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With 100 years down, USC Rossier looks to its second century

August 26, 2019

Through triumphs and troubles, a school keeps finding the path forward

By Ross Brenneman

Two decades into the 20th century, Los Angeles needed teachers. Rising to the occasion, the University of Southern California established a school of education that delivered them.

Over the following hundred years, the USC Rossier School of Education experienced growth and challenges. This past month brought a new milestone: a celebration marking the end of the school’s centennial year.

At the end of a century, USC Rossier has a long legacy of accomplishments: an array of partnerships with regional organizations improving urban education in Los Angeles; a bevy of graduate degree programs, including a groundbreaking online master’s degree program; and a network of 80 sitting superintendents with USC Rossier degrees, who collectively lead one third of California students.

There have also been struggles: Staying relevant in a city divided by race, class and other issues; schisms in the faculty between scholars and practitioners; conflicts over shared governance; and adhering to a unified vision.

“There were times in our history when some feared our school would close,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean, at the event. “But USC Rossier has survived, and actually has flourished.”

Further proof of that statement was all around the room.

It was in the several eight-foot-tall displays that paid homage to difference-makers from throughout USC Rossier’s history: The first Black teacher and principal of a Los Angeles school (Bessie Bruington Burke ’28 MS ’37); the founder of AARP (Ethel Percy Andrus MA ’28 PhD ’30); the creator of USC’s East Asian Languages and Culture Department, who was also the university’s first tenured Asian professor (Theodore His-En Chen PhD ’39).

The proof was in the awards given out: For financial support of a prominent college-advising program for high-needs schools (Morris Li of CTBC Bank); for being a partner in revolutionizing online learning (Chip Paucek of 2U); for outstanding alumni support (Carol Fox MS ’62 and the Dean’s Superintendent Advisory Group); and for being the next generation of inspiring education leaders (Dieuwertje “D.J.” Kast MAT ’14 and Diontrey Thompson EdD ’18).

The proof was in the more than 250 people in attendance: faculty, staff, students, alumni and other friends of the school, mingling, reconnecting, thinking about the legacy on display.

Merari Weber EdD ’15 reflected on a photo she saw from several decades prior, of four USC Rossier students standing around the base of Tommy Trojan, all of the students White, resembling many of the photos from the mid-century are. Weber has her own photo with Tommy Trojan: of her and her classmates, featuring Asian, Middle Eastern and Latina faces.

A small but important piece of a large story, still being written.

View photos from the Centennial Celebration.

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