From the Dean: Reflections
by Alan Lesgold
After 16 years as your dean, I am retiring as of August 31, 2016. I am very happy that Lindsay Clare Matsumura, who has been a very wise and effective associate dean for the school, will be filling my role on an interim basis while the search for a long-term replacement continues. Lindsay and I have been working together for quite a while now, and it is clear that she has values and expertise that fit well with the school’s continuing efforts to keep growing stronger in both its scholarship and the programs it offers.
Working in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education over the past 16 years has been extremely gratifying. We were able to attract a number of highly talented new colleagues, and the school’s increased status is due largely to their visibility as top young scholars and creative teachers. Moreover, the presence of so much young talent has galvanized the rest of us, too. The school produces strong research that other scholars want to read and that potentiates real educational improvements.
Consider just a few examples. Kevin Crowley is one of the most visible and productive research- ers studying how out-of-school learning opportunities contribute to children’s preparation for later life. Our learning sciences and policy scholars—including Tom Akiva, Heather Bachman, Rip Correnti, Kevin Crowley, Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Jennifer Russell, Mary Kay Stein, and Ming-Te Wang, plus other researchers from outside of the School of Education—created a curriculum that has emerged as one of the top educational policy programs nationally after only nine years. Our Center for Urban Education, led by Rich Milner, is nationally very visible and coveted by other education deans around the country.
Our Department of Health and Physical Activity, led by John Jakicic and including faculty members Bethany Gibbs, Chris Kline, Renee Rogers, Sharon Ross, and Sally Sherman, has become a national leader in research aimed at finding patterns of activity that people will adopt and that lead to improved health. Soon the Institute for Learning, housed at the Learning Research and Development Center and co-directed by Associate Dean Tony Petrosky, will expand its strong efforts in improving school districts through professional development to serve rural and challenged school districts using online technology. Mary Margaret Kerr has been a pioneer in the study of what children take away from memorial sites like the Flight 93 National Memorial and has stimulated the National Park Service to design displays partly based on how children understand them. Amanda Godley is doing innovative work studying how writing instruction can be enhanced using technology tools that support peer critique and provide intelligent coaching of writing and discussion about writing. The list of innovative work could go on much longer.
While research has been growing remarkably in the school, its impact on society also is growing. For a number of years now, the state achievement testing of children with special challenges has been conducted at the School of Education. During the past 15 years, the Office of Child Development and its leaders, Chris Groark and Bob McCall, have contributed to substantial change in policies and practices in orphanages around the world. Our partnerships with the Forum for Western Pennsylvania Superintendents and the Tri-State Area School Study Council have led to many dozens of projects in which we at Pitt helped a school district with an urgent problem. The Ready to Learn program of our Center for Urban Education has helped students in Pittsburgh Milliones 6–12, University Preparatory School, to improve their learning. And much more support in the communities around us locally, nationally, and even internationally is being developed. The School of Education also is among the leaders in Pitt’s efforts to stimulate entrepreneurial spin-offs of our research; over the past several years, three of the research efforts mentioned above have spawned technology transfers to private firms.
Finally, faculty colleagues have improved or developed several degree programs. Our Master of Arts in Teaching degree was cut from 48- 51 to 36 credits by carefully designing each course and practicum to maximize what it teaches and minimize redundancy with other courses. Our PhD program has been reshaped to provide every student with strong preparation in the core methods of educational research and a full-time apprenticeship in being a productive education scholar. Our EdD program has been reinvented to serve professionals who work in education during the day and need to be able to complete their studies on weekends and partly online— whenever they have free time. It has become a flagship example for the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate, which now is housed here at Pitt.
I did not make all of this happen. I have been fortunate enough to have led the Pitt School of Education during a period of great growth, and I hope I have helped my colleagues here at Pitt to attract a wonderful next generation. I am especially grateful to past and present associate deans Rita Bean, Jere Gallagher, Mike Gunzenhauser, Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Tony Petrosky, and Lou Pingel, who have been real partners in the school’s development. Primarily, though, it has been all of our colleagues— long serving and newer—who have made the school what it is today. That, perhaps, is the most exciting thing. The talent, diligence, and dedication of all of those colleagues will continue and grow long after my service to Pitt has ended. Even after the 229 years that the University of Pittsburgh has been around and doing good and the 106 years that the School of Education has been serving the region and the world, I am confident that the best years of the school and the University are ahead of us.
Alan Lesgold is the recently retired Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the School of Education as well as a professor.