As a young researcher at Penn State, Carol Scheffner Hammer benefited from a program in which junior faculty were taken to Washington, D.C. to meet with officers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other major federal grant-giving organizations.
“I credit that program with helping me get my first R01 grant from NIH, which, in research terms, is when you become an independent investigator,” recalls Hammer, now Professor of Communications Sciences & Disorders at Teachers College.
Beginning this fall, Hammer — the recipient of more than $25 million in federal funding and a past member of review panels for NIH and the Institute of Education Sciences — will have a major opportunity to pay those lessons forward. In early July, Stephanie Rowley, TC’s Provost, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, announced that, effective September 1, Hammer will become the College’s first Vice Dean for Research, with responsibility for “optimizing the research infrastructure, supporting and growing faculty research, fostering interdisciplinary research efforts, and helping to lead the College’s research mission.” Hammer, who has served since this past January as Chair of TC’s Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, will relinquish that role.
Hammer initially chaired TC’s search to fill the newly created position, but that effort was called off when the COVID pandemic struck New York City.
In addition to her extensive experience in writing and obtaining grants from many different agencies, Carol truly values intellectual diversity and possesses the broad interdisciplinary experience to inclusively navigate the many different intellectual and methodological traditions at TC and promote greater interdisciplinary collaboration.
— Stephanie Rowley
“Carol did not initially apply, but by the time we suspended the search, her expertise had become apparent and we knew that she would be an ideal pick for this position,” Rowley said. “In addition to her extensive experience in writing and obtaining grants from many different agencies, Carol truly values intellectual diversity and possesses the broad interdisciplinary experience to inclusively navigate the many different intellectual and methodological traditions at TC and promote greater interdisciplinary collaboration. She’s also an amazing administrator who understands how to work with faculty and staff to develop systems to improve productivity. And her personal style promotes efficiency, collaboration and innovation.”
Rowley listed several reasons for creation of the new Vice Deanship.
First and foremost is to boost the College’s overall productivity in getting grants.
“On a per capita basis, we trail other top-ten schools of education in grant dollars,” she said. “We want to change that picture by helping more faculty to submit grants for the first time; by encouraging those whose grants were initially rejected to revise and re-submit their proposals; by boosting our track record of winning large, multimillion grants, not just among big centers like CCRC [Community College Research Center] and TR@TC [a federally funded residency program, now in its third five-year iteration, that prepares highly qualified teachers to teach in New York City public schools], but by individuals as well; and, especially, by winning more cross-disciplinary grants. Because what’s truly unique about TC is that we have top people working in education, health, psychology and leadership, and that gives us the opportunity to take a single issue and approach it in a really rich, interdisciplinary way.”
Currently, Rowley says, the research enterprise at TC is distributed across several offices, as well as the different academic departments. By centralizing responsibility, the new Vice Dean’s office will “foster cooperation and collaboration.”
While the College does currently assist faculty in submitting grants, she said, Hammer will “promote research development” — that is, help faculty think through ways to become more effective in writing their grant applications. “We want people to be asking, ‘What are the three or four new directions in education, health and psychology where we can and should be out front?’ Also, undergoing the peer review process and obtaining the resources to hire more staff and students can help faculty investigators extend and enrich their research projects. That, in turn, improves our reputation so that others are aware of the amazing work that is happening here and seek TC out for our expertise on vexing questions.”
Particularly in the time of COVID and Black Lives Matter, qualitative research is extremely valuable, and we can make an even stronger case for it along with studies that combine qualitative and quantitative methods.
— Carol Scheffner Hammer
Still another role of the new office will be to reduce workload for faculty who win grants.
“Right now, our faculty do a lot of the grants management work themselves,” Rowley said. “In her own department, Carol has piloted a new staff function with a person who assists faculty with accounting, forecasting, paying subcontractors and other issues. If that works out as planned, we would hope to replicate that function in other departments.”
For her part, the new Vice Dean called her new role “a logical next step” in her career.
“I really enjoy assisting people with grant-writing,” says Hammer, who teaches a course on that topic to TC students and hopes to create a similar venue for faculty.
She cited several factors that she believes will help her in her new role.
“I bring what I call an outside-inside perspective,” she said. “I’ve been at TC for five years, so I know the landscape, but I’m also able to see possibilities for doing things in new ways.”
Hammer also said that while others tend to categorize her as a health researcher, she sees herself as having an equal footing in education, health and psychology. In her work, which focuses on promoting children’s language and literacy development, her hallmarks have been blending quantitative and qualitative approaches and approaching research in ways that respect the cultural and linguistic traditions of the groups whom she studies.
In one signature project, she worked with Latinx mothers of children in Head Start to develop a program that would help them promote their children’s language and early literacy skills.
“We interviewed the mothers and Head Start staff who were Latinx to make certain that we were creating materials that reflected what was important to them about their culture and what they wanted children to learn,” she says. “Then we hired a children’s author to develop a series of bilingual books and worked with the moms to make sure that the books reflected their culture, including the illustrations. Based on my early career experiences in Micronesia, I learned that it is essential to work from the perspectives of those I am working with and build on their funds of knowledge.”
She also says her experience has taught her to value qualitative research, as well as quantitative research, and that she hopes to boost grant applications among faculty at TC who see themselves as qualitative researchers. “Particularly in the time of COVID and Black Lives Matter, qualitative research is extremely valuable, and we can make an even stronger case for it along with studies that combine qualitative and quantitative methods.”