SESP Honors Faculty with Named Professorships

SESP Honors Faculty with Named Professorships


faculty members with dean figlio and president SchapiroDean David Figlio, Jonathan Guryan, Kirabo Jackson, Miriam Sherin,  President Morton Schapiro

Five outstanding School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) faculty members were recently honored during Investiture ceremonies that highlighted Northwestern University’s commitment to hiring and retaining outstanding researchers and instructors. 

With University support, SESP established several new named professorships – the most prestigious University recognition that faculty members can receive -- and continued others. The honor provides faculty with additional funds and resources to pursue their best ideas while mentoring future generations of SESP students.

SESP boasts 11 current faculty members with named professorships or 52 percent of full professors. “The faculty members are globally recognized as intellectual adventurers and change agents who challenge the status quo to improve human lives,” said SESP Dean David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy.

Among the faculty receiving these honors:

Emma DadEmma Adam, Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy.

Named for: Philanthropist and educator Edwina S. Tarry, who received a master’s in education from SESP in 1938 and was a lifelong teacher. Previous chair holders include Greg Duncan and learning sciences and African American studies professor Carol Lee who retired in June of 2019.

About Emma: Adam’s work bridges health and human development with social policy. A driving force behind SESP’s new initiative on Culture, Brain, Biology, and Learning, she has integrated biology and psychology, and devoted her career to examining how stress gets “under the skin,” or how everyday life experiences -- including work, school, family, and peer relationships -- influence levels of stress, health, and well-being in parents and their children.

“Of all my early students, she was the one who plumbed what the HPA axis (the central stress response system) had to tell us about human development, and she soon outstripped me,” said Megan Gunnar, director of the Institute of Child Development in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota and Regents Professor. “I’m very proud to have had something to do with her training and even more glad to call her a friend.”

Inside her lab, Contexts of Adolescent Stress and Thriving (COAST), Adam’s team has uncovered substantial racial/ethnic and economic disparities in the amount of daily stress and how it affects the body when broken down by race/ethnicity and income. Her current research y current involves interventions designed to reduce these disparities in stress and its effects.

In 2005, Adam, a psychobiologist, co-founded Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health with biological anthropologists Thomas McDade and Christopher Kuzawa to understand how experiences shape biology.

At the time, some questioned whether it even belonged under the umbrella of the Institute for Policy Research where it was housed – whether it was “policy enough” or it mattered to things like education.

“You can’t even ask that question anymore because of such a tremendous contribution from Emma and devotion to rigor and methods,” McDade said.

Jonathan Guryan, the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Human Development and Social Policy.Jonathan Guryan

Named for: Lawyer Taylor was one of Northwestern’s earliest black alumni. He earned a mathematics degree in 1903.

About Guryan:, An economist who researches racial inequality, Guryan shares his namesake’s passion for education and literally fell in love with school on his first day of kindergarten, when he decided he was never going to leave school. 

His lifelong devotion to education has led to research findings that solidly document inequality, disparities that can be attributed to discrimination, prejudice, sexism, and policy choices – such as the way public schools are financed.

In 2017, Chicago Magazine cited him as a driving force behind a “social policy revolution” in the city for his research examining the effects of Becoming a Man (BAM) and a similar program inside the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Both initiatives use cognitive-behavioral therapy-based interventions for at-risk youth.

As co-director of the Urban Education Lab at the University of Chicago, he has also studied the effectiveness of a high-intensity individual math tutoring program and how sexism impacts American women in the labor market. He’s currently studying a trauma-informed group mentoring and meditation program with Emma Adam.

But public policy can help ameliorate those gaps and inequalities, he says, even if they don’t necessarily get at the root problem.

“Jon uses words in a way that can convey hope and optimism to people, even in pretty dark times,” said his colleague Simone Ispa-Landa, associate professor of human development and social policy. “What’s made him so valuable as a chair and mentor is that you have a sense of close, intelligent listening, a sense of stewardship, and thinking about the future.” 

KiraboKirabo Jackson, Abraham Harris Professor of Human Development and Social Policy

Named for: Abraham Harris, President of Northwestern from 1906 to 1916 who oversaw the establishment of The Graduate School and the School of Commerce. Harris promoted building Evanston’s first water filtration plant on land donated by Northwestern and improved relations with the city of Evanston.

About Jackson: Jackson, an economist, is known for creative, thorough, and convincing research on important education policy topics, including teacher quality and the relationship between school funding and student success.

Some of Jackson’s most original and influential work explores which skills teachers need to be good at their jobs. Jackson also challenged a decades-old idea that the amount of money a school spends per student doesn’t matter. His research -- which helped re-ignite a national debate on the topic -- suggests that a 10 percent increase in school funding leads to increased high school graduation rates and higher wages as an adult.

Born in a Chicago suburb, Jackson was raised in the Caribbean and Africa – including Sierra Leone and Tanzania -- and attended boarding school in England before earning his bachelor's degree from Yale and doctorate in economics from Harvard.

His interest in the economics of education stems from his international upbringing and belief that education can lead to breaking out of negative cycles of poverty, at both the national and individual level. “It's one of the few things people can do to really improve their lives,” he said. “If you have skills you can go and get a job and improve your life. It's a mechanism for social justice.”

Miriam Sherin, Alice Gabrielle Twight Professor of Learning Sciences.

Named For: Alice Gabrielle Twight, a renowned teacher and the first woman at Northwestern to earn a doctoral degree in 1898. She was head of the language department at Francis Parker where she taught French literature and language and published a French-language textbook.

Miriam SherinAbout Sherin: Sherin, the second woman to hold a Twight professorship since its creation in 2008, is associate provost for undergraduate education. She is a leading researcher on how video can help study the ways teachers learn and “notice.”

Video’s power is that it can “freeze human behavior on the scale of moments or minutes or seconds that’s just the scale it’s happening in the classroom,” she said. “Even early on, videotaping in classrooms wasn’t just seen as a method for researchers to study classrooms, but as a helpful teaching tool. It raised a lot of questions, what is the right thing to do with video and teachers? What might video hep teachers learn?

In the Provost’s office, Sherin co-leads Northwestern’s Undergraduate Student Lifecycle Initiatives, which was formed to develop a continuum of support for undergraduate students who identify solely or jointly across first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented minority (URM) identities. 

“She brought the SESP culture and SESP expertise to the provost’s office,” said Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, vice provost for academics and the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy.

“One of my favorite things she says is that "students learn best when they're healthy, they feel safe and they feel connected,’ which I know we all believe and practice every day.” 

Uri Wilensky, the Lorraine H. Morton Professor of Learning Sciences and Computer Sciences.

Named for: Lorraine Morton, teacher, educator and four-term Mayor of Evanston who earned her master’s at SESP in 1942 and an honorary doctorate from Northwestern in 2008. She was the first African American mayor and longest-serving mayor of Evanston.uri wilensky

About Wilensky: An early advocate of integrating computation into all school subjects, Wilensky is the founding director of the Center for Connected Learning. He is also the founding co-director of the Computer Science/Learning Sciences PhD program and co-founder of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems.

Wilensky’s award-winning NetLogo, a programming language, is the most widely used agent-based modeling environment and one that “changes the way you think,” said Wilensky’s colleague, Mike Horn, associate professor of learning sciences. Wilensky’s theory of “restructurations,” which he developed with his colleague Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab, describes how knowledge and learning can profoundly change in the context of new forms of representation, and in particular, with computational representations. 

Studies from his lab and others over the last decade suggest that it is much easier to train teachers in computational thinking in their subject areas – such as chemistry or history – than to educate and retain full-time computing teachers. Since this strategy involves all subject areas, it ensures that all high school students, including traditionally underrepresented groups, will have access.

“Students who are exposed to computation think more deeply about their subject areas and are able to make sense of complex content at significantly younger ages,” Wilensky said.

The Center for Connected Learning’s work developing computer-modeling-based curriculum and helping train teachers has shown that computationally literate students can make sense of complex patterns and understand the role of randomness.

“Confusion about human problems often stems from the difficulty in comprehending complex systems,” Wilensky said. “The most difficult contemporary problems, such as climate change and inequality, are difficult for people to understand because they require complex systems thinking.

"We cannot ignore computing, especially in our increasingly complex world," he added. "These are the skills students will need to thrive as adults, and moreover, these skills help students with their other subject areas. And these skills can enable society to solve complex problems. By integrating computing across all classes, we can make it a true literacy.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 12/22/19