Reflecting on the Ames era

May 14, 2011

College of Education reflects on 18 years of excellence under the leadership of Dean Carole Ames

By Nicole Geary

“In the last 18 years, education research at Michigan State University has arguably become broader, bolder and more connected to the world beyond campus.

Technology has transformed the way faculty members teach and the very infrastructure of Erickson Hall.

The College of Education’s collective emphasis on quality—in teaching, scholarship and service—has been backed by high national rankings that have yet to falter.

And during that time, a period marked by prosperity in spite of budget pressure, major school reforms and shifting priorities, there has been one dean.”

-Carole Ames

She steps down from the position this summer as the longest serving dean on campus, a respected voice among peers across the country and, to those who have worked or studied in the college, a leader who has never let a challenge keep the institution from moving forward.

“You will not see her do something because it’s the easiest, most comfortable or cheaper way,” said Michael Sedlak, associate dean for academic affairs. “She listens, she changes her mind, but there is never a case where some other entity or special interest undermines the things she stands for.”

And those principles, fellow administrators say, are not framed by certain ?elds of study, or personal and political agendas that exist across the educational landscape.

“She is all about excellence,” said MSU Provost Kim Wilcox.

“People believe that she has the right values and right aspirations for the college and university . . . She has been the leader, but it hasn’t been all about Carole.”

Since her arrival, Ames was clear that faculty—in all programs—are the college’s No. 1 strength and should be encouraged to pursue research and outreach projects within their interests.

That meant continuing to hire some of the nation’s most talented, renowned scholars and instructors—including nearly 70 percent of the current faculty—and “rebalancing” the college-wide portfolio of work to keep teacher education at the forefront while elevating other critical areas of study, from higher education to rehabilitation counseling.

“She’s a person that empowers people, and she came knowing we had to broaden our purview,” said Richard Prawat, long-time chairperson of the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education (cepse).

Notes Deborah Feltz, who chairs the Department of Kinesiology: “She has really relied on the talent of the faculty and leadership in the college to help shape the good ideas that have come about. That’s probably what de?nes her the most.”

Although key priorities have emerged, the faculty has by-and-large continued to set the direction with access to the opportunities and resources they need to do strong independent work as well as contribute to initiatives focused, for example, on urban education, globalization and online teaching and learning.

Students in the college experience a culture of high standards that respects individual merits and fosters collaboration for the good of the ?nal goal, whether that be preparing outstanding teachers, improving achievement in the classroom or contributing breakthrough knowledge through research.

“I think this college is very collegial and faculty respect each other,” Dean Ames said. “You can hire very smart, talented people but if they’re focused exclusively on themselves and not dedicated to the college, it doesn’t serve the whole.”

People say Ames is a great motivator —and not by accident.

She became a leading scholar on the development of social and academic motivation as a faculty member at the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She left her position as chair of the University of Illinois Department of Educational Psychology to take the helm at MSU, in August 1993.

Her tenure since then, rich with accomplishments from many perspectives, gives everyone associated with the College of Education reason to re?ect on what has changed, how far we have come and, most importantly, how the faculty and programs will be prepared for what’s next.

Building Strengths, Breaking Ground

By the early 1990s, the MSU College of Education was clearly a powerhouse when it came to producing strong teachers and strong scholarship on teacher education. The faculty had taken on some of the nation’s largest, most ambitious efforts to improve teaching and learning through research and close partnerships with schools.

Ames’ ?rst academic year as dean, 1993–94, was particularly busy as the university continued managing the major logistics of shifting from a quarter to semester system (which started the year before). During fall 1993, the ?rst pilot group of teacher candidates also was venturing into the full, ?fth-year internship, a feature that today remains a hallmark of the rigorous preparation program.

“Carole recognized the importance and centrality of teacher education to our identity, even though it wasn’t in her background,” said Professor Suzanne Wilson, now chair of the Department of Teacher Education.

A quick learner with her pulse on national trends, Ames “has helped the institution maintain and really ?esh out that reputation.”

But it is a big college, Wilson says. While MSU has long been a magnet for people who think carefully about teacher preparation, it’s also come to be known as an inclusive community with a “deep bench” of scholars.

And that team of staff and faculty, like its dean, seems to have little tolerance for doing things the same as always.

Eight graduate study areas, including educational psychology and k–12 administration for example, are ranked (and have been for many years) within the nation’s top-11 by U.S. News & World Report based on quality measures such as research dollars and peer assessments. (See page 4 for the full list of current rankings.)

The commitment to preparing both scholars and practitioners for the most pressing challenges in their ?elds, from school psychology to exercise physiology, exists across more than 15 academic program areas (undergraduate and graduate) that continue to evolve. Several, including the major in Athletic Training and Ph.D. programs in Educational Policy and Mathematics Education, have been developed during Ames’ tenure.

“She has indeed made a great difference for us,” said Michael Leahy, professor and director of the rehabilitation counseling program currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. “It’s hard to imagine working in a college environment more conducive to creative thinking and strategic visioning.”

Leaders say the college has been especially quick to respond to high-need areas under Ames’ guidance. That includes efforts related to improving U.S. outcomes in mathematics and science education, supporting the needs of low-performing schools in Michigan and connecting educators and policymakers with research data when critical decisions are at stake.

Ames helped establish major portals for that work; namely, the Of?ce of k–12 Outreach a few years after her arrival and the Education Policy Center in 2000.

Both of those operations have provided a means to marshal related faculty expertise and student interest from across the college, and they continue to exercise signi?cant in?uence off campus. Programs range from professional development for school administrators to forums for sharing hot-topic research directly with legislators.

“A college of education has to be connected to the communities of practice and that could be at the state, district and school level,” Ames said. “People look to us to provide some expertise and assistance, but they need to know who to contact—centers that can provide coordination and leadership.”

Along with new approaches to outreach (primarily led by Barbara Markle, Susan Melnick and Sonya Gunnings-Moton—see pages 24 and 32), Ames also has ushered in a more formal emphasis on effective teaching. She believes the college must not stop at teaching tomorrow’s teachers to foster productive learning environments. Faculty and graduate students must also model the best pedagogical approaches for their own pupils and colleagues.

She convened a taskforce that led to the creation of a new center focused on the scholarship of teaching, a related annual awards program and even college-wide policies requiring faculty members to demonstrate their capacity for strong teaching along the way to tenure.

“The college has really been on the forefront of talking about scholarly teaching, using it at the k–12 level and also at the college level,” said Melissa McDaniels, a doctoral graduate in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education (hale).

Supporting—and Attracting—Students

Since Dean Ames’ arrival, ?nancial support and incentives for graduate students in the college—and therefore the number and overall quality of talented Ph.D. candidates—has increased dramatically.

Associate Dean Sedlak said the dean immediately began seeking more funding for fellowships, from the MSU Graduate School as well as outside sources, to help recruit exemplary students and cover their costs while on campus. Combined with creative budgeting and aggressive admission strategies, the college went from providing about $300,000 in annual graduate fellowships to more than $2.4 million today.

“The difference that that has made . . . in the climate and the experiences of students is without words,” said Marilyn Amey, chairperson of the Department of Educational Administration, which regularly has about 20 full-time graduate assistants compared with just one or two at a time during the mid-1990s. “There are so many more opportunities.”

Beyond chances to teach, publish and present in collaboration with faculty, many doctoral students receive additional resources speci?cally intended to help them develop and pursue their own research. For example, this year the college will offer summer research fellowships to about 60 Ph.D. students; ?ve years ago, that opportunity was available to just 15 students.

“I have never felt like I needed support and didn’t receive it,” said Todd Drummond, a Ph.D. student in Educational Policy. “The international opportunities, for me, have been especially important.” (See box below for information about international study tours for doctoral students.)

A Focus for Fundraising

Students, says Senior Director of Development Michelle Mertz, have always been the ?rst priority for Ames when it comes to fundraising.

“Our focus has been to make certain students who work very, very hard and wish to pursue teaching or another degree in the college are able to do that, no matter what their economic status,” said Mertz, who joined the staff in 2001. “That’s really the essence of MSU.

“It’s also something that resonates with donors, to reach back and help educate the next generation of educators.”

Gifts from individuals or families who wish to establish named scholarships for students have accounted for the bulk of donations, a trend made evident by the large Awards Reception held each spring and a major increase in the College of Education’s overall endowment.

Worth about $2.5 million in 1999, the college’s endowment is now valued at more than $13 million and will generate interest income in perpetuity. The college raised $50 million alone—double its original goal—during the most recent capital campaign. Another university-wide campaign is set to begin in the next few years.

Forging Connections, Finding Solutions

Not every college or school of education is well-respected on its own campus, in constant connection with state educational leaders and at the table when national issues are at stake.

For the MSU College of Education, however, most agree all those things have been true.

Dean Ames, her faculty and her extremely stable team of administrators (most on board for 15 years or more) have established a network of relationships that keeps the college apprised of what’s happening across the spectrum of k–16 education—and external communities aware of how the college can help in?uence needed changes.

Partners range from other colleges and departments at MSU, an alliance of Michigan-based k–12 education associations, major ?eld- or content-speci?c academic organizations and peer research institutions.

Ames has been a member and often a leader of national groups that bring together deans of education colleges, such as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC/Big Ten) Education Deans.

“Amongst the education deans across the country, she is one of the voices that I always pay attention to,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education at University of Kansas. “She doesn’t shy away from controversy and she is always willing to take a hard stand.”

Other education deans agree that Ames’ reputation as a lasting, strong presence in the ?eld has helped MSU maintain its stature, especially in the face of increasing critiques against traditional teacher education programs and frequent ?nancial reductions.

“She’s a premier leader for a place with the strength and the history that MSU has,” said Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. Ball also is a graduate and former faculty member in the MSU College of Education.

“(Carole) is a very good strategist about how to position the college and get results,” she said.

The most recent round of budget cuts at MSU meant reducing personnel and eliminating programs in the college. However, Associate Dean Robert Floden said Ames oversaw that decision process, as she has before, “in a way almost everyone felt good about.” That involved a careful, straightforward analysis of priorities and the active participation of staff and faculty.

Amazingly, the college emerged last fall after a one-year hiring freeze ready to search for up to 16 new faculty members in high-demand areas for research and teaching such as Chinese language education, literacy and autism spectrum disorders.

“I think we are set for some time,” said Gail Nutter, long-time assistant dean for college budget and operations. “We have enough ?exibility in our budget to maintain our priorities if there is a decrease in university funding.”

The college has already made adjustments to cover the latest anticipated cut in Michigan higher education appropriations, about 15 percent as proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Ames was up for her latest ?ve-year reappointment in the midst of ?nancial discussions during spring semester 2010, offering what could have been an opportunity to announce her departure. But she waited.

“I care too much about the college,” she said. “That would have been abandoning everyone right in the middle of some very dif?cult decisions.”

The Fun Factor

Every year at the annual meeting of aera (American Educational Research Association), the MSU College of Education hosts one of the most highly anticipated parties of the week and, without fail for 25 years, a rock band featuring college faculty and staff takes to the stage before a crowd of alumni, peers and friends from across the country.

In recent years, the music group—called “Against School Violence”—has been joined for a few songs by a team of singing, “dancing deans.”

Assistant Dean Susan Melnick, one of those ?ve famous performers, said it was Dean Ames who originated the idea and talked her colleagues into the ?rst performance after much negotiation.

“It helped me understand how relentless she can be when she wants to accomplish something,” said Melnick with a smile.

It also shows just how much fun can mean to Ames, a dean known for softening the most serious situations with light-hearted humor and for ?nding ways to build community when the college could otherwise be very disconnected.

Under her leadership, the college began honoring outstanding educators with the Crystal Apple Awards and the annual Homecoming festivities grew from a sort of quiet tea party after the game to a fun-?lled, free gathering with food and music for upwards of 800 alumni under a big white tent.

In addition, new faculty members can cash in on a “free lunch” to get to know colleagues. Staff and faculty take part in the annual “Green Tree” competition for saving money on photocopies. All employees are invited to a picnic outside Erickson Hall to open the new academic year.

“I think this gives everyone just a wonderful feeling of camaraderie,” said Assistant Dean Barbara Markle. ”It creates, just, a spirit that I hope we can continue.”

A Foundation for Forward Thinking

Since the university began searching for Ames’ successor, some have called the position “the best dean’s job in the country.”

They list the features: smart faculty, collaborative culture, sturdy reputation.

In the words of long-time Professor Philip Cusick, “The place is so well run that we forget somebody is actually running it.”

There are hundreds of talented new graduates each year, many strong leaders among the ranks, clear consensus about what matters to the college and forward momentum to make those things happen.

As Dean Ames herself says, “This college is a really strong place. It’s not dependent on me.”

But it certainly owes much to the courage, the guidance and the passion that—whether you have seen it in action or not—Ames has devoted to leading the college for nearly two decades.

As faculty, students and alumni shined under many spotlights for their knowledge and commitment to improving education, she was working to create more innovative learning opportunities, clear hidden hurdles and encourage even grander aspirations with each new academic year.

“She was very committed to dealing with day-to-day issues but always doing so with a long-term vision, bringing the college to higher levels of respect,” said Cheryl Offutt, a former MSU doctoral student in school psychology and research assistant to Dean Ames.

As strong as ever when it comes to preparing teachers, the college is known for excellence across a broad spectrum of education and for focusing on the challenges that matter most in the ?eld.

If there is a right time to step down from the job, many College of Education leaders say Ames has found it.

“This was a good college before, but she dug into it and understood where we had to go next,” said friend and Associate Dean Cassandra Book. “I have never known anybody like Carole who sees a way to successfully move a whole college to higher levels of achievement.”

The Research

Research had become an increasingly high priority for the College of Education before Ames became dean, and the college’s capacity for producing powerful scholarship has been growing ever since.

Based on records of grants and contracts, research funding in the college has nearly doubled over the last 20 years—from an annual average of $9.1 million in 1990 to $17.9 million in 2010. The number of faculty members serving as principal investigators on funded projects has also been on the rise, from approximately 30 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2010.

Those changes clearly made research activities a more integral part of the experience for graduate students, and more and more undergraduate students. (See page 21 for more information about support for doctoral students.)

The research picture has been punctuated by major projects, especially Teachers for a New Era, an institution-level effort to rethink teacher preparation with $5 million from the Carnegie Corporation and other funders, and prom/se (Promoting Rigorous Outcomes in Mathematics and Science Education), a staggering $35 million effort to improve mathematics and science teaching in partnership with more than 60 school districts.

Comparative international work, policy, urban education and mathematics/science (often in collaboration with the College of Natural Science) have been hallmarks.

However, the research agenda in the college is peppered with an impressively broad range of studies, from tiny pilots to disciplinary centers and nation-wide investigations, that collectively call into question—and address—many of the most critical issues at stake in practice.

Curriculum. Assessment. Access. Pedagogy. Health. Standards. Technology. Administration.

“Through a blend of encouragement and support, Dean Ames has helped to enhance the quality and scope of research done by faculty and doctoral students,” said Associate Dean Robert Floden.

As research productivity has grown, so has in-college support for faculty to obtain grants and manage research-related logistics.

Over Ames’ tenure, the Institute for Research on Teaching and Learning, which Floden directs, doubled in size and expanded the range of services it provides to faculty and doctoral students. The institute now essentially serves as a one-stop shop for help leveraging the best available research resources from the university and outside funding sources.

The Technology

E-mail was brand new when Dean Ames arrived and building-wide wireless Internet access, not to mention a mostly online Ph.D. program, were concepts few people could foresee.

But bringing cutting-edge technology to the College of Education has always been one of her top priorities.

She started sending e-mails to faculty members when many weren’t ready to leave paper memos behind. Soon after, books were cleared from the ?rst-?oor library to make way for computers in a “Technology Exploration Center.”

It was the beginning of her quest to give faculty and students access to the best resources for improving teaching and learning and, subsequently, overhaul Erickson Hall one ?oor at a time.

“Her vision was that, in order for us to maintain our reputation as a highly ranked college of education, our faculty and students were going to need an environment that goes beyond what others can offer,” said Facilities Manager Eric Mulvany. “What happened in a roughly eight-year span was Erickson Hall turned from a 1950s construction to a building designed for 2010 and beyond.”

Although too numerous to mention, the dramatic transformation has included:

• Creating interactive, technology-embedded classrooms and a new suite of meeting rooms

• A 4,000-square-foot building addition with space for more grant-funded research projects

• Replacing all windows at Erickson Hall

• Adding 3,500 square feet of lab space for exercise physiology research at IM Sports Circle

• Opening a successful Sparty’s Café, which helps bring in money for scholarships

As the buildings evolved, so did support—and expectations—for faculty to use technology in ways that would enhance their research and teaching. Some of the most tech-savvy faculty members helped usher in what has become today’s Center for Teaching and Technology, a college-wide hub for learning to use and conduct research on technology.

Around the turn of the new century, the College of Education also began exploring the possibility of teaching courses online. Faculty say it was Dean Ames who not only initiated the conversation but gave them the resources and incentives needed to create MSU’s ?rst fully online master’s program, the Master of Arts in Education (maed). See page 33 for more information on the maed, as well as Susan Melnick’s role.

The college now offers six successful online master’s programs plus a nearly unheard-of hybrid doctoral program that is mostly online (in Educational Technology and Educational Psychology).

The Global Perspective

The College of Education—like MSU—has a history of engaging in international work and, according to Assistant Dean for International Studies Jack Schwille, Dean Ames has helped resurrect internationalization as a top-line priority.

Long-standing goals include recruiting talented students from other countries and conducting international and comparative research. Recently, the college has been especially focused on helping k–12 schools bring international perspectives into their classrooms and on creating more opportunities for College of Education students to experience global contexts.

It’s about learning to succeed in a world that is increasingly interconnected.

“The importance of preparing teachers, administrators and researchers who understand their work within a global context cannot be overstated,” says Ames. “Developing an appreciation of other cultures and traditions is important, but educators also bene?t by learning about educational practices in other countries.”

Many courses in the college have been redesigned with globally themed projects and materials and the Global Educators Cohort Program, launched in 2008, gives teacher candidates a unique opportunity to prepare for careers in diverse classrooms or settings that help students develop global competencies.

The college’s Of?ce of k–12 Outreach held its ?rst annual Internationalizing Michigan Education conference in 2007. With support from k–12 Outreach and the Confucius Institute, the college also has organized many study tours and exchanges allowing Michigan-based educators to interact with international colleagues, particularly in China and England.

Most recently, Dean Ames announced that all doctoral students in the college can apply to participate in a faculty-led study trip to an international destination—with all major expenses paid. The initiative, which began with previous successful trips to China, involves sending groups to China, Botswana and Vietnam this spring.

Students in the Global Educators and Urban Educators cohort programs also have their own specialized opportunities to travel overseas (to China and England, respectively), adding to the list of at least a dozen study abroad programs available to students across the college.

Other notable achievements in the area of globalization include:

  • Becoming a world-recognized leader for providing innovative opportunities to learn Chinese language and culture—particularly online—through the Confucius Institute at MSU.
  • Creating a model for merging Eastern and Western teaching practices that has been implemented in schools across Michigan; a project of the former U.S. China Center for Research on Educational Excellence.
  • Conducting highly visible comparative research on U.S. mathematics achievement. This includes the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (timss) and the 16-nation Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (teds-m), for which MSU serves as the international and national headquarters.
  • Receiving the Goldman Sachs Foundation’s Prize for Excellence in International Education, in 2005.

The Urban Agenda

The College of Education’s promise to prepare students for careers in urban communities will continue well past Dean Ames’ tenure—through the year 2017 alone based on funding in place for recipients of the Broad Scholarship.

That program, which supports Detroit Public Schools graduates committed to becoming teachers, was one of several initiatives launched in 2003 as part of the landmark Broad Partnership. A $6 million agreement between MSU, the Broad Foundation and DPS, the project pieced together a pipeline of experiences for young people (high school students through education majors) to explore urban teaching that is still going strong.

The partnership also helped cement a college-wide commitment to addressing the unique contexts and challenges of education in urban settings.

“Carole Ames has positioned this college to forge a very aggressive urban education agenda,” said Sonya Gunnings-Moton, assistant dean for student support services and recruitment. “She did that in recognizing that a premier college of education must maintain its relevance.”

A regular day in the college might now include “urban-infused” undergraduate courses, professional development for urban school leaders across Michigan and prospective teachers interning in the classrooms of Chicago Public Schools. The college’s continuing commitment to Detroit, which includes placing teaching candidates in the city, was recently reaf?rmed when the university opened a new facility for events and classes right on Woodward Avenue.

The ?rst group of students in the college’s specialized Urban Educators Cohort Program, which begins each fall with new freshmen, will ?nish their internships this spring. And graduate students are ?nding more opportunities to study their interests within urban contexts through the new Urban Specialization.

Although increasing racial and ethnic diversity among students remains a challenge, Ames has made the matter more personal by hiring a full-time recruiter and making a point to interact with prospects from under-represented groups during an annual event of the national Institute for Recruitment of Teachers.

Over time, the College of Education’s outreach efforts have actually helped grow the total number of graduates from Detroit Public Schools attending MSU. The number of DPS grads pursuing teacher preparation speci?cally has increased by more than 250 percent since 2003.

A new scholarship opportunity for high-achieving urban high school graduates who want to become teachers will be available at MSU starting this fall. Ames leveraged donations to the college to set up the program, which includes a 2-to-1 match in funding from the university’s Of?ce of Financial Aid.

“Our goal is not only to admit more students from urban schools to MSU,” Gunnings-Moton said, “But to ensure their graduation and successful completion of our teacher preparation program.”