SESP dean to retire in August 2017

Fathma Rahman, Assistant Campus Editor

SESP Prof. Penelope Peterson will retire from her position as dean of the School of Education and Social Policy at the end of August 2017, Provost Dan Linzer announced.

Peterson, who has served as dean of SESP since 1997, is the longest-serving dean currently at Northwestern and the longest in SESP’s 90-year history. She is also the Eleanor R. Baldwin Professor of Education at NU and a member of both the National Academy of Education and the board of trustees of the Adler Planetarium. In addition, she is a past president of the American Educational Research Association.

“Penelope Peterson has been a key member of the Northwestern community,” University President Morton Schapiro said in a news release. “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.”

During her 20 years at NU, Peterson said she has seen SESP evolve as the University has gotten more selective. The younger undergraduates have higher test scores and grade point averages than ever before, and the quality of faculty at SESP has also improved significantly, she said. In addition, faculty are bringing in more research money, Peterson said.

“(SESP students and faculty) are just passionate about what we care about in our school, which is changing and improving people’s lives,” Peterson said.

Peterson excelled in hiring highly qualified faculty and advisers, said SESP Prof. Barton Hirsch. Hirsch said that skill contributed to SESP’s reputation on campus.

SESP Prof. David Figlio said he has known Peterson for eight years and that she has helped to develop the school as it stands today. Figlio said Peterson is “energetic, creative and visionary,” and described her as the public face of SESP because every graduate and undergraduate student knows who she is.

“SESP is a small school, but I think it always punches above its weight and a large reason behind that is because of (Peterson’s) tireless advocacy for the school,” Figlio said.

In addition to her responsibilities as dean, Peterson said she has enjoyed continuing to work with undergraduate students. Peterson currently teaches an undergraduate philanthropy class, in which students give away $100,000 to foundations of their choice and learn about how to do so in a thoughtful and strategic way, she said.

“I always say that as a leader, you can run the danger of getting too distant from what really makes our job important,” Peterson said. “And what makes our job important, and why I do what I do as dean, is to support the teaching and learning of students.”

Following her retirement, Peterson said she plans to write a young adult novel with her daughter, relocate to Seattle near her grandson and hike across the Pacific Northwest.

This story was updated with quotes at 10:50 p.m.

Twitter: @fathma_rahman