USC Rossier professors take home top education research awards

Estela Bensimon and Morgan Polikoff won awards for social justice and career achievement from AERA

By Ross Brenneman

Professor of Higher Education Estela Mara Bensimon. Photo by Charles H.F. Davis III/Penn Graduate School of Education

Two USC Rossier professors came away with top awards from their peers at this year’s annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The awards were presented Saturday afternoon during AERA’s conference in San Antonio, where more than four-dozen USC Rossier faculty members and students represented the school in presentations, roundtables and panel discussions.

For his achievements in the first 10 years since he earned his PhD, Associate Professor of Education Morgan Polikoff received the Early Career Award. And for her advocacy for equity in higher education, Professor of Higher Education Estela Mara Bensimon received the Social Justice in Education Award.

“I am so proud of Estela and Morgan, and these recognitions are further affirmation of how they are national leaders in their respective fields,” said Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “Not only are they scholars committed to impact, they are also kind, gracious and dedicated colleagues, and the entire school celebrates their accomplishments.”

Merciless interrogator

Associate Professor of Education Morgan Polikoff. Photo by Charles H.F. Davis III/Penn Graduate School of Education

In presenting the Early Career Award, Carolyn D. Herrington, a professor of education policy at Florida State University, said that Polikoff’s work “has interrogated mercilessly the key construct of standards-based reform for alignment and coherency.”

Delivering a personal acceptance speech, Polikoff touched on the people who have been most essential to his career, including his former advisor; his husband, Joel; and his mom.

“She taught me that common sense and honesty are just as important as smarts and hard work, and she showed me how to lead a simple and uncluttered life,” Polikoff said.

Polikoff is the third member of the USC Rossier faculty to win the Early Career Award in the past four years. Associate Professor of Education and Psychology Brendesha Tynes won the award in 2015, and Associate Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience Mary Helen Immordino-Yang won in 2014. The prizewinner delivers a lecture at the following year’s AERA.

Polikoff said that his goal in academia has been to always produce research of consequence, noting that institutional support is crucial to such work.

“In these fraught times, we as a community of scholars committed to truth must always, as we say at USC, Fight On,” Polikoff said.

Social justice champion

Accepting her award, Bensimon urged the annual meeting’s attendees to be active in fighting for equity.

“It is imperative that we who have the privilege of AERA membership invest our intellectual, academic and positional privilege to resist the new racism agenda of President Trump,” Bensimon said.

The award is just one in a slate of recent accomplishments for Bensimon. Under her leadership, CUE recently released a bevy of new equity tools, as well as a report on a successful partnership with the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. She was also ranked among the country’s Top 200 education scholars in a list published by Education Week, an honor she shares with Polikoff.

“As a recipient of the Social Justice in Education Award, I will work hard to embody the spirit and practice of social justice,” she said.

Bensimon started living up to that promise quickly, delivering a fiery lecture Sunday evening on the role of race in higher education, which earned her multiple standing ovations.

“For me, equity-mindedness means being race-conscious in a critical way, as opposed to colorblind—being cognizant of how racism is produced through everyday practices, and having the courage to make racism visible and discussable,” Bensimon said.

Related Stories: