Susan Fuhrman Fall 2010 Letter | Teachers College Columbia University

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Susan Fuhrman Fall 2010 Letter

Each fall, I am reminded of arriving on the Teachers College campus as a graduate student in the 1970s. I recall the exhilarating sense that I was involved in something that truly mattered and had the opportunity to have a direct impact on the world around me.

October 1, 2010

Each fall, I am reminded of arriving on the Teachers College campus as a graduate student in the 1970s. I recall the exhilarating sense that I was involved in something that truly mattered and had the opportunity to have a direct impact on the world around me.

The chance to make a major difference in the world remains the great lure and enduring value of Teachers College. Certainly it’s true that people head back to school in difficult economic times, often to pursue careers with marked social and humanitarian impact. Nevertheless, we are proud that this year we drew the largest applicant pool in our history and are enrolling our largest, most selective and most diverse class ever. While our new students come from all over the country and the world and represent myriad backgrounds and careers, they share one essential attribute: a fierce desire to make a difference.

At Teachers College, faculty and students work across their fields of study to better understand and, ultimately, develop solutions to some of our most pressing global challenges, from illiteracy to the crisis in health care.

For instance, we are leading the high-stakes national conversation about nutrition in order to combat childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Our faculty are evaluating nutrition and nutritional health initiatives in the field and developing solutions for advocacy and policy around both personal health and global sustainability. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded our nutrition program a $1.5 million grant to create a science education and nutrition curriculum and to evaluate its effectiveness in preventing obesity among 2,000 low-income, predominantly minority fifth graders at 20 New York City public schools.

We are also launching an interdisciplinary, online master’s degree program in diabetes education—the first of its kind in the country. Beginning next fall, we will empower clinicians and care managers with a greater understanding of how diabetes develops and evolves across different populations; how to help patients manage treatment of their illness; and how to conduct advocacy at the national, state and local levels. This innovative initiative in diabetes education extends the long list of fields—including modern mathematics education, social studies, special education and nursing education—in which Teachers College has played a pioneering role.

Our faculty—many of whom rank among the most innovative and influential scholars in their fields—pursue research that shapes the way we live, learn and work. Take a recent groundbreaking study co-authored by Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of our Human Development Department. Her study is among the first to fully measure the net impact on child development when new mothers’ choose to work. Widely covered by the national media, this pivotal study concludes that “the overall effect of first-year maternal employment on child development is neutral,” rather than detrimental, as previous studies had inferred.

Then there is Assistant Professor Sandra Okita of our Math, Science and Technology Department. Her research on the impact of robot interaction on human learning was extensively cited in a recent New York Times story on how students respond to “teaching robots.”

My TC reading list grows by the week, and each new book typifies the inclination of our faculty to bring cutting-edge scholarship to bear on real-world issues and to communicate the findings in accessible narratives. For example, Psychology Professor Derald Wing Sue, one of the world’s most frequently cited multicultural scholars, recently authored the award-winning Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, perhaps the definitive book on the often subtler but no less damaging new face of discrimination. Another TC Psychology Professor, George Bonanno, deepens our understanding of grief and human resilience in his much-discussed book The Other Side of Sadness, which has been extensively reviewed in the New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review. And Science Education Assistant Professor Chris Emdin’s Urban Science for the Hip Hop Generation weaves together narrative, anecdote, research and theory to explore the benefits of using hip hop as a tool for engaging urban young people in the classroom.


This past May, 20 students eager to make a difference in urban education arrived as the first cohort in our Teaching Residents at Teachers College program (TR@TC). Under this innovative, federally funded program, students are apprenticing with highly experienced mentor-teachers at high-needs New York City Schools while earning their TC master’s degree. Under the leadership of Education Professor Lin Goodwin, TR@TC is expected to deliver up to 180 certified teachers to urban communities over the next five years—and stands as yet another example of Teachers College’s leadership in strengthening professional teacher education by connecting theory and practice.


I am excited about our expanding partnership with China, where I traveled in June to advance our ideal of education as global currency. We recently welcomed to campus a cohort of Chinese high school students, who are working with TC to prepare for eventual enrollment in top-tier American universities. Soon, we will host a group of Chinese college undergraduates interested in teaching, providing them with intensive preparation for their chosen profession.


We also just welcomed to TC Dr. Cheng Davis as Special Advisor to the President for International Affairs. A pioneer in international education with expertise in Asia, Cheng has already worked collaboratively with TC’s Office of International Affairs and introduced several institutional initiatives with China.


As both an alumna of TC and its President, I am excited about the year ahead. I look forward to the advances we will make together as we conduct scholarship that breaks new ground. I look forward to the conversations that will advance human learning and cognition. And I know TC will be at the forefront of shaping policies that will improve the lives of individuals and communities.

Stories on the education and nutrition fronts have become virtually fixtures on the front pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. What will be the legacy of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program? What is the true merit of value-added evaluations of teaching effectiveness? Are we on the cusp of major policy changes and culture shifts in the way food is produced, purchased, and consumed?

Our External Affairs team just launched a new online feature – “Views on the News” – in which TC experts provide policymakers, business and opinion leaders, and the general public with quick, informative analyses of what's happening, while it's happening, in education, health, psychology and other fields. Soon, the “Views” feature will become an online “viewsletter.”

When I invoke “TC experts,” I also am referring to you. We want and, indeed, are counting on you to contribute your expertise and insights to our “Views” pages.

By choosing Teachers College, students who want to make a difference have certainly come to the right place. Thanks to your continuing participation and support, TC will continue to make an even greater difference in the lives of people and communities everywhere.

Warm regards,

Susan H. Fuhrman

Published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010


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