Teachers College has chosen four women to receive its 2019 Medal for Distinguished Service – the highest honor the College bestows – and deliver remarks at Convocation ceremonies in May. They are:

  • TC alumna Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Critical Psychology, Women’s Studies, American Studies and Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.
  • Rosie Phillips Davis, President of the American Psychological Association, who is also Professor of Counseling Psychology and former Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Memphis;
  • Sarita Brown, President, Exelencia in Education and former Executive Director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans;
  • Barbara Morgan, a former NASA astronaut who waited for decades after the 1986 Challenger explosion to become the first teacher in space.

TC’s four Convocation ceremonies (three for master’s degree candidates and one for doctoral candidates) will be held from Monday May 20th through Wednesday May 22nd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on West 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan. This year’s ceremonies will be the first led by Thomas Bailey, who was inaugurated as TC’s 11th President in December.

[Learn more about TC’s 2019 Convocation ceremonies.]

Fine will address graduates of TC’s programs in the Departments of Arts & Humanities, Curriculum & Teaching, and Mathematics, Science & Technology at the Monday master’s degree ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m.

In a career that has focused on “the outlier who watches and engages and might be stigmatized, but actually resists,” Fine has passionately asserted that researchers must honor “what people have to say about their own lives” and that “those at the bottom of hierarchies say it better,” applying those lenses to issues that range from Maori civil rights to the post-9/11 experience of Muslim American youth to the failure of sex education to acknowledge female sexual desire. Yet she is also known for her insistence on fully understanding the motivations and actions of all players, and on rigorously testing hypotheses and assumptions. Her landmark 2001 study of New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, “Changing Minds: The Impact of College in a Maximum-Security Prison,” sparked the current movement to provide college access for those in prison. Undertaken in response to legislation that revoked Pell grant access for prisoners caused colleges to withdraw en masse from prisons, the study showed significantly reduced recidivism among women with college access – a finding that that persuaded a consortium of college presidents to create a B.A. program at Bedford.

Davis will address graduates of TC’s programs in the Departments of Biobehavioral Sciences, Counseling & Clinical Psychology, Education Policy & Social Analysis and Health & Behavior Studies at the Tuesday morning master’s degree ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m..

Davis, whose parents were sharecroppers, has championed a compassionate and inclusive vision for the field of vocational counseling that recognizes the primacy of race, culture, gender and socio-economic status in shaping people’s life experiences. With TC psychologist Derald Wing Sue, she cofounding the APA’s National Multicultural Conference and Summit, at which, during the inaugural session in 1999, hundreds of psychologists endorsed new multicultural guidelines for research, teaching and practice in psychology. More recently, Davis – a past recipient of the Janet Helms Award given at Teachers College’s Winter Roundtable – has proposed that vocational psychologists play a lead role in helping society to “right-size” the workforce, with particular attention to the needs of veterans, victims of natural and manmade disasters. Building on the feminist movement’s introduction of the concept of paid and nonpaid work, she has suggested that her field could help win remuneration for people who engage in socially valuable activities such as caring for nation’s burgeoning elderly population.

Brown will address graduates of TC’s programs in the Departments of Human Development, International & Transcultural Studies and Organization & Leadership at the Tuesday afternoon master’s degree ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. Brown has sought to create pathways to success for America’s Latina/o students while also highlighting the vast human capital resource that this demographic represents for the STEM professions and other fields. Under her leadership, Exelencia, which she cofounded, has steadily tracked the growth in numbers of Latino students, highlighting the projection that they will constitute a fourth of the nation’s college-going population by the year 2025 and arguing that all higher education institutions have “skin in the game” in helping them succeed.

More recently, she has argued that the time has passed in which first-generation college students must labor to fit the traditional college mold – arriving college-ready, completing their degrees in four years, living on campus and focusing full-time on academics – and that college leaders must instead meet the needs of this “post-traditional” student cohort. Exelencia also has created Finding Your Workforce, a database to help corporations find qualified Latina/o applicants in STEM and other fields.

Finally, Morgan, who holds the title of Emeritus Distinguished Educator in Residence at Boise State University, will speak at the Wednesday afternoon ceremony for doctoral graduates, which begins at 2 p.m.  During the 1980s, Morgan – then a public school teacher – was designated the backup to Christa McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space. After the Challenger explosion and the death of McAuliffe, with whom she had trained and become close friends, Morgan waited until 2007 before completing her first space flight, as a crewmember of STS-118, an assembly mission to the International Space Station. There she answered questions from teachers and students, bench-pressing two of her colleagues in the gravity free environment and famously declaring that “teaching is the most important job on the planet, and maybe beyond.”

Morgan has since championed a vision of STEM educational programs that encourages students to “dream of being astronauts or engineers, computer or environmental scientists, or STEM teachers.”