Penny Hammrich is the newly-appointed dean of the School of Education at Drexel University. The Triangle sat down to chat with her about her background, interests and goals for the position. This interview has been edited for style and clarity.
The Triangle: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Penny Hammrich: Well I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and education, a masters degree in genetics and a Ph.D. in science education. After graduate school, I was a professor at Temple University for 10 years and also the associate dean of research, and then I went on to become the dean of Queens College of the City University of New York. I’ve been at Drexel since 2010, and I’ve been program director of EdD program, program director of the PhD program, the master’s capstone coordinator, the associate dean of graduate studies and academic affairs, interim dean and now dean of the School of Education!
TT: What are some of your academic interests outside of your administrative work?
PH: So I develop science programs for kids — for girls really. I spent my entire career developing programs to get girls to go into science and advance though STEM, and so they’ve all been funded over the years by the National Science Foundation or the U.S. Department of Education for over $30 million. My first program was called Sisters in Science for elementary students, and then I spun that into a sports science program for middle school, a technology program for high school and programs for students with disabilities. All these programs dealt with science and providing vehicles and avenues for growth to go into science and a pipeline for their success.
TT: How did you get involved with the advocacy side of education and science?
PH: It’s a true story — my first position was at Temple University, and I was a cognition and learning theorist in the biological sciences, and thought I would be a big theory researcher. And then I met these two little fourth grade girls on a school near Temple’s campus called Dunbar Elementary, and they didn’t realize that science was in their playground or right in their backyard, and that really troubled me, so I went back to my office and wrote the first grant — Sisters in Science — as a way to enable girls to see that they could go into science, that it is right in their urban community. And I continued writing grants to further them to go through the pipeline. It felt good helping the girls enjoy science because I love science, and I wanted to spread that joy.
TT: Is that a goal that you have for Drexel as well? To get more women into STEM fields?
PH: Oh, absolutely! I think that over the past 20 years, we’ve done a good job in general in the U.S. for girls to like science and get into science, but the issue that they face now is the pipeline issue, so they’re going into college level science and getting jobs in scientific fields, but they’re not actually advancing in their fields. Kind of like the glass ceiling. And so we still have ways to go for women in order to climb that ladder to break that glass ceiling. I think that Drexel is a prime university to tackle the issue of women in science since we’re known as a STEM university.
TT: So what are some of your other goals for the School of Education in your new role as the dean?
PH: My big aspiration is to really get the School of Education branded as the “Intellectual Center for Pedagogical Innovation” because we have many different disciplines. The School of Education doesn’t just prepare teachers. We have a program on global international education, higher education, policy and human resource development among others. So we’re a really comprehensive school, but what binds us is pedagogical innovation. I’d also really like to position the School of Education as the civic engagement arm of the university by getting the faculty more involved with the Promise Neighborhood program to promote education access in the community. Overall, my three prongs are focusing on urban education, civic engagement and global relevance.
TT: What have you started this year as the interim dean?
PH: One thing that I started as the interim dean is the whole professional education arm of the School of Education — a non-credit-bearing arm of the school that provides badges, workshops, micro-credentialing, etc. — as a way to tap into individual’s ability to grow and adapt to the various jobs in their lifetime. They say an individual will have five to seven jobs in their lifetime so they’re going to need retooling — not necessarily another degree, but they might need a different competency based on the potential employer. And so another brand for us is the Education Passport for the Future. So instead of saying “Come to the School of Education at Drexel for your degree,” we can say “Come to the School of Education at Drexel for your Education Passport for the Future.” It’s all about lifelong learning and adapting to the demands of the the workforce and growing technology.
TT: What is the trajectory for the School of Education?
PH: The focus of the five-year plan is to streamline our programs. The School of Education, when it was created, was created program by program, so it wasn’t very academically sound and fiscally responsible. So we’ve moved to a school-wide capstone and a school-wide core that will collapse our courses from 103 total down to 12, which will make us more academically sound and fiscally responsible. The other issue I’m tackling in the School of Education is making the administration more vertical so there’s room for growth, and individuals in the staff level will have aspirational goals. I also want the School of Education to be more infused with the Promise Neighborhood with our research and programming. Over the 10 years, I hope that we will become one of the leading institutions on civic engagement, on tackling urban education issues and really working on a global network of knowledge.
TT: What’s some advice you have for students going into the field of education or those who are currently in the School of Education?
PH: Be innovative. Be creative. Aspire to what you want to be and be open to anything. And give back. I think the school is very innovative and creative, and we have faculty and staff that are very committed (and we have small class sizes, which is great), so I’d say come here to aspire and learn to be the best that you can be. Learn to think outside the box and be entrepreneurial. That’s what we promote here in the School of Education.