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[Alumni Focus] Keeping Her Mind Up

How Olivia Hooker, 101, has accomplished and overcome 


Olivia Hooker was six on May 31, 1921, the day a white mob burned Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District. The Tulsa Race Riot, as it became known, was ostensibly triggered by a sensationalized encounter between a black shoeshine boy and a white female elevator operator. White resentment against Greenwood, the nation’s wealthiest black community, was the deeper cause.

Hooker’s home and her father’s store were torched. Several hundred blacks were killed and thousands detained by police, as though they were the aggressors. History ignored the incident for more than half a century.

Hooker (M.A. ’47) has refused to be defined by those terrible events. Her parents imbued her with such a love of ideas that, at 101, she still recalls telling her sister Irene, newly returned from college, that she was working hard “to keep my mind up.” 


“It could be a lovely world if everybody was peaceful in their efforts and aims,”
—Olivia Hooker (M.A. '47)

“She said, ‘you don’t have a mind, all you have are neural reactions,’” says Hooker, laughing. “So I said, well, all right, I have to deal with these neural reactions.”

She’s dealt with them ever since. In 1937, she earned a B.A. in education and psychology from The Ohio State University. During World War II, knowing nothing about the military, Hooker became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.

After the war, she earned an M.A. in Psychological Services from TC and, subsequently, a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, where she was the only woman and only African-American in her cohort. She taught for 22 years at Fordham University, developing programs for the learning disabled and co-founding the American Psychological Association’s Division 33 on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

In her 80s, Hooker co-founded the Tulsa Race RiotCommission, which has lobbied Congress (albeit unsuccessfully) for restitution to survivors. In her 90s, she volunteered in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and in 2015, the Coast Guard officially renamed its Sector New York Galley in her honor.

“It could be a lovely world if everybody was peaceful in their efforts and aims,” she says. “Once in a while you find somebody that’s spent their lives trying to make things better for all of us, and that is a pleasure.” It is indeed.

Click here to watch a video of Olivia Hooker.

— Ellen Livingston




In April, Olivia Hooker was slated to receive the Teachers College Distinguished Alumni Award at TC’s Academic Festival. She wasn’t feeling well, so the College brought the award to her — and she sent a videotaped message to the Festival audience. “It would have been my joy to be with you,” Hooker said. “I thank the College for their vision. I will treasure this day for the rest of my life.”



At Campaign Committee member Helen Pennoyer’s suggestion, TC recently offered alumni an informational series titled “Smarter Parenting and Grandparenting.” The sessions: “Beginning Limit-Setting and Positive Discipline” (Bronwyn Becker Charlton, Ph.D. ’03); “Raising Children Who Soar: A Guide to Health Risk-Taking in an Uncertain World” (faculty member Nancy Eppler-Wolff, Ph.D. ’85); “The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving” (Professor Lisa Miller).


Shortcuts to Better Eating ] Reheating for HEALTHY EATING

Healthy eating is “totally doable,” best-selling nutritionist Ellie Krieger (M.S. ’94) told TC listeners in February — particularly when it’s already done. Krieger’s You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals (2016), explores the nitty-gritty of pre-preparing and reheating. Krieger bridges the gap between nutrition knowledge and behavior change.


ENHANCING an Historic Partnership A Century and Counting

TC and China’s U.S. Consulate look to the future


Last fall, the Presidents of China and the United States pledged stronger cultural and educational exchange in 2016.

In January, 250 friends of Teachers College and the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China gathered at the Consulate in New York City. TC President Susan Fuhrman (Ph.D. ’77) called the event — spearheaded by Maryalice Mazzara (Ed.D. ’84), Director of SUNY’s Confucius Institute for Business — “a wonderful opportunity to explore how TC could build on its historic ties with China.”

“Education must lay the groundwork for working as a team,” said Chinese Ambassador Zhang Qiyue. American and Chinese students must possess “an international vision and a big heart respecting all societies.”

In the early 1900s, Chinese TC alumni built the modern Chinese education system. Today, TC faculty partner with China’s higher education institutions, and TC’s current enrollment includes nearly 300 Chinese and Hong Kong students.

—Mindy Liss 


[ Lost & Found ] The Birth of a Romance

While walking a friend to class through the Teachers College lobby about 10 years ago, the son of Doris Phillips Wilson (M.A. ’69) thought a woman in a photo on the wall might be his mother, who earned her degree in Business Education and recently received the State of Texas Piper Professor Excellence in Teaching Award. Sure enough, she was — and on closer inspection, her son discovered that his father, Bill Wilson, a graduate of TC with M.A. and Ed.D. degrees in Higher Education, was in the photo as well. Nowadays Doris comes to New York frequently, both to visit her three children and to pay respects to the photo, particularly since Bill Wilson passed away in 2013. During her most recent visit in summer 2015, a crowd gathered around her to hear her story. “I felt like a celebrity,” she says. — Joe Levine


[ Alumni Focus ] A New Way of Thinking 


Nick Sousanis is helping academia visualize new dimensions

Last November, the science journal Nature featured a nine-page comic, “The Fragile Framework,” describing humanity’s slow awakening to climate change. The artist was Nick Sousanis (Ed.D. ’14), who calls his medium “a way to access whole new ways of thinking from which we usually shut ourselves off.”

Sousanis’s TC dissertation, Unflattening, is an extended meditation on perception and cognition, entirely in comic book form. Harvard University Press, the work’s publisher, calls it “an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint.”

“I started out making a comic because I saw the educational potential of the medium,” says Sousanis, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. “I didn’t anticipate how hungry people were for alt-scholarship and comics.”

Unflattening has won the 2016 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) in Humanities and the Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of the Year (named for an early 20th century TC graduate who made wordless woodcut novels). Sousanis has become a leading champion of learning and scholarship that “incorporates ways to get past some of the boundaries we set for ourselves.” 

In that spirit, Sousanis defended his dissertation at the home of the late TC philosopher Maxine Greene, joined afterward by his newborn daughter. “That’s what you want to teach,” he says of the playful curiosity between the baby and the 96-year-old scholar. “To open people’s eyes about themselves and the world.”

Sousanis’s book is selling worldwide, with translations coming soon. He has connected with big comics companies and respected figures such as artist and comics theorist Scott McCloud. This fall he becomes an assistant professor at San Francisco State University.

“I’m an evangelist for comics and alternative forms,” he says. “I’m happy to do it as a teacher.” — Siddhartha Mitter


[ Alumni Focus ] A Translator’s Odyssey


When Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. ’84), an applied linguist specializing in the dynamics of second language learning and cross-cultural communication, decided to publish her memoir, Samurai and Cotton, in English, she did the Japanese-to-English translating. After all, Takahashi has published research on second language acquisition, co-authored with her Teachers College advisor, Leslie Beebe, and textbooks in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. She’s translated works from English to Japanese — including three by Rosa Parks, the late civil rights icon, who became a close friend.

Also, Samurai and Cotton tells of Takahashi’s father’s and her own journey to the United States. But therein lay the rub. “You care so much because it’s your self-expression,” says Takahashi. Sometimes she groped for the right expression; often, she simply rewrote while translating.

Ultimately, “I became fascinated by self-translation — I felt that I had a book about it in my head,” says Takahashi, who sought guidance from translation theorist Rita Wilson of Australia’s Monash University.

Takahashi is Dean of the Graduate School for Soka University of America in Southern California. She has other responsibilities, including as a Commissioner and accreditation evaluator for the WASC Senior College and University Commission. Still, prompted by her conversations with Wilson, she completed a second doctoral dissertation — “Lost and Found in Self-Translation: Author-Translator’s Re-encounter with the Past, Self, Inner Voice, and Hidden Creativity” — in 2014, 30 years after her TC doctorate.

Her career in applied linguistics rekindled, Takahashi draws inspiration from Parks, whom she often visited. “Here was this national treasure, and I would find her in the kitchen, slicing tomatoes,” she recalls. “There are a lot of memories.” — Siddhartha Mitter


[ Alumni Focus ] An Ambassador for Lifelong Learning 

Brenda LaGrange Johnson’s career could be described as “continuing education”


Brenda LaGrange Johnson was teaching in Brooklyn when she enrolled in Teachers College’s education psychology master’s degree program.   

“I had so many papers that I brought my typewriter on the subway!” says Johnson (M.A. ’65), adding that she has no regrets. “The most important thing any person can do is continue their education. Keep taking in new ideas and ideals.” 

Johnson has lived by those words. In the late 1970s, she and a friend noticed that the Young Presidents Organization, which their husbands participated in, included few women. They launched an importing and marketing company, Brenmer, that became so successful that in 2005 President George W. Bush appointed Johnson U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica. Johnson had no hesitations — “If you’re not a career diplomat and are lucky enough to be offered the job, you accept it!” — but faced “a steep learning curve” as Jamaican voters seated three new Parliaments in four years. Nevertheless, she built positive political relationships and took a special interest in Jamaican schools.

In recent years, Johnson has brought tutors to the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club and served on the boards of the Kennedy Center and Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art. She is active in the American Friends of Jamaica and has spearheaded the Board of The Prince of Wales Foundation’s Rose Town Regeneration Project, which supports the impoverished Kingston neighborhood. Through the latter effort, she met Prince Charles and his wife, Duchess Camilla, and subsequently the royal couple visited Jamaica. “I joke that I traded the White House for Buckingham Palace,” she says. “Living in Jamaica was an incredible experience. My 10 grandchildren visited 18 times and consider themselves ‘Jamericans.’”Kelsey Rogalewicz



In Memoriam


[ The Hall of Famer ] Susan G. Gordon

Pediatrician Susan Gordon, wife of Teachers College Professor Emeritus Edmund Gordon, died in January. 

“Dr. Susan,” pediatrics professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, served from 1978-81 on The National Panel on the Measurement of the Program Effects of Head Start. 

The Gordons led school integration in East Ramapo, New York; founded Harlem’s Harriet Tubman Child Health and Guidance Clinic and created a Psycho-Educational Diagnostic Clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center’s Ambulatory Pediatrics Division. Susan Gordon received the Children’s Champion Award of the Early Child Consortium of Rockland County, New York, in 1999. In 2006, the Gordons entered the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame. 

Susan Gordon never attended Teachers College, but, TC President Susan Fuhrman said, “her spirit and influence is woven into
the fabric of our institution.”



[ The Coach ] William Campbell

Bill Campbell (M.A. ’64), a Silicon Valley legend, former Chairman of Columbia University’s Board of Trustees and a former Columbia football star and coach, died in April at 75.   

Campbell joined Apple in 1983 as Vice President for Marketing. He later worked closely with Steve Jobs during the revamping of the company’s Mac computer line and introduction of its iPod, iPhone and iPad. Campbell also informally advised Google’s two founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.   

“Google would not be the company it is today without the influence of Bill Campbell, and my guess is Apple wouldn’t be, either,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, in the New York Times obituary about Campbell. 

Campbell received Columbia’s 2015 Alumni Medal. In 2009, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame renamed its award for top scholar-athletes for him.



[ The Principled Voice ] Mattiwilda Dobbs  

Mattiwilda Dobbs, one of the first black principal singers with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, died in December at age 90. A coloratura soprano perhaps best known as an interpreter of Schubert lieder, she was widely hailed, according to the New York Times, for the “crystalline purity and supple agility” of her voice.  

Early in her career, Dobbs — who earned her M.A. at TC in 1948  — became the first black principal singer at La Scala in Milan. She debuted at the Met as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in 1956 and became the first black woman to be offered a long-term contract there. 

Though well known, Dobbs commanded less popular attention during her long career than the more flamboyant black artists Marian Anderson, who preceded her to the Met stage, and Leontyne Price. She was, however, known for her steadfast refusal to sing in segregated concert halls. She sang only once in Atlanta, her home city, until 1974, when she performed at the inauguration of Maynard Jackson, the city’s first black mayor. And on that occasion she had extra incentive: Jackson was her nephew.



[ THE EQUITY CHAMPION ] Quantifying Desegregation’s Benefits

Robert L. Crain’s studies showed that school integration improved lives 

Teachers College sociologist Robert Crain, whose large-scale quantitative studies demonstrated the positive impacts of school and neighborhood desegregation, died in March at age 82. 

Crain, along with Jomills Braddock, James McPartland and Willis Hawley, was among a small group of pioneering sociologists who worked to convince the federal and state governments not to roll back racial protections accorded blacks through the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Much of his work advanced Perpetuation Theory, which predicts that young people who attend racially segregated schools are likely, as adults, to hold jobs in segregated workplaces and live in segregated neighborhoods.

Crain also gave expert testimony on desegregation, including on behalf of plaintiffs in Connecticut’s famous Sheff v. O’Neill case, who charged that the state’s system of separate city and suburban school districts had created racially segregated schools and violated their children’s rights to equal opportunity. Joe Levine


[ THE PRIME MOVER ] She Got Them Thinking on Their Feet

Antoinette Gentile launched a new era in rehabilitation of neurologically-based movement disorders


Professor Emerita Antoinette Gentile, a leader in movement sciences (kinesiology) and neuromotor research, died in February at age 79.

Gentile, who taught for 44 years at TC, was a pioneer in applying theories of brain function to treatment of patients with movement disorders, ushering in a new era in rehabilitation from strokes or neurological conditions affecting movement. She established the world’s first program of study in motor learning and mentored many of the field’s current leaders. In 2008, she received TC’s Medal for Distinguished Service to Education.

“Ann Gentile was an international leader who changed the way many scholars thought about the skill learning processes and variables that influenced motor control of complex, coordinated physical activity,” said Richard Magill, Helen “Bessie” Silverberg Pliner Professor Emeritus in Kinesiology at Louisiana State University. 

“Ann’s ideas remain an accepted component of virtually all curricula in physical and occupational therapy and influence the training of new rehabilitation therapists,” said Andrew Gordon, TC Professor of Movement Sciences.

Prior to the 1970s, treatment of stroke patients and those afflicted by conditions like Parkinson’s had been determined largely by defining the extent of damage to patients’ brains. Gentile focused instead on the impact of environment on brain function and the potential to exploit “neuroplasticity,” the brain’s ability, following trauma, to shift functions to new regions.

In a 1972 paper, Gentile argued that neuromotor skills are acquired in distinct stages, each stage having implications for teaching or treatment. In her now ubiquitous “Taxonomy of Tasks,” she grouped tasks according to the structure of the environment in which they are performed. For example, a person on flat ground can learn walking by rote, whereas walking on varied terrain requires the creativity to produce different kinds of movements.

Gentile also fleshed out theories that skills involve both “explicit” processes (ones the performer is aware of, such as braking for a red light) and implicit ones that lie beyond conscious awareness — for example, balancing on a bike.

Gentile applied this conceptual framework to physical rehabilitation, arguing that while much early learning occurs in the implicit realm, a patient’s cognitive abilities determine treatments’ success. Again, her message contradicted received wisdom.

“The physical therapists would get these poor stroke patients down on the floor, doing very simple tasks, because the idea was that you had to regress back after a stroke and re-learn as though you were an infant,” Gentile said in 2009. “The therapist would move the individual on the assumption that passive movement was going to facilitate their recovery. So the perspective we were bringing, that unless the patient actively moves on his own there will be no reorganization in the nervous system, was quite radical.”

To contribute to the A.M. Gentile Scholarship Fund in Motor Learning, call Linda Colquhoun at 212-678-3679 or click here.

Published Tuesday, Jul 12, 2016

Olivia Hooker
Olivia Hooker
Nick Sousanis
Nick Sousanis
Susan Gordon
Susan Gordon
William Campbell
William Campbell
Mattiwilda Dobbs
Mattiwilda Dobbs
Robert Crain
Robert Crain
Antoinette Gentile

Triggering Change

“The perspective we were bringing, that unless the patient actively moves on his own there will be no reorganization in the nervous system, was quite radical.” —Antoinette Gentile

Brenda LaGrange Johnson
Brenda LaGrange Johnson
Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. '84)
Tomoko Takahashi (Ed.D. '84)
A Century and Counting