Dean David Figlio

Above: Dean David Figlio (left) and Evanston Township High School superintendent Eric Witherspoon receive a shipment of 50,000 masks donated by SESP advisory board member Qiyong Chen.

Message From The Dean

Dear Friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched us all—but its health and economic burdens have not been borne equally. Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian people have been hit especially hard, exacerbating inequities that these communities have endured for generations.

Still, my message to you is one of hope and opportunity. From research and course instruction to our social mission, SESP has been rethinking and revamping our approach to meet the moment head-on.

Our school is fortunate to support research areas that focus on human development and learning modalities in an era of ubiquitous computing. Thus, we’ve been able to tap into vast in-house expertise on teaching both with and without technology, inside as well as outside of school spaces. When COVID- 19 sent us home, we staffed every remote class with an IT professional. We Zoomed in ways that spawned new pedagogies, more equitable classrooms, and better discussions.

When their research agendas were upended, our faculty nimbly adapted methods and protocols and launched new studies. It hasn’t been easy, but by breaking from the constructs of time and place, we found surprising gains— such as working with 1,000 (instead of 100) study participants at once.

Our greatest challenges and opportunities emerge as we consider our social mission. I have long believed that universities should be doing things with communities more than for them, and certainly never to them—and more so

when engaging with communities of color, whose expertise and agency are often ignored. In 2017 we started the Office of Community Education Partnerships (OCEP) with this in mind. When we work with others, the result is not only impactful service but also stronger research and teaching.

For instance, not long after the pandemic shuttered schools, Nichole Pinkard, faculty director for OCEP, debuted STEAMville—an online platform that enables deeply mutualistic and enriching STEM and arts programming—to reach any and all children but especially those in underresourced communities (see story starting on page 6).

The OCEP-facilitated work of Pinkard and others is just the start. The literacies SESP holds dear have prepared our students to be especially successful at this time, and SESP graduates continue making a positive difference in our organizations, our communities, and our world.

Alumni often tell me, “I’d love to be able to engage with current students.” Now you can. As of 2019–20, about 40 percent of our undergraduate courses are new—more timely, relevant, and responsive—thanks to a curriculum overhaul; this is creating opportunities for guest teachers and lecturers to share their experiences with our students.

Also revamped is the practicum, so that our students now have access to many more of the real-world settings in which SESP alumni are succeeding.

While I do not know all the ways our graduates will go on to change lives for the better, I’m certain they will. As students, faculty, staff, and alumni— the entire SESP family of change agents—we are more galvanized than ever to meet the challenges of today to create a better tomorrow.