Faculty Member Heather McCambly Receives AERA Outstanding Dissertation Award

Heather McCambly, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, received the 2022 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division J.

AERA Division J is an international forum for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to promote and advance research, policy, and practice in all areas of postsecondary education. The organization will present the award to McCambly during the AERA 2022 Annual Meeting on April 24.

An interdisciplinary scholar of higher education, McCambly studies the role of organizations in producing and reproducing systemic racial inequalities. Her dissertation, “Change Agents or Same Agents?: Grantmakers and Racial Inequity in U.S. Higher Education,” explores how grantmakers influence postsecondary policy systems in ways that expand or constrain possibilities for minoritized students and the organizations that serve them.

McCambly earned her PhD in human development and social policy from Northwestern University. Prior to that, she worked in higher education policy in several capacities across the country, including the Association of American Colleges and Universities,  Oregon University System, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“The thing I learned through those experiences is that, with issues related to student success and equity, funders and grantmakers play a big role in determining what projects actually get off the ground,” says McCambly. “Researchers, policymakers, and folks in different advocacy roles are always thinking about what can get funded, but there’s often no critical lens applied to the politics of these environments.”

McCambly’s commitment to this work stems in part from her own experiences as a Latina, community college graduate, and first-generation college student.

“It means so much to me to have AERA express its excitement and commitment to work that trains its lens on systemic sources of racism and classism, rather than only on student behaviors,” says McCambly. “That’s exciting to me because it not only legitimizes my research, but legitimizes work that focuses on systemic mechanisms of oppression rather than the behaviors of black, brown, and poverty-affected students.”

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Heather McCambly teaches in the Pitt School of Education’s Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy. The programs are now accepting applications.