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Ed. Magazine

Noteable: Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

Jeanne Brooks-GunnJeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ed.M.'70, is a professor of child development at Teachers College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, and is director of the National Center for Children and Families. She has been named the recipient of the 2013 HGSE Alumni Council Award.

Program: Ed.M., Human Development
Research Areas: Life courses from pregnancy through childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and mid-life; the influence of reproductive transitions on life course trajectories; class, race, and ethnic disparities in education and health and designing interventions to reduce these disparities; prevention efforts targeting parenting, schooling, community, housing, and work-family balance.

In a career of varied interests, early childhood is at the top of the list for Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Ed.M.'70. That's why when President Barack Obama spent much of his 2013 State of the Union address talking about the subject, she took notice.

"The fact that Obama was speaking about early childhood education and wanting to do more to serve more children is music to my ears, to all of us who are interested in disparities by class and by race and making sure that kids get to school ready to learn," says Brooks-Gunn.

Although, as a life-course developmental psychologist, she was particularly interested in the president's emphasis on the first five years of a child's life, as a designer and evaluator of early childhood programs, Brooks-Gunn is now curious about how his focus will affect future policy. Having been involved in many evaluation efforts of federally funded programs, including Early Head Start, Head Start, and the National Evaluation of Home Visiting, Brooks-Gunn knows that any new program put in place, whether it is universal prekindergarten or something else, needs evaluation.

"Given focus, can we design effective programs and how do we evaluate them? For whom are they effective?" she asks. "I am very interested in taking what we learn from our big interventions and improving the programs that exist. If you've done your research, you can get hints about how we can make things effective. This makes evaluation research very exciting."

Also exciting is being awarded the 2013 HGSE Alumni Council Award, which she will accept during the Ed School's Convocation in May.

"I'm thrilled and surprised," Brooks-Gunn says. "I am so honored that I am receiving this award. The Ed School made a huge difference in my life. The Ed.M. Program and its faculty gave me exposure to different ways of looking at children and families and allowed me to find the area I wanted to focus on: making a difference in children's lives through policy and practice."

Brooks-Gunn remains optimistic that her focus — and the president's — will continue to make that difference.

"I spend a lot of time thinking about disparities in children and what we can do to alter that state of affairs and at what stage of life these interventions would be most effective," says Brooks-Gunn. "Early childhood seems to be a time at which one can intervene and change trajectories and have long-term effects. … We'd like to reduce disparities as early as possible."

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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