting to new issues, concerns, teaching modalities and limitations. While this period has been characterized by anxiety and stress, I believe we also have the opportunity to question and evolve. Just as our country is experiencing a new era of racial reckoning that will be important to moving us forward toward greater justice and equality – education is experiencing a revolution in terms of how we teach and how we facilitate learning, for which greater emphasis on student engagement, social-emotional interactions, and advancing equity are critical. As an academic unit that comprehensively addresses psychological, physical and educational well-being, we are in a better position than most to understand the current context, and move forward with purpose.

For example, an SEHD workgroup headed by Dr. Soyeon Ahn, with rigorous statistical analytic assistance from Anthony Bolcato – a graduate student in our Higher Education Administration Program/Institutional Research & Policy Analysis Track, was able to provide the University with a longitudinal assessment of our spring online pivot utilizing student course evaluation data by comparing spring 2020 with data from 2018 and 2019. Perhaps surprisingly, students’ evaluation of their courses emphasized the major effort on behalf of faculty to facilitate the continuity of learning despite challenges posed by a sudden switch from the classroom to remote platforms. And, we learned that excellent teaching is excellent teaching, regardless of modality.

To that end, it is with great pleasure that I announce that Professor Kristen Schwarz of the Department of Teaching and Learning has been selected as the UM recipient of the College Football Playoff Foundation “Extra Yard for Teachers” award for the annual Extra Yard for Teachers Week Honors co-sponsored by ESPN and universities and athletics conferences across the country. Those who know Professor Schwarz’ excellence in teaching sign language to UM students, know that she is consistently the highest rated professor in the SEHD by students, and also know that her joy and enthusiasm for teaching is legendary.

I am thrilled to report that our faculty continue to submit for and receive grant funding for a variety of projects ranging from Dr. Ashmeet Oberoi’s spring grant extension for campus innovation from the Interfaith Youth Core; to Dr. Arlette Perry’s funding from the Children’s Trust to continue her work related to health and fitness literacy for children (The THINK program); and Dr. Walter Secada’s fully funded subcontract to develop effective mathematics educators via cognitively guided instruction. We have also received notification that two of our faculty have been part of successful interdisciplinary teams to receive internal funding for the recent U-LINK award for social equity. The selected projects include Antiracism and climate justice dialogues to build an interdisciplinary course and research inquiry (Research team includes Dr. Scot Evans); Joint Academic Nurtureship for Underrepresented Students (JANUS): A Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Initiative (Research team includes Dr. Wendy Morrison-Cavendish); and Community-based Budgeting as an Antidote to Police Violence (Research team includes Dr. Scot Evans). Despite serious challenges to the way academics typically function, the scholarship and productivity of our faculty perseveres.

Further, the dedication of our SEHD administrative staff, also challenged by having to work remotely and at reduced overall capacity for months, has been simply amazing. I am greatly appreciative of our grant team, our offices of undergraduate and graduate studies, our newly formed administrative “pool” and dean’s office staff, departmental managers and program staff, communications-marketing-IT-events team, and business office team – all have all been remarkable.

This year for us, like for so many of you, “Back to School” has looked like no other. We are fortunate to welcome new students both as first year undergraduates and in our graduate programs, as well as returning students who are taking classes in a variety of modalities. Having moved through so many challenges already, I am optimistic that we will remain resilient, and are poised to continue to contribute to solving the major educational and societal challenges we are all facing…together..