After graduating from Yale in December with a doctorate in sociology, Mira Debs GRD ’16 will take the helm of the Education Studies program in the fall.
Dean of Academic Programs George Levesque announced Monday that Debs, a lecturer in the program, will become its executive director after Elizabeth Carroll stepped down this year. Debs will be joined by Grace Kao, a sociology, education and Asian American studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who will serve as Yale’s Education Studies faculty director.
“I am thrilled that Mira was selected to be the new executive director,” Carroll said. “Mira is passionate and informed about education, and she also shares my enthusiasm for supporting our students not only with their academic learning but with their personal development. Mira will be fortunate to work with incoming faculty director Grace Kao, and I am confident that together they will continue engaging Yale faculty across different disciplines in Ed Studies Scholars’ learning.”
The Education Studies program allows undergraduates to study education from a range of perspectives, including education policy, the history of the field and practical experience. The program requires each scholar to take a minimum of five courses and complete a senior project.
Before joining Yale as a graduate student, Debs worked as a high school teacher and as an admissions officer at the University of Rochester.
Debs has been working with the program for the past two years as both a teaching fellow for the program’s gateway course, “Foundations in Education Studies” and a postdoctoral fellow teaching three other courses, she said.
“Being a sounding board for students in the classroom and one-on-one and then seeing the research that they do and where it takes them afterward is tremendously exciting,” she said.
As the executive director, Debs will have a full-time appointment in the program. She will teach the program’s gateway course and serve as the program’s director of undergraduate studies, Levesque said.
He added that the position required someone with teaching experience in both K-12 schools and higher education as well as someone not looking for a traditional faculty appointment since the job is not tenure-track.
“We feel very fortunate that we found someone with highly relevant experience who happened to be interested in this kind of academic hybrid position,” Levesque said.
Unlike Debs, Kao will have a full-time appointment as a professor in the Sociology Department. Kao will not only chair the program’s faculty advisory committee but also teach and advise students, shape the curriculum and recruit faculty to work with the program.
Kao said she sees herself as an “education researcher” since she has studied the educational outcomes for different racial, ethnic and national groups ever since she entered graduate school in 1990.
“I think it is essential for any academic program to have ladder or standing faculty actively involved in the program,” she said. “I felt that serving as the faculty director for this program was an effective way for me to contribute to Yale since I am an active researcher in educational studies.”
Head of Timothy Dwight College Mary Lui, a history and American Studies professor, said she was honored to chair the search committee for the new executive director. Lui added that in the past year and a half, she has worked with Carroll to bring more faculty members onto the program’s advisory board to expand its course offerings. She added that she hoped Debs and Kao will continue to build the program to serve more students.
Kao said that she will work to identify other Yale faculty members who might like to work with the program, and Debs said she would like to see more graduate students involved with the predominately undergraduate program.
“When I started my Ph.D. at Yale in 2010, there was no Education Studies program, and I was lucky in finding other students on campus studying education who took me under their wing,” Debs said. “I hope this will be easier for graduate students now as our program develops.”
The program’s current scholars have viewed the leadership change favorably, praising Debs as a passionate educator who works closely with each student and is involved in key discussions about the program.
Education Studies scholar Ana Barros ’18 said Debs is not only a good instructor, but also an avid learner who is always searching for new material and ways to integrate it into the program.
“I believe the committee made an excellent choice in Dr. Debs and I imagine she will bring a strong commitment to New Haven’s educational landscape in this position,” Education Studies scholar Ethan Young ’18 said. “I’ve always been impressed by her engagement with students, knowledge about educational issues and breadth of teaching experience.”
Although Education Studies scholars have not had the chance to study with Kao, students interviewed were just as excited about her appointment.
Education Studies scholar Cindy Xue ’17, a member of the program’s advisory committee, said Kao’s appointment adds a new perspective to the program as well as to the Sociology Department. And fellow Education Studies scholar Jose Lopez ’18 said both Debs and Kao will be able to connect scholars to educational resources outside of class — something he has wanted to see more of in the program.
“I can imagine their leadership will help put pressure on the University to realize they need to invest many more resources to the program and the subject of education,” he said.