Steinhardt Music Students Give Life to Lars Graugaard’s Cutting Edge Contemporary Compositions with “Venus”

When Steinhardt Professor of Music Robert Rowe invited Lars Graugaard for an unofficial residency in 2013, he was drawn to the Danish contemporary composer’s digital-sonic experiments, which lent themselves to both large-scale orchestral compositions as well as chamber and solo works.

“I knew he’d be able to engage with a wide variety of our student musicians and that they’d be inspired by his originality and innovation,” said Rowe.

What followed was the birth of Venus, a recording in four pieces composed by Graugaard and performed by the NYU Symphony Orchestra, the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble, and the NYU Percussion Ensemble.  Released in October 2015 by Dacapo records with the support of the Danish Arts Council, Venus marks the first original professional music recording written specifically for Steinhardt student performers.

“I’m always looking for new collaborations for our orchestras, so I took up a discussion with Lars and our Tonmeister and full time faculty member Paul Geluso about a possible commission for the NYU Symphony,” said Joseph Bongiorno, associate professor of music at Steinhardt.  “Within a half hour or so we arrived at the concept for Venus, an interactive work for violin and double bass soloists and a Beethoven-size orchestra that would premier at the historic St. Josephs Church in Greenwich Village with doctoral candidate Patti Kilroy and alumnus Patrick Swoboda as soloists.”

In addition to the title track of Venus, recorded by the NYU Symphony Orchestra, the album also features Layers of Earth, fusing oboe, interactive computer, and 15 percussion players from the NYU Percussion Ensemble; and Book of Throws and Three Places with the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble.

“Lars’s unique compositional style was quickly embraced by our students,” said Jonathan Haas, music professor and director of the Percussion Studies Program at Steinhardt.   “Through a combination of compositional techniques including improvisation, carefully composed music, and Lars’s introspective yet gregarious personality, the resulting musical interactions are amongst the most memorable experiences for the members of the NYU Orchestra, NYU Percussion Ensemble and NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble.”

Venus is available for purchase online on Amazon and the Decapo Records website.


Study Focuses on Religious and Spiritual Involvement of LGBT Undergrads

A new study published in Research in Higher Education looks at the role of sexual orientation and gender identity in college students’ relationship with religion and spirituality on campus.  Coauthored by Steinhardt’s Matthew Mayhew, the study – among the journal’s first articles to focus on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) undergraduates – creates new scholarship on the interplay between sexual orientation, gender non-conformity, and religious and spiritual involvement in college.

The study was conducted using data from 52 college and universities participating in the Campus Religious and Spiritual Climate Survey. The results suggest that overall, lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students are more inclined than their heterosexual peers to explore and define their individual worldviews as well as develop meaningful relationships across ideological difference. Citing findings that indicate a more nuanced experience for gender non-conforming students, the article calls for more research on the role of gender identity in these outcomes and offers implications for practice to further support student development in these important spaces.

“This particular piece highlights the growing importance of understanding intersectionalities in identity patterns and their role in informing conversations about diversity climates,” said Mayhew, an associate professor of higher education.

“Embedded within this study is the assumption that identities that bring together religion and sexual orientation are fluid, formative, and in harmony — despite Western norms that suggest otherwise. Now it’s up to us, as college educators, to embrace these intersecting identity patterns and provide supportive spaces for their exploration.”

Mayhew and coauthor Alyssa Rockenbach, an associate professor of higher education at North Carolina State University, are now building on the findings of the Campus Religious and Spiritual Climate Survey with IDEALS (short for Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey), a collaboration with Interfaith Youth Core. The long-term study will follow over 20,000 college students from their freshman through senior years, tracking changes in their attitudes and behaviors about faith and diversity.

Additional coauthors on the Research in Higher Education study include Steinhardt doctoral student Marc Lo, Tiffani Riggers-Piehl of Baylor University, and Jason Garvey of the University of Alabama.

Photo credit: Digital Vision.

Research Alliance Study Finds Closing Low-Performing High Schools Had Positive Effects

New York City’s policy of closing very low-performing high schools during the last decade produced notable benefits for the middle schoolers who likely would have enrolled in these schools, according to a new report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. This first-ever study of the impact of school closures in New York City also highlights some important cautions to consider regarding the closure strategy.

The turn of the 21st century was marked by dismal performance in many of the country’s large urban high schools. A 2004 Johns Hopkins report singled out New York City as having the highest concentration of “dropout factories” in the nation.

Over the next decade, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much debated high school reforms that included closing large, low-performing high schools, opening new small schools, and extending high school choice to all students.

“Closing struggling high schools was a controversial and politically charged approach, but until now, there has not been a rigorous assessment of the impact of these closures on students’ outcomes,” said James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance and the new report’s author.

To begin to fill this gap, the Research Alliance studied the 29 low-performing high schools that were designated for closure in New York City between 2002 and 2008. According to the analysis, these 29 high schools were consistently among the lowest-performing in the city, even after accounting for differences in the demographics and prior performance of incoming students. At the time of the closure decisions, average graduation rates at these schools were below 40 percent.

The Research Alliance looked at the impact of the closures on two groups of students: those who were enrolled in the high schools as they were being phased out (specifically, the 9,600 students who were 9th graders when the closure decision was announced), and those who had to choose another high school when their most likely option was closed (approximately 11,000 8th graders). Key findings include:

  • Closing high schools produced meaningful benefits for future cohorts of students—i.e., the middle school students who had to choose another high school option because the school they likely would have attended was closing. These students ended up going to schools that were higher performing than the closed schools. In addition, the students’ outcomes improved significantly more than students in a comparison group, including a 15-point increase in graduation rates.
  • The phaseout process had little impact, positive or negative, on the academic outcomes of students who were enrolled at the time. These students had higher outcomes (including attendance and graduation rates) compared to students enrolled in the same schools prior to the closure decisions. However, gains made by students in the closing high schools were similar to gains made in other low-performing high schools that were not closed—suggesting that the phaseout process, in and of itself, had little effect on these outcomes.

“Combined with other recent research that has documented the positive effects of New York City’s small high schools, our results offer support for the strategic use of school closures as part of a multi-dimensional high school reform strategy,” Kemple said. “Still, these findings are just one piece of the puzzle.”

Kemple notes that, while the Research Alliance study provides rigorous evidence about closures’ impact on students, it does not address closures’ effects on educators, parents, and neighborhoods (or on aspects of students’ experiences not reflected in their attendance, mobility, and academic outcomes). Moreover, New York City’s high school landscape has changed markedly since the early 2000s; graduation rates have improved substantially, and there is a growing focus on preparing students for postsecondary education.

“Dramatic actions like school closures may help put a system of failing schools on a positive trajectory,” Kemple said. “It is not clear, however, that these reforms are sufficient to meet the demands being placed on New York City’s current landscape of high schools. After the lowest-performing schools in the system have been closed, what can be done to help other high schools serve their students more effectively—particularly low-income Black and Latino students, who continue to have much lower graduation and college enrollment rates? How can high schools meet the challenges of preparing students for success in college and a career? These are central questions that should animate the current generation of high school reform.”

Click here to access Performance-Based High School Closures in New York City: Impacts on Students’ Academic Outcomes, Attendance, and Mobility.

Intervention Improves Teacher Practices and Student Engagement in Early Elementary School Classrooms

A classroom program that helps teachers adapt their interactions with students based on individuals’ temperaments may lead to more student engagement in kindergarten, more teacher emotional support to kindergarten and first grade students, and better classroom organization and less off-task behavior in first-grade classes, according to NYU Steinhardt research.

The study, published in the December issue of The Elementary School Journal, builds upon recent findings that the same program generally improves the behavior and academic skills of young children, helps shy students be more engaged in their classwork, and reduces disruptive behavior among children with high maintenance temperaments.

Research has shown that effective teachers and behaviorally engaged students are vital for fostering learning in early elementary school classrooms. This early academic achievement and behavior sets the stage for students’ later academic success.

“Classroom processes in the early years, including teacher practices and student behavioral norms, contribute to children’s experience of themselves as learners and provide a foundation for future interactions,” said Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the paper’s first author.

To support the development of young students – particularly in low-income schools, which are at risk for having less effective teachers and less engaged students – researchers are looking to classroom interventions focused on social-emotional learning. INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament is a social-emotional intervention designed by NYU Steinhardt professor Sandee McClowry to help teachers and parents match environmental demands with an individual child’s personality. The program provides a framework for appreciating and supporting differences in the personalities of children, rather than trying to change them, and aims to increase responsive teaching strategies and enhance children’s abilities to regulate their classroom behaviors.

In the current study, the researchers evaluated whether INSIGHTS supports teacher practices and student behaviors in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. A total of 120 kindergarten and first-grade classrooms across 22 urban, low-income elementary schools were included in the study. Half of these schools were randomly assigned to the INSIGHTS intervention, while the other half served as the control group and participated in an afterschool reading program. The researchers visited classrooms to observe teacher practices and student behaviors in both the fall and spring of a school year.

In INSIGHTS classrooms, the researchers saw an increase from fall to spring in teacher practices of emotional support to students – essentially, teachers were more sensitive to student needs, created better classroom climates, and showed respect for student interests. This effect was magnified in first grade. Similarly, first-grade INSIGHTS classrooms had higher teacher practices of classroom organization and lower classroom off-task behaviors over the school year compared to control classrooms.

Kindergarten INSIGHTS classrooms saw improved student engagement from fall to spring compared to kindergarten control classrooms, but generally, kindergarten teaching practices changed less than those in first-grade classrooms.

“In addition to INSIGHTS’ focus on individual children’s strengths and needs, our study illustrates the importance of understanding and supporting classrooms as a whole at the transition to formal schools,” said McClowry, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s senior author.

In addition to Cappella and McClowry, study authors include Erin O’Connor, Meghan McCormick, Ashley Turbeville, and Ashleigh Collins. The research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (R305B080019 and R305A080512).

Steinhardt Study: How Students of Different Backgrounds Use Strategies to Strengthen College Applications

Over the past 25 years, the higher education system in the United States has grown more competitive, with students trying to gain admissions to the most desirable institutions and institutions vying for the most desirable students. During this time period, high school students across the country – particularly those from families of higher socioeconomic status – have increasingly used multiple strategies to enhance their college applications, finds research led by the Steinhardt School.

The research, published online in Research in Higher Education, also finds that elite colleges are increasingly taking these application-boosting activities into account, and that this may be contributing to socioeconomic stratification in college admissions.

“The direct effect of socioeconomic status on enrollment in selective colleges is weakening at same time as strategies to enhance applications are strengthening,” said Gregory Wolniak, director of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s author.

Years of research show that students from families of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to attend college – particularly more selective institutions – thanks to a variety of factors, including academic preparation, attendance at higher performing schools, and other social, cultural, and financial resources available to families with more means.

In addition to their traditional coursework, students often try to make their college applications more competitive through what the researchers call “college enhancement strategies,” including Advanced Placement (AP) exams, SAT preparation courses or materials, and volunteerism and other extracurricular activities.

Wolniak and his colleagues sought to better understand how socioeconomic status and college enhancement strategies affect students gaining admission to college, and to selective institutions in particular. Using two national datasets following high school students into college, one from the 1990s and one from the 2000s, the researchers studied the relationships between these factors and how they changed over time, a period marked by rising college costs and increasing demand for higher education.

The researchers found that students from high socioeconomic backgrounds use more college enhancement strategies compared with other socioeconomics groups, even after controlling for academics and a host of demographic background differences.

In addition, some – but not all – college enhancement strategies predicted college enrollment beyond the effect of academics. SAT instruction predicted four-year college enrollment in the 1990s, while extracurricular leadership activities and AP exams predicted enrollment in the 2000s. Surprisingly, volunteering failed to predict college enrollment, contrary to prior studies on the benefits of community service.

No single enhancement strategy predicted enrollment in selective colleges, but overall high use of enhancement strategies proved to be an important factor, suggesting these strategies may be working in combination when it comes to selective college admissions.

Aligning with earlier research, the study found that coming from a higher socioeconomic background significantly improved the likelihood of enrolling in a four-year college, even after accounting for academics, enhancement strategies, and other demographics. Yet, while socioeconomic status predicted enrollment in selective colleges in the 1990s, it did not in the 2000s, which may mean that socioeconomic status is becoming less of a factor in students’ pathways into elite colleges.

“Socioeconomic status, in an of itself, continues to be a stratifying force in college enrollment, though one that appears partially offset by the growing influence of enhancement strategies,” Wolniak said.

The researchers stress the need to improve access to strategies known to enhance college enrollment, such as AP courses and exams, for high school students from all backgrounds.

“Targeting schools that are under-resourced and unable to offer such enhancement could have a substantial positive influence on college enrollment,” Wolniak said.

In addition to Wolniak, study authors include Ryan Wells and Catherine Manly of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mark Engberg of Loyola University Chicago.

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Metro Center Continues Partnership with New York State to Support English Language Learners

The New York State Education Department has awarded the NYU Metro Center a five-year, $11 million contract to provide educational support, technical assistance, and professional development to meet the needs of New York’s English language learners (ELLs) and world language students, their families, and the educators who serve them.

Through this contract, the Metro Center will continue to lead the statewide New York State Language Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network (RBE-RN). The Metro Center has worked closely with the Office of Bilingual Education of the New York State Education Department since 2006 through the Spanish Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Center, now operating the Statewide Language RBE-RN since the network’s establishment in 2011,  and serving over 22,000 school-based administrators, teachers, and district leaders.

“The New York State Statewide Language RBE-RN gives NYU Steinhardt a presence throughout the State of New York. It also places Steinhardt in a position to lead in the vexing area of language support and services necessary for advancing equity in education,” said David E. Kirkland, director of the Metro Center.

“This partnership will continue to augment and complement the Metro Center’s mission to work collaboratively and effectively with the New York State Education Department and school districts throughout the state in helping to ensure a quality and equitable education for students of all backgrounds,” Kirkland continued.

The renewed partnership will further the reach of the Statewide Language RBE-RN to New York’s rapidly growing and diverse population of ELL parents with a first-of-its-kind ELL Parent Hotline.  The ELL Parent Hotline will serve as a mechanism for parents of ELLs to inquire about their rights and the delivery of services for their children based on state regulations. Via a dedicated website and phone lines, parents will be able to inquire and receive responses in the state’s ten most prominent languages.

“It is critical to have an informed, empowered community of parents, guardians and other persons in parental relation to ensure that our ELLs are well served,” said Nellie B. Mulkay, director of the NYS Statewide Language RBE-RN at the Metro Center. “Since most school districts in New York State do not have available translation resources, the ELL Parent Hotline will provide parents of ELLs with much needed up-to-date information and the unique opportunity of having their inquiries responded to in their home languages.”

In addition to the ELL Parent Hotline, the Statewide Language RBE-RN will continue to provide technical assistance and conduct professional development with teachers and school leaders to support and strengthen the teaching and learning of languages, collaborate with school districts and schools to improve services for ELLs, translate educational materials, and guide policies related to ELLs and language learning in conjunction with the New York State Education Department. The Statewide Language RBE-RN will also continue to conduct activities for a variety of audiences, including October’s 2015 New York State English Language Learner Parent Academy.

“This partnership between the Metro Center and the New York State Education Department is an essential element to seamlessly support organizations, districts, and schools aiming to further the instructional practices and educational outcomes of second language learners and provide support to parents who anxiously seek to help their children obtain the best possible education,” said Mulkay.

Technology Grant Helps Faculty Enhance Pedagogy and Practice

Steinhardt’s Course Innovation Grants were offered last summer to faculty members wishing to enhance their existing courses.  Ilana Levinson, manager of Academic Technology Services, and an academic technology team worked with twelve faculty members during NYU’s summer session to revise thirteen courses in the following areas:  course content delivery; collaborative and student-centered learning environments; and evaluation and assessment.

Catherine Moore from the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions created an online collaborative environment for students to compare and contrast music business culture in their current study abroad sites.

“There’s a whole new layer to this completely online course where students are abroad in different countries,” Moore said.  “The new layer provides systematic feedback from me and from other students, who now have a platform to collaborate and generate ideas together.”

Screen Shot of Moore's Research Module

Moore will now be able to teach students how to do research and take field notes which will be used as support material in a proposal to a music company at the end of each semester.  She noted that this format also benefits students studying abroad because they can then can return to the materials on the course website, and use it “whenever it’s best in their time zone.”

Alicia Morrison and Jose Ortiz from the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders used their grant to restructure a course called,  Practicum 1 & 2.  They created an online learning platform that will allow students to use existing DVD recorded therapy sessions.  The team digitized the sessions so that they could be used as instructional tools in their classroom.

Morrision noted that the blended classroom design she created with Levinson and her team will maximize the relationship of pedagogy to practice in clinical settings.

“The process was rewarding,” Morrison said. “The team supported the individual learning and the vision of the course I wanted to design.”


Food Studies Faculty to Host Film Screening with Michael Pollan – Nov. 30

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” With that seven-word maxim, journalist and author Michael Pollan distilled a career’s worth of reporting into a prescription for reversing the damage being done to people’s health by today’s Western diet.

In Defense of Food, a new documentary based on Pollan’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, will have its New York premiere at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Pollan, director Michael Schwarz, writer Ed Gray, and celebrated food and health advocate and NYU Steinhardt professor Marion Nestle. Krishnendu Ray, chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt, will moderate the discussion.

In Defense of Food shows how common sense and old-fashioned wisdom can help us rediscover the pleasures of eating and avoid the chronic diseases so often associated with the modern diet.

Pollan’s journey of discovery takes him from the plains of Tanzania, where one of the world’s last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers still eats the way our ancestors did, to Loma Linda, California, where a group of Seventh Day Adventist vegetarians live longer than almost anyone else on earth, and eventually to Paris, where the French diet, rooted in culture and tradition, proves surprisingly healthy. Along the way he shows how a combination of faulty nutrition science and deceptive marketing practices have encouraged us to replace real food with scientifically engineered “food-like substances.”

Pollan argues that many of our troubles stem from thinking about foods in terms of the nutrients that are in them — a tendency fueled by the food industry’s practice of making health claims on their products based on which nutrients they’ve added (for instance vitamins, fiber or Omega 3s) or taken away (most famously fat). But science shows that a wide variety of diets can be healthy, provided they consist of the kind of whole foods our species has evolved to eat, which include all the nutrients we need.

Tickets are $15 for the general public and $10 for NYU students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and may be purchased online at or in person at the NYU Skirball Center Box Office: Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6 p.m. The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is located at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South. The screening part of NYU Steinhardt’s 125th anniversary celebration.

In Defense of Food recently won the Grand Prize at the International Life Sciences Film Festival in Prague, and was named an official selection at the Sedona International Film Festival, Austin Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival. The documentary will air nationwide on PBS on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 9 p.m.

Combating Climate Change with Environmental Storytelling: A Q&A with Raul Lejano

Last month, a New York Times article looked at the startling melting rate of the Greenland ice sheet, which researchers believe could raise sea levels by approximately 20 feet. Climate change – a key issue in recent presidential campaigns and debates – is also a main focus for Raul Lejano, an associate professor of environmental conservation education at NYU Steinhardt.

In anticipation of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris beginning Nov. 30, Lejano discusses his work and how he seeks to understand people’s deep engagements with their communities and environment.

You recently were awarded a World Bank grant to study risk communication around storm surges, and you’ve conducted a series of studies for the World Health Organization on the vulnerability of urban communities to extreme weather events. What are we learning about today’s extreme weather events?
Increasingly, entire regions are encountering weather phenomena that they have never seen before, and so, cannot rely on personal and institutional memory to guide them.  Secondly, the dire consequences of climate change that people think are thirty years away are already happening in some vulnerable parts of the world – for instance, cataclysmic droughts in sub-Saharan Africa. For some communities, it already is “the day after tomorrow.”

Climate change is a critical — yet political — issue today. As we look to the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, what should policymakers be focusing on to affect change on this issue?
These conferences produce treaties that register mainly symbolic intents, but make no mistake: symbolism matters. Analysts have to ascertain that these symbolic intents go beyond what industry and the market would have done anyway in search for profit. And we also need to ascertain that these intents are translated into concrete policy instruments that can lead to greater reductions in carbon emissions. In the U.S., our mission has to be to vote climate change deniers out of office.

You’re  interested in the idea of narratives in environmental science. What is environmental storytelling — and what can it tell us?
Stories are rich vehicles for communicating not just scientific fact, but art, morality, compassion, and everything that drives us in this life.  Until the science of climate change becomes our story, mere facts do not move us into action. And when the stories of others, especially those already affected by desertification or sea-level rise, come alive for us, then climate change ceases to be just a concept. The environment is the one thing that can bind us all and draw each one of us away from individualistic self-absorption.

Steinhardt’s Metro Center to Offer Anti-Bias Training

The Metro Center at NYU is building on its expertise guiding schools on issues of educational equity to address equity in the workplace through anti-bias training for nonprofits, community organizations, and for-profit organizations.

The Metro Center’s Center for Strategic Solutions currently works with schools and districts to provide educators with technical assistance and professional development on the impact of race, power, and privilege in teaching and learning. These sessions use research-based strategies and solutions to help participants become comfortable speaking, understanding, and leading with a language of equity, including talking about race and difference and acknowledging stereotypes and implicit biases.

In 2014-2015 alone, the Center for Strategic Solutions worked with 2,100 educators across the country, including in schools in New York City, upstate New York, Long Island, Colorado, Delaware, and Michigan.

Now, the Center for Strategic Solutions will offer anti-bias training on the impact of race, power, and privilege in the workplace to assess and improve organizational cultures and climates using research-based solutions.

“When we’re in schools, we see the impact that other organizations and individuals have on students. It led us to understand that people outside of schools should be having these conversations as well, so this is a natural expansion for us,” said Natalie Zwerger, director of the Metro Center’s Center for Strategic Solutions.

Decades of research have shown that our biases affect our decisions at work, the consequences of which can be damaging to organizations and the people they employ. The Center for Strategic Solutions aims to address these issues by offering training promoting inclusive workplace environments and celebrating and honoring difference among employees. These activities, which go beyond the typical workplace diversity workshop, include discussing race in the workplace and exploring power dynamics between a boss and employee.

“At the Metro Center, we look at people from a profit perspective, instead of a deficit perspective. We want individuals or organizations to leverage the assets they bring to the table in order to be their best selves, whether they be teachers, students, managers, or companies,” said David E. Kirkland, director of the Metro Center.

“This is such a moment in our country for having conversations about race relations – to get beyond the generic idea of colorblindness and treating everyone the same,” Zwerger added. “We have a conversation after each tragic event happens, but then the conversation fizzles. Our hope is to push the conversation to a level of depth that prompts action.”

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