Skip to main content

HGSE Remembers Maureen Brinkworth, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’13

The Harvard Graduate School of Education community is mourning the loss of Maureen Brinkworth, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’13, who died on October 14 after a battle with cancer. A beloved member of the HGSE community, Brinkworth is remembered for being a warm friend, dedicated mentor, and an educator committed to bettering teacher-student relationships. A memorial service in her honor will be held on Sunday, November 16, from 1–2:30 p.m. in the Gutman Conference Center.

 “Maureen gives off a first impression as a quiet, unassuming person who speaks only after thoughtful consideration. However, over time I came to realize that her influence over everyone who has participated in my lab groups over the years was profound,” said Associate Professor Hunter Gehlbach. “Through only a couple meetings where she only made a select few comments, I broadened the scope of my research to include a primary focus on teacher-student relationships. I’m still not completely sure of how she persuaded me to do this but it has been one of the best decisions of my career – and I’m deeply indebted to her for this shift in focus.”

After earning degrees in psychology from Union College, Brinkworth came to the Ed School where she dedicated her research to understanding teacher-student relationships. She worked closely with Gehlbach on comparing and contrasting teachers’ and students’ different perceptions of their relationships with each other. Some of their latest research was recently profiled in The Atlantic.

“As her friend, colleague, and mentor, I will remember Maureen’s amazing personal qualities most. However, we should remember that she was simultaneously an outstanding, productive scholar whose work on teacher-student relationships will help improve the social climate of classrooms for years to come,” Gehlbach said.

A dedicated teacher in her own right, Brinkworth spent six years as a teaching fellow for Senior Lecturer Richard Weissbourd’s course on children’s moral development.

“She was in many ways the backbone of the course, helping in its design the first year and in almost every part of its delivery. When I was lost in the course, I counted on her to help me find my way again,” Weissbourd said. “Her judgment about teaching and her ethical sense were keen and unerring. Because of her superb teaching and her many other remarkable qualities — her deep kindness, her graciousness, her ability to understand and organize herself around others — her students loved her. She infused her section and the entire class with her great spirit. I will miss her very much."

It was in Weissbourd’s class that doctoral candidate Aaliyah El-Amin first met Brinkworth. Together, they both worked as teaching fellows, and El-Amin admired Brinkworth’s “gentle and yet strong” spirit. Echoing Weissbourd’s sentiments, El-Amin said that Brinkworth was the glue that held the course together.

Gehlbach also remained impressed by Brinkworth’s commitment to students in which he recalls her once spending two hours meeting with a student. He later asked her about the lengthy meeting, where she simply said, “If he wanted to keep learning, I should keep helping him.”

In 2008, Brinkworth helped two college juniors from England acclimate to America. Kirstie Paul, who met Brinkworth while interning with Gehlbach, said that she always helped out. “She was always making sure we were okay, settling into America, and not overwhelmed by the work we were doing,” Paul said. “We knew that she was always there to answer our questions. She was so generous, patient, and caring…. Oh and she made fantastic chocolate chip cookies. We were always willing to help out eating those up.” 

Despite being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing surgeries during her studies at HGSE, many recounted how Brinkworth worked hard and seemed to care even more about others.

“We were both restarting our HGSE work, and regaining our footing,” said doctoral candidate Beth Schueler, who had lost her mother shortly before sharing an office with Brinkworth. “Because of those circumstances we were able to get closer.”

Though she only knew Brinkworth for a year, Schueler recalls Brinkworth’s warm presence and ability to put others at ease.

“She dealt with it [the diagnosis] in such an impressive way,” Schueler said. “She still was interested in the world, cared about other people, and wanted to know how other people were doing. She didn’t brush other people’s problems aside. That always struck me as something pretty extraordinary.”

While navigating the diagnosis, doctor’s visits, and her coursework, El-Amin recalled that Brinkworth couldn’t grade a set of her final papers requiring her fellow TFs to split up the work. The next time El-Amin saw her, she said Brinkworth apologized profusely for putting the extra papers on her.

“Here she was in the midst of a gut-wrenching personal turmoil, and she felt badly for me! That deep empathy and regard for others, was and still is, the gift of Maureen. She held herself accountable to not focusing on self even when focusing on self was the absolute most appropriate reaction,” El-Amin said. “To me, that moment summarizes my friendship with Maureen. She never forgot anyone else and had to always be reminded to think about herself. It makes total sense that we met in a class about morality and goodness. She was the example of goodness, we aspired to and she still is.” 


The latest research, perspectives, and highlights from the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles