Celebration of Educators 2024 explores the economics of education and honors alumni

June 11, 2024
Four people in professional dress sit in blue chairs engaged in discussion underneath a screen that reads, “Celebration of Educators 2024: Learn. Celebrate. Connect.”

The panel on “The Price of Knowledge: Exploring the Economics of Education” featured (from left) Assistant Professor Ericka Weathers, Associate Professor Rachel Baker, and Dean Katharine Strunk, and was moderated by Penn GSE alum and Board of Advisors member Navin M. Valrani. (Holden Blanco for Penn GSE)

Penn GSE closes each academic year with an Alumni Weekend event that both honors award winners and enlightens the audience via a panel exploring a pressing issue in education. This year’s Celebration of Educators — hosted on campus in the school’s newly expanded and renovated building for the first time — gathered current students, alumni, faculty, and staff together in the new active learning classrooms following Commencement on May 18.

The panel discussion, “The Price of Education: Exploring the Economics of Education,” allowed Dean Katharine O. Strunk, Associate Professor Rachel Baker, and Assistant Professor Ericka Weathers to delve into the policies that dictate how money is spent across K–12 and higher education systems in the U.S., as well as the ramifications of those spending decisions. Penn GSE alum and Board of Advisors member Navin M. Valrani acted as moderator.

The wide-ranging conversation spanned the causes of racial and socioeconomic disparities in K–12 education, community college cost and transfer barriers, school COVID recovery efforts, and teacher labor markets. Though the panel’s experts discussed the (in the words of the dean) “wonky” details of Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) funds, “last-in-first-out” teacher-layoff policies, and community college student bachelor’s degree rates, they all said that these are issues that touch everyone. All citizens, they agreed, should care about these and other educational and economic policies.

“Having an educated democracy benefits us all,” said Weathers. “Where we decide to live, where we send our kids to school, who we vote for, what we stand for, and what our elected leaders stand for all matter. We may not be the ones responsible for school funding policy, but we certainly elect the people who get put in office to do that.... We all play a role, and we should push to put people in place who are going to advocate for more equitable funding and solutions.”

The Celebration of Educators festivities also included a ceremony honoring the seven recipients of the Education Alumni Awards, as well as recognition of the staff, faculty, and student Annual Award winners. This year’s outstanding recipients were:

●   Penn GSE Educator of the Year: Christina Grant, GRD ’21

●   Helen C. Bailey Award: Charlotte E. Jacobs, GRD ’17

●   William B. Castetter Alumni Award of Merit: Hang Qin, GED ’18

●   Ethel and Allen “Buddy” Carruth Sustained Leadership in Education Award: DeAngela Burns-Wallace, GRD ’09

●   Kwame Nkrumah Distinguished Alumni Award: Jasmine L. Blanks Jones, GR ’21

●   Penn GSE Recent Alumni/Early Career Award of Merit: ArCasia D. James-Gallaway, GED ’16 and Nora D. S. Rodman, GED ’20

●   Excellence in Teaching Award: Julie E. Wollman, GED ’85

●   Staff Recognition of Service Awards: Hannah Brenneman, GED ’15, Leland McGee, GED ’18, GRD ’23, and Roshonda Scipio

●   Faculty Recognition of Service Awards: Caroline Hill, Rowan Machalow, and Damani White-Lewis

●   Laurie Wagman Award for Visual and Performing Arts in Education: Meruyert Bizhanova

●   Excellence in Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Adina Goldstein

●   William E. Arnold Award for Outstanding Contributions by a Student: Laronnda Thompson

“Penn GSE alums work across sectors as leaders, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers,” said Strunk. “And while their professional interests and passions may vary, there is one thing they all have in common, which is the belief that education is the answer to our stickiest, thorniest questions. We all believe in the transformative power of education.”

This year’s award-winners, and their exceptional work in and out of classrooms, exemplify that belief, living the Penn GSE mission out in the world.

Learn more about them at Penng.se/aw24.

Six award-winners and the dean stand in a row and pose, smiling after the 2024 Celebration of Educators awards ceremony. Nine award winners, including one in her red-and-blue graduation tam and gown, pose onstage with the dean after the 2024 Celebration of Educators event.

Left: The winners of the 2024 Education Alumni Awards with Dean Katharine Strunk (center). From left, Nora D. S. Rodman, Charlotte E. Jacobs, Jasmine L. Blanks Jones, ArCasia D. James-Gallaway, Christina Grant, and Hang Qin. Right: The dean (fourth from left) poses with the staff, faculty, and student award winners. From left, Laronnda Thompson, Julie E. Wollman, Meruyert Bizhanova, Hannah Brenneman, Adina Goldstein, Leland McGee, Damani White-Lewis, and Roshonda Scipio. (Holden Blanco for Penn GSE)