The Penn GSE Magazine

Fall 2019

The cover of the Fall 2019 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine. It shows an aerial view of a person writing on sticky notes and a large piece of white paper on a blue tabletop. The table is covered with colorful sticky notes, apples, and pens. Headlines read “Driving Innovation: Penn GSE Transforms Education,” “Entrepreneurship Alumni Propel Change,” “Embracing the Maker Movement,” and “Helping Young People Invent Their Futures.” A blue bar at the bottom says “The Innovation Issue.”

Cover Story

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Driving Innovation: Penn GSE Transforms Education for a Changing World

Whether by galvanizing urgent conversations, empowering educators, inspiring entrepreneurs, or propelling innovative degree programs, Penn GSE is at the forefront of transforming education for a changing world.



The Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Board of Overseers

David N. Roberts, W’84, Chair
Rajeev Amara, W’97
Deborah L. Ancona, C’76, GED’77
Brett H. Barth, W’93
Wallace Boston, GRD’10
Jolley Bruce Christman, GED’71, GR’87
Lee Spelman Doty, W’76
Beth S. Ertel, W’88, WG’92
Jeffrey L. Goldberg, W’83, WG’89
Joel M. Greenblatt, W’79, WG’80
Wendy Marcus Greenfield, W’78
Lisa Green Hall, W’87

Andrew Harris Jacobson, WG’93
Marjie G. Katz, GED’90
Lois M. Kohn-Claar, C’88, GED’88
Douglas R. Korn, W’84
Gustave K. Lipman, W’94
Jeffrey S. McKibben, W’93
Gregory A. Milken, C’95
Matthew Vincent O’Malley, GED’95
Andrea Jill Pollack, C’83, L’87, GED’17
Michael J. Sorrell, GRD’15
Navin M. Valrani, W’93, GED’18
Steven M. Wagshal, W’94

The Penn GSE Magazine is produced by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6216. Reproduction of these articles requires written permission from Penn GSE. ©2019 by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Please contact Penn GSE at 215-898-9704 for references. Please contact to update your address.

Pam Grossman

Melissa R. Calvert, GED’00

Juliana Rosati

Editorial Board:

Sara Cantwell
Carson Easterly
Jane L. Lindahl, GED’18
Jennifer Moore
Kat Stein


Print edition by Ten Eleven Design

Web edition by Penn GSE IT Web Team

The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices. Questions or complaints regarding this policy should be directed to the Executive Director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Franklin Building, Suite 421, 3451 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206; or 215-898-6993 (Voice).




Letter from the Dean

Headshot of Dean Pam Grossman in a dark jacket and blue blouse on Locust Walk

Dear Alumni and Friends,

At Penn GSE we are very proud of our legacy of leading innovation in education for more than two decades. Innovation, the theme of this issue, is part of Penn GSE’s DNA and is visible across our programs, our practical work on the ground, and our research.


Our groundbreaking initiatives include an array of executive-format programs to prepare working educators for new and growing fields, as well as the first education business plan competition held by an education school, the first master’s degree program in education entrepreneurship, and the first global certificate in education innovation. Our features “Driving Innovation” and “Propelling Change” highlight how Penn GSE is effecting change through these and other facets of our work, including our new hub for education innovation, Catalyst, and our master’s program in learning sciences and technologies.

At its core, innovation means making positive change in the world by constantly identifying new challenges and meeting them with novel solutions. Our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are fueled by their passion for making positive change—and they work together to accomplish their goals. In “Making Memorable Learning” you will learn how two Penn GSE students have drawn upon knowledge gained in the Maker Studio course taught by Dr. Yasmin Kafai, Lori and Michael Milken President’s Distinguished Professor, to bring active learning to underserved students at the school where they teach. In “Helping Adolescents Learn and Thrive” you will read how Professor of Practice Michael Nakkula is helping young people find the social and emotional support they need to pursue their dreams and collaborating with scholars around the world, including a number Penn GSE students and alumni, to advance this work. 

Throughout this issue, you will see examples of how members of the Penn GSE community are leading the conversation about how to teach twenty-first-century skills, partnering with educators to provide professional development in cutting-edge topics, developing new businesses and nonprofits, founding new schools, and researching the effectiveness of educational programs and approaches. The range of problems they are addressing is impressive, and their solutions are inspiring.

The same is true of the finalists and winners of the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition, which recently celebrated its tenth year. At the finals round in October, the Milken Family Foundation grand prize was awarded to Social Cipher, a Los Angeles-based video game studio that creates opportunities for young people with autism to understand and apply social skills. eCLOSE, a Philadelphia company that engages teachers and students in professional cancer research, won both the second place American Public University System prize and the audience choice prize presented by NEXT Shulman Rogers.

I am always inspired by our community, and this fall has been particularly special in that regard. Alongside Professor Sigal Ben-Porath, I have been co-teaching the doctoral seminar for first-year, full-time doctoral students across Penn GSE’s programs. Returning to the classroom has given me a wonderful opportunity to work more closely with our community of new education researchers. Whether they are studying education policy or educational linguistics, higher education or human development, their talent and potential for shaping the field are remarkable. Working with students from across our programs in one classroom has also given me an exciting preview of the stimulating interdisciplinary environment we will create by bringing the majority of our programs into one facility through our planned building expansion project.

At Penn GSE, we are dedicated to finding sustainable and scalable solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing society. I hope that you, our alumni and friends, will be as inspired as I am as you read of our work and impact.

Pam Grossman signature

Pam Grossman
Dean, Penn Graduate School of Education
George and Diane Weiss Professor of Education


Bookshelf Spotlight

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games

By Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

Published May 2019 by NYU Press

Drawing upon her experiences as a young adult novelist, fan fiction writer, and scholar of education, Dr. Thomas considers four black female protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early twenty-first century from popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. The book identifies a diversity crisis in children’s and young adult media, as well as new possibilities for the future.

Find other recent books by Penn GSE faculty in the Faculty Bookshelf

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Dark Fantastic book cover


Illustration of the earth with a wheel and rows of numbers across the image

Whether by galvanizing urgent conversations, empowering educators, inspiring entrepreneurs, or propelling innovative degree programs, Penn GSE is at the forefront of transforming education for a changing world.

Wooden blocks shaped like a lightbulb inside the outline of a human profile

Locally and nationally, Penn GSE Education Entrepreneurship alumni are innovating at all levels of education, both within and beyond the classroom.

Headshot of Andrew Harris Jacobson and Marina Kunis Jacobson, G’93, WG’93

As the Extraordinary Impact Campaign continues, Penn GSE is grateful to generous donors who are investing in the School’s strengths and vision.

Aerial view of a student holding a colorful chart with a list of emotions and a light shining in the middle underneath the word “Joy.”

Inspired by the maker movement and their Penn GSE coursework, two students in Penn GSE’s Urban Teaching Residency master’s program partnered to overhaul the innovation lab at Christina Seix Academy.

Digital image of Penn GSE's central building at 3700 Walnut Street, with an expansion that links the building to nearby Stiteler Hall and moves the main entrance to 37th Street Walk

As a part of Penn GSE’s Extraordinary Impact Campaign, the School is embarking on a building expansion that will create a hub of twenty-first-century teaching and learning.

Photo of Michael Nakkula in a red button-up shirt and glasses sitting at a desk and teaching

Penn GSE Professor of Practice Michael J. Nakkula discusses his work investigating what approaches can improve students’ life trajectories, how schools can better serve students, and what he enjoys most about teaching GSE students.  

Five Penn GSE faculty wearing business attire stand next to each other and smile

Alumni and friends celebrated the extraordinary impact of Penn GSE at the School’s annual Celebration of Educators.


Penn GSE graduates in regalia and their family and friends gather in front of a large, blue sign with the Penn GSE logo.]

Alumni Notes

Penn GSE alumni notes reveal the many ways our graduates are having an impact as educators and leaders.

Read Alumni Notes


Tips from the Educator's Playbook

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Turning an Idea into a Business That Improves Education

Because educators are experts in learning, some of the startups having the biggest impact on education were created by teachers and school leaders. John Gamba, director of innovative programs and entrepreneur in residence at Catalyst @ Penn GSE, offers tips to help educators take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Photo by iStock/Melpomenem

Read More about Turning an Idea into a Business That Improves Education

Continuing a Legacy

Headshot of Michael Frisone

“I want to help young people,

particularly those at risk, receive a quality education and obtain the skills needed for success.” —Michael Frisone, GED’15, Ph.D. student in quantitative methods, recipient of the William B. and Roberta B. Castetter Fellowship

The William B. Castetter Circle recognizes individuals who have remembered the School in their estate plans.

Learn More about planned giving

On Campus

Inside Penn’s Palestra, graduates in caps and gowns are seated in rows facing the stage, where faculty are similarly dressed and seated and a speaker stands at a podium. Above the podium, a large screen reads “Penn GSE.”

Commencement 2019

Penn GSE held its 105th Commencement Ceremony on May 18 at the Palestra. Dr. Na’ilah Suad Nasir, president of the Spencer Foundation, delivered the keynote address. Penn GSE conferred 724 degrees during 2018-2019.

Find Event Photos

Extraordinary Impact Starts With You

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Create Opportunity With Us

Each year, Penn GSE faculty, staff, and students run more than four hundred programs in over three hundred partner schools, informal learning environments, and community organizations that improve the academic achievement and life outcomes of Philadelphia children and youth. Support our work by making a gift to the Penn GSE Annual Fund today.

Extraordinary Impact

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