The CUE Story

by Matt Wein, CUE Media Arts & Communications Manager

The University of Pittsburgh School of Education launched the Center for Urban Education in 2003 under the direction of Alan Lesgold, the former Renée and Richard Goldman Dean. At the start, the Center had no director or staff – only an ambitious agenda designed around two key ventures: a pilot program in the Wilkinsburg School District, and a professional development program in the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Phillips Elementary.

In 2006, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced the creation of the Dr. Helen S. Faison Chair in Urban Education, the first fully-endowed chair in the School of Education’s history, with major lead donations from the Buhl Foundation, the Grable Foundation, and the R.K. Mellon Foundation, with partner donations from the Maurice Faulk Fund.

In June of 2008, Louis Gomez was appointed the inaugural holder of the Faison Chair and director of the Center for Urban Education. A key figure in the transformation of the Chicago Public Schools, Dr. Gomez held the position until leaving for UCLA in 2011.

After Dr. Gomez’s departure, the directorship and Faison Chair sat vacant for two years until the appointment of H. Richard Milner, VI. CUE has taken off under Dr. Milner’s leadership, growing from a director and one other faculty member into a team of 13, including five faculty, three staff, and six graduate students.

The Center for Urban Education’s vision is to be a space of learning and sharing with communities to positively transform educational opportunities and experiences.  


In September, CUE moved into a newly designed and renovated space in 4303 Wesley W. Posvar Hall that will better allow it to work toward its vision.

“When I got here, we didn’t even have a trash can,” Milner said. “To see how far we’ve come these last four years is truly amazing. I’m humbled by all the support people have shown us, and I’m beyond proud of all the work we’ve done and continue to do.”

Central to CUE’s work is the development of connections – between theory and practice, between communities and schools, and between researchers with overlapping interests. To help create and maintain those connections, CUE develops, facilitates, and stages a variety of programs and initiatives, all of which are informed by six core beliefs.

The Center for Urban Education is focused on:

  • Learning – Learning from and with other is essential for building knowledge and understanding
  • Relationships – Relationships are at the core of effective educational policies and practices
  • Assets – People and communities have a wide range of strengths and assets from which we should recognize, cultivate, and build.
  • Sharing – In sharing what we know and possess to enrich communities and collective interests.
  • Equity – In striving and advocating for equitable and justice-centered policies and practices.
  • Action – In moving our knowledge, understanding, and skills into actions to improve education and society.

The #CUEtalks Lecture Series provides a bi-annual opportunity for faculty, staff, students, and community members to learn from a prominent, established researcher about an issue related to urban education. Since the series began in 2013, CUE has hosted some of the United States’ most prominent urban education scholars, including Gloria Ladson Billings, Pedro Noguera, Shaun Harper, and Tyrone Howard.

Building on the themes of these talks, the Reflection Into Action discussion series bridges the gaps between theory and practice by connecting CUE with local schools, districts, student groups, parents, and communities.

One of the first programs Dr. Milner established at CUE was Ready to Learn (RTL), a tutoring-and-mentoring initiative and research study that connects Pitt undergraduate students with Pittsburgh Public School students. RTL’s goal is to provide grade school students with experiences to support their academic improvement in mathematics and English language arts, as well as social skill development. Since the program’s inception in 2014, RTL has served 60 elementary, middle, and high school students, and supported 30 Pitt mentors. RTL represents the first and earliest step in CUE’s efforts to affect important change to the ways educators in the United States are developed and prepared.

This year, CUE worked in conjunction with the Heinz Endowments to redesign and re-launch the Heinz Fellows Program. CUE recruited a diverse cohort of 15 fellows who are spending the year-long, immersive program learning and developing the knowledge, attitudes, dispositions, and skills to more effectively understand and respond to students in urban contexts. The fellows are assisting teachers in elementary, middle and high schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools throughout the school year, and attending twice-weekly seminar training sessions at CUE.

CUE’s Urban Scholars Program is designed to complement the School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching and Professional Year programs, and provides students with additional time, resources, experiences, and support to develop knowledge, skills, mindsets, beliefs and dispositions needed to be effective teachers of all students in diverse, urban schools.

In 2016, CUE led an effort to bring a Certificate in Urban Education to the School of Education’s graduate offerings. The program is designed to bridge the cultural divide between teachers, who are most often white, and a student population that continues to expand in ethnic diversity.

For both pre- and in-service teachers, CUE created the Summer Educator Forum – an immersive, two-day experience designed to introduce local educators and administrators to the foundations of culturally responsive teaching, and offer strategies to help them integrate these principles into practice. Participants engage with students, community leaders, and national experts to learn about practices developed from the newest research, and attend lectures, panels, and conversations that enable them to form deep and lasting links between the concepts of culturally responsive teaching and their daily instructional practices.

As part of the Center’s ongoing efforts to create and sustain a greater sense of community among teachers and researchers, as well as within the academic community, CUE hosts a series of monthly brown bag discussions designed to stimulate dialogue about pertinent issues in urban education, and develop potential collaborations with an urban education focus. Presenters have ranged from University faculty and students to in-service teachers, community activists and visiting scholars from other institutions.

Similarly, CUE’s Responding to Reality series is designed to invite University faculty and community members to engage with a panel of experts and each other in response to real-world occurrences that can have real implications for education.

CUE also offers faculty and graduate students in the School of Education the opportunity to become CUE Faculty and Graduate Fellows with the aim of fostering a community of interdisciplinary scholars engaged in urban education research, theory, policy, and practice.

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