Lynnette Mawhinney: Pioneering programs to progress urban education

October 02, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Aspiring teachers learn a lot during their student teaching field experience — from classroom management to lesson planning. One of Lynnette Mawhinney's most important takeaways was the lack of diversity in the field of education.

Lynette Mawhinney

Lynnette Mawhinney

IMAGE: Photo provided

"There were very few teachers of color at that time," Mawhinney said. "I knew being a woman of color was going to be an uphill climb, but it was also an opportunity for me to show what we could do."

After graduating from Penn State with her bachelor's degree in secondary education, Mawhinney taught high school English for one year in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and two years in Philadelphia. She became increasingly interested in learning more about urban education, so she went on to earn her master's and doctoral degrees in that major from Temple University.

Mawhinney began her career in higher education in 2007 as an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Lincoln University, the nation's first degree-granting historically black college and university (HBCU), located in Oxford, Pennsylvania. In addition to her teaching and research, she was responsible for bringing the Philadelphia Urban Schools Seminar — a course that offers a pre-service teaching experience in an urban setting — to Lincoln, making it the first HBCU to join the program.

In 2010, Mawhinney learned that The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) was planning to create an urban education program, and she jumped at the opportunity to be part of the groundbreaking initiative, working with a colleague to develop the content and curriculum. She maintained partnerships with TCNJ and Lincoln University as coordinator of their Philadelphia Urban Schools Seminars. Over the next eight years, Mawhinney served as an assistant professor of urban education and conducted teacher training in the United States, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, South Africa and Egypt.

"Seeing the cultural differences in teacher training in all of those countries has been a phenomenal experience," Mawhinney said.

Ready to face a new challenge, Mawhinney joined the University of Illinois at Chicago's (UIC) College of Education as chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in 2018. Her decision to move halfway across the country was spurred by the notion that urban education is not simply a 'side program' but rather it is grounded in the entire UIC College of Education.

"I thrive on building and creating programs and partnerships," Mawhinney said. "I knew UIC was a place I could do that, in part because there are a lot of radical educators of color."

Mawhinney continues her teaching and research at UIC, and she also is an author and highly sought-after speaker. Her latest book, "There Has to be a Better Way: Lessons From Former Urban Teachers," offers an essential voice in understanding the dynamics of teacher attrition from the perspective of teachers themselves.

Mawhinney credits Penn State for providing her with solid teaching principles and the skills to think critically about the field of education.

"We got to push our foundational understanding of the teacher identity," she said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 16, 2019