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Penelope Peterson to Step Down in 2017 as Dean of SESP

School of Education and Social Policy leader currently longest-serving dean

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Penelope L. Peterson, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and the Eleanor R. Baldwin Professor of Education at Northwestern University, will retire from the dean’s position Aug. 31, 2017, Provost Daniel Linzer announced. Peterson has been dean of SESP since 1997 and is currently Northwestern’s longest-serving dean as well as the longest-serving dean in the history of the School of Education and Social Policy.

“During her distinguished tenure, Penelope has provided exceptional leadership for the school,” Linzer said. “I look forward to having several opportunities over the next year to recognize Penelope’s significant contributions to both SESP and Northwestern University.”

Peterson has led the hiring of an outstanding group of faculty. SESP faculty members have gone from bringing in a total of approximately $400,000 of external research funding per faculty member to more than $760,000 of external research funding per faculty member. SESP’s tenure-line faculty of 35 now incudes seven members of the National Academy of Education, one in the National Academy of Sciences and three in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, SESP has ranked consistently among the top 10 education schools nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

“Penelope Peterson has been a key member of the Northwestern community,” President Morton Schapiro said. “Her dedication, innovative approach and tremendous leadership have benefited the University immensely, and we deeply appreciate her significant contributions to the University’s academic success.”

As dean, Peterson also has created and sustained a number of innovative and impactful initiatives, including Northwestern Academy, a multi-year college preparation and enrichment program for diverse, academically motivated students in Chicago Public Schools. The academy is a four-year program designed to prepare Chicago high school students for highly selective colleges and universities through supplemental educational opportunities and support services and is a key element of Northwestern’s Good Neighbor, Great University initiative. 

While dean, Peterson has continued to teach courses for undergraduates and graduate students. Committed to making SESP a supportive academic environment for SESP undergraduates, Peterson created SESP’s strong advising system for which the school in now known. Among other educational innovations, Peterson created a Learning Philanthropy course in which undergraduate students are engaged in the study of philanthropy and the practice of giving.  This course emphasizes philanthropic giving intended to improve the lives of children and adults and the opportunities afforded them and includes the opportunity to actually give away $100,000 to nonprofit organizations as part of the course. 

“Our outstanding faculty, excellent staff and wonderful students have made it a joy to be dean of SESP for nearly two decades,” Peterson said. “I will miss them greatly.”

Prior to her appointment as dean, she served as University Distinguished Professor of Education at Michigan State University and Sears-Bascom Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her B.S. degree in psychology and philosophy from Iowa State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. A past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Peterson is also a member of the National Academy of Education; a fellow of AERA, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society; and a member of the board of trustees of the Adler Planetarium.

Linzer said the University will begin a national search for her successor soon with a search committee comprised of SESP faculty, students and staff as well as others from the University community. This committee will begin its work during spring quarter.

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