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Partner Spotlight: The Spencer Foundation


NYU Steinhardt is proud to partner with renowned organizations that share our passion for advancing knowledge and innovation at the intersection of culture, education, and human development. 

One such example is the Spencer Foundation, which has been a leading funder of education research since 1971.

“Throughout each of our programs, we maintain broad ideas about the questions educational research might ask, the theories it might employ, the methods and approaches it might use, and the ways in which we might support it,” says the Spencer Foundation, which provides funding for education-focused research projects, research training fellowships, and additional field-building initiatives.

Over the years, members of the Steinhardt community have received many grants and awards from Spencer on topics ranging from data-informed teaching, to education in conflict-affected areas, to social studies curriculum in kindergarten classrooms. Recently, several more Steinhardt faculty have received support from Spencer on their innovative education research.

The Impact of Caregiver Group Involvement on Children

Joanna Geller, Lindsey Foster, and Sara McAlister are part of the Policy, Research, and Evaluation Team at the NYU Steinhardt's Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. The team received a Lyle Spencer Research Award for their research on “Organizing Family and Community: Collective Parent Action and Intergenerational Learning,” which seeks to examine the field of family leadership and organizing.

“Family leadership and organizing is an umbrella term that encompasses advocacy efforts that community groups do to reach certain goals around equity,” says Foster. “We’re particularly interested in those led by and centered around parents and caregivers, who have a unique power in and understanding of their communities but who are not always harnessed, especially in educational spaces.”

The group engaged in a field scan to determine where these kinds of parent-centered family leadership and organizing groups are located geographically and their priority areas. They are currently conducting case studies with several organizations around the country to better understand how the children of participating families are impacted by their involvement.

“So far, we’re seeing a lot of range, from organizations that prioritize working across racial and ethnic lines to those focused on children who aren’t served by traditional systems, such as those who are LGBTQ or have disabilities,” says McAlister. “We want to understand the scope of family leadership across the country, which can help these organizations network and collaborate with each other, as well as facilitate support from research partners and philanthropic groups.”

Examining Data on College Advising

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, associate professor of international education and vice dean for diversity, equity, and belonging, received a Large Research Grant for his research on “Inequalities in Academic Advising and Its Impacts in Higher Education.” With his co-PI, Junhow Wei, an assistant dean of advising at Princeton University, Cherng will work with an enormous data set from the online advising platform for a large, public university in the US to look for trends in how access and usage of advising services affect student outcomes.

“An area in higher education that’s understudied is college advising,” says Cherng. “We’re interested in looking at possible patterns in the data: How does students’ race, ethnicity, or nationality affect the services they receive? What about academic major? Are certain groups more likely to ask for help? How does advising really affect things like grades and dropout rates?”

For Cherng, having a funded opportunity to work on critical – but sometimes viewed as less glamorous – research on the data analysis front is an important opportunity.

“Spencer is a really elite funder for education,” says Cherng. “They also understand that in education, sometimes the work is very data heavy but also incredibly valuable. For our project, no one has ever seen this amount of data on this topic before, and it’s of interest to every single university in the United States. College advising represents a lot of investment in terms of time and money, and there’s very little scholarly knowledge about it. Spencer is giving us the chance to help change that.”

In addition to these two grants, two other Steinhardt faculty – Alejandro Ganimian, assistant professor of applied psychology and economics; and Kongji Qin, assistant professor of TESOL, bilingual, and world language education ­– received National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowships to support their education research.

Steinhardt looks forward to continued partnerships with the Spencer Foundation as both invest in the future of education through thoughtful research and innovation.

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