Office of Education and Social Equity opens the door to success

Annemarie Mountz
December 09, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — College is a time of transition. Students are transitioning to a new home, to new instructors and subjects, to new classmates and friends. These transitions are challenging enough for students who — by virtue of their race, for example, or their cultural background — comprise the demographic majority of the student body. Imagine, then, if your race, your sexual orientation, or your economic status made you feel you were an outsider.

In Penn State’s College of Education, such students find the support they need in the Office of Education and Social Equity (OESE). Directed by María Schmidt, assistant dean for education and social equity, the OESE provides underrepresented and marginalized students a sense of community and belonging, a space where they can be themselves.

“For many students, OESE is not only a place to access and navigate academic and financial resources but also is a home away from home, where they can develop a sense of belonging and self-validation,” Schmidt said.

“To me, the Office of Education and Social Equity has been like a home ever since I got to campus. They encouraged me and helped me do things I never thought I'd do. And most importantly, they provided me with a family ever since I've gotten here,” said junior Damaris Fraser, who is majoring in secondary English education.

Students interacting in Office of Education and Social Equity

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Deja Lewis, left, often was found in the Office of Education and Social Equity.

IMAGE: CommAgency

Before the pandemic hit, senior elementary and early childhood education student Deja Lewis often could be found in the OESE office. “To me, the Office of Education and Social Equity is a place that is a home away from home, a fun place where I can exist loudly and be myself. It's a place where I can get support and guidance on who I want to be, how to get support and how to be a better mentor, friend … and even a better educator,” she said.

Rachel Shriver's first involvement with the College of Education was as a high school student in the Summer College Opportunity Program in Education (S.C.O.P.E.), a four-week, academic intensive program for high school sophomores from multicultural backgrounds interested in careers in teaching, counseling, special education, rehabilitation or educational administration. Shortly before her graduation from the college in 2019 with a degree in secondary English education, she was awarded a Fulbright award to Colombia.

“The Office of Education and Social Equity gave me the chance to be part of S.C.O.P.E. and the D.C. Social Justice Initiative (DCSJ), which let me grow as an anti-racist educator who wants to end the 'isms' in our society. I wouldn't be a Penn Stater without it.”

Doctoral student Kaela Fuentes-Packnick has been connected to the College of Education through OESE for a long time.

“Since participating in the S.C.O.P.E. program in 2004, to my time as an undergraduate, master’s and now doctoral student in the college, I’ve received invaluable support and incredible mentoring. As a first-generation college student, I would not have succeeded at Penn State without the Office of Education and Social Equity.”

Counselor education doctoral student Carlos Medina also found a home in the OESE.

“The Office of Education and Social Equity has been an amazing space that has been really supportive of me and has celebrated me for everything that I am,” Medina said. “The office has provided me with some amazing opportunities to support other students and engage in multiple social justice and equity programs like DCSJ and S.C.O.P.E.”

Schmidt said the OESE remains focused on providing historically underserved and minoritized students the support, opportunities and resources that enhance their educational experience and facilitate their academic well-being.

As its mission states, the OESE promotes and values diversity and multiculturalism, infuses diversity across the curriculum and student experiences, facilitates access to post-secondary opportunities, supports the advancement of outstanding underrepresented educators and works toward the greater diversification of the education profession.

The office’s initiatives include:

  • Enhancing recruitment and retention of students from underserved and underrepresented/minoritized populations.
  • Enriching student academics, including integrated learning experiences that intentionally connect academics to intersectional identities and culture, student leadership development and co-curricular/hands-on experiences around social justice advocacy.
  • Creating and supporting anti-racist curriculum revision, professional training in creating conditions for just policies and practices to help minoritized students thrive.
  • Supporting the development, implementation, preservation and continuance of pre-college and college programs that close achievement and opportunity gaps for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented/underserved students.
  • Supporting pipeline programs such as S.C.O.P.E. that facilitate and increase college access and completion. 

Gifts over the years from the greater College of Education community, in the form of endowment-level commitments, annual gifts, and automatic payroll or credit card deductions, have greatly amplified the Office of Education and Social Equity’s impact on students.

“We have many longtime friends of the College of Education, all of whom have been extraordinarily generous over the years in funding scholarships and other initiatives in our office,” Schmidt said. “Their support extends the reach of our programs and enables us to help even more students.” 

In addition to support from longtime friends, the Office of Education and Social Equity has seen an increase in first-time gifts from former OESE students, many of whom received scholarship support or participated in the S.C.O.P.E. program. The Walmart Foundation made a contribution in 2020 as well.

In an effort to expand that community of support, this year the college designated OESE as the focus of its annual #GivingTuesday campaign, which resulted in contributions totaling over $14,750 from 113 alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends across the Commonwealth and across the country.

“This is a wonderful result, the positive impact of which will empower the students, faculty and staff who call the OESE home. What a tremendous testimonial to the importance of the OESE, and a clear illustration of the broader College of Education community’s passion for equity and social justice,” said Steve Wilson, director of development for the college.

“On behalf of the OESE team, our college and the many students who will benefit, thank you to everyone who has contributed in support of our mission. We are deeply grateful for your support,” said Schmidt. “Together, we have the power to create change. Together, we will make a difference.”

Gifts to the OESE will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021