Teachers College 2012 Convocations Honor Neil deGrasse Tyson, Martha Kanter and Shirley Brice Heath
Published in Inside - Volume XVII, No. 5
At convocation exercises this week, Teachers College, Columbia University is presenting its Medal for Distinguished Service to the renowned astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and to Dr. Shirley Brice Heath, the linguistic anthropologist and cultural historian. Dr. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education, is being recognized for her work in improving post-secondary, adult, and career and technical education.
The three ceremonies are taking place on May 15 and 16 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street, New York City.
Tyson, who has made science and the mysteries of outer space accessible and exciting to a new generation of nonprofessional stargazers, is receiving the medal and addressing graduates at the first of two master’s convocation ceremonies on May 15.
Heath is the featured speaker at TC's doctoral hooding ceremony on May 16 at 2:00 p.m., where she is also receiving the Medal for Distinguished Service for her pioneering research on how people learn across the lifespan in non-formal instructional environments. Kanter, who has written of the critical importance of higher education as a means of enabling poor and minority students to participate fully in civic, democratic and economic life, is speaking at the College’s second master’s convocation on May 15.
Tyson has studied star formation, dwarf galaxies and the structure of the Milky Way and led the committee that downgraded Pluto to a “dwarf planet.” As the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium and Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, he has been an active proponent of space exploration and a vocal expert on science policy. Carrying forward the mantle of his hero, Carl Sagan, in making science informative, compelling and even entertaining for a general audience, Tyson reprised Sagan’s popular NOVA science show as NOVA scienceNow on PBS, launched StarTalkRadio.net , and has brought humor to complex science discussions with appearances on the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. He is teaming up with Ann Druyan, who is Sagan’s widow, and Seth McFarlane, producer of the Family Guy series; to host a 13-part sequel and modern update of Sagan’s 1980 landmark science series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, scheduled to air sometime in 2013. Tyson’s tenth book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Future (W.W. Norton, 2012) is described by the publisher as “an eye-opening manifesto on the importance of space exploration for America’s economy, security, and morale.”
At Stanford University, Heath, who is the Margery Bailey Professor of English and Dramatic Literature and Professor of Linguistics, Emerita, works within an interdisciplinary team of cognitive neuroscientists and social scientists who study young people engaging in projects in science and technology on their own time. Her groundbreaking longitudinal research in the Piedmont area of the Carolinas and classic work, Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms (Cambridge University Press, 1983/1996), helped shatter the notion that class and race are inherent barriers to academic achievement.
Heath studies how learners young and old learn the structures and uses of language as well as the attitudes, gestures, and ways of interaction called for in learning environments of all types. She views the arts and sciences as essential to building highly effective learning environments. In “Youth Development and the Arts in Nonschool Hours,” published in the journal Grantmakers in the Arts (Spring 1998), Heath and Elisabeth Soep wrote that after-school programs, particularly in the arts, “promote cognitive, linguistic, socio-relational and managerial capacities” in children. Her most recent book, “Words and work and play: Three decades in families and communities” (Cambridge University Press, 2012), documents the changes in childhood and family life in the past 30 years, by tracking the lives of 300 black and white working-class families as they reshaped their lives in new locations, occupations and interpersonal alignments.
As the first community college leader ever to serve as Under Secretary of Education, Kanter has led President Obama’s efforts to make the U.S. workforce the world’s best educated and most competitive by 2020, as measured by the proportion of college graduates. She has spearheaded a 50-percent increase in the college enrollment of Pell Grant recipients and expanded the Direct Student Loan program; forged a partnership with the U .S. Department of Labor that is directing $2 billion toward improving education quality, graduation rates and employment opportunities for community college students; and implemented a plan that ties monthly student loan repayment rates to income.