Q&A: Dean of the School of Education reflects on new undergraduate major, recognition as one of nation’s 200 most impactful education scholars


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

Dean Valerie Kinloch stands outside the School of Education.

By Bella Markovitz, Staff Writer

Since becoming the dean of Pitt’s School of Education in 2017, Valerie Kinloch has reshaped the school into an institute that prioritizes equity and justice.

Thanks in part to the work she has done as dean, the 2023 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings recently recognized Kinloch as one of the 200 most impactful education scholars in the nation. The list chose the scholars based on nine categories, including a number of widely-cited articles according to Google Scholar, a number of books authored or edited and a number of web mentions.

Kinloch earned her bachelor’s degree in honors English from Johnson C. Smith University in 1996 before attending Wayne State University. At Wayne State, she earned her master’s degree in English and African American literature in 1998 and a PhD in English and composition studies with a cognate in urban studies in 2000.

Kinloch spoke with The Pitt News on Friday about her reaction to this distinction, her vision for a more equitable education system and her recent undertakings at Pitt.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Pitt News: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became dean for the School of Education at Pitt? What brought you to Pitt specifically?

Valerie Kinloch: So, you know, before Pitt, I was a professor at Ohio State University for 10 years and I was also an administrator, associate dean and director. I was doing what I thought was really impactful work with faculty, staff, students and the community and school districts. 

The opportunity to come to Pitt was appealing because it is in a city that is connected to so many different types of industry. To be able to elevate a School of Education that is at an R1 AAU institution, like the University of Pittsburgh, just felt as if that would be a next step as far as really thinking more broadly and critically about education and higher education.

TPN: Out of a list of 20,000 eligible candidates for most impactful education scholar, you were ranked 152 out of 200. Why do you think you made it onto this list?

VK: I have always been committed to teaching, research and engagement within schools and communities. Becoming dean did not automatically stop my research, my teaching and my mentoring students. In fact, I feel like as a dean at Pitt I’ve been able to be an impactful dean who actually models for other people what it looks like to lead.

I was excited but also taken aback because I just think I do work that needs to be done and should be done without necessarily having to receive those accolades, so it felt really good to be recognized as one of the 200 top folks in the nation.

TPN: The School of Education at Pitt has a new undergraduate major, the bachelor of science in teacher education, which will be accepting new students in the fall of 2023. What advice would you give to the undergraduate students who will be pursuing this new major?

VK: Teaching is, in my opinion, the most important profession that one can go into. And while it’s important, it’s also a hard profession. I would encourage anyone who wants to explore teaching to look at our School of Education for a number of reasons — we focus on equity, we focus on inclusion, we focus on sense of belonging and we are also really excited that this new undergraduate teacher education program will actually deepen our connections with our students, our School of Education and different school districts. I think that anyone who might want to explore teaching as a career pathway should consider this as an opportunity to get a degree in four years.

TPN: When you imagine a more just and equitable education system, what do you see? How is it different from what we have now, and how do we get there?

VK: I first see people who have a variety of perspectives being able to come into conversation with each other to understand what equity and justice are. That requires us to be willing to have some really difficult conversations about equity and justice [and] about the type of world we want to live in. If we can have those conversations, then we can get to having a more equitable and just educational system, in which teachers have our full support and students have the resources they need and rightfully deserve. 

The third part would be embracing opportunities to forge really deep and sustainable partnerships with communities. And when I say communities, I am talking about families… the peer networks that students rely on… community organizations, businesses, paraprofessionals and schools. 

In order for all of those things to happen, we have to understand that education connects to every single thing. Education connects to addressing health, social and economic disparities. Education can help us to really have some honest conversations about how to eradicate racism, classism and sexism.

TPN: Can you tell me about a project or initiative that you’ve overseen or implemented that has really excited you in your time as dean so far?

VK: There’s a summer program that I created called Genius, Joy and Love. It has two different versions — one is for Black high school students, and it takes place over the summer with high school students in the region, particularly from Pittsburgh public schools. It exposes them to college, and to what it could mean for them to be college students hopefully majoring in education. This past summer was the first summer that we held the Summer Academy for our high school students, and we had 14 students.

I use that as a major example of something I’m extremely proud of because it shows how we have been able to become more expansive — moving beyond what we do in the School of Education, having a bigger impact within our schools and within communities. To see these 14 students come together in this kind of community and ask really important questions, it gave me a lot of hope that the future of education is going to be in really good hands.

The second version of Genius, Joy and Love was a program that I created with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and ran this past summer. It’s for teachers and educators inside of schools who want to come back and deepen their understanding of equity and justice and education. Those two programs ran simultaneously and have been a highlight of my deanship.

TPN: Can you talk about a challenge that you’ve encountered during your time as dean and how you faced it?

VK: When I first got here, I eventually learned that I needed to write a new strategic plan. I undertook this task knowing I was not going to write a strategic plan without input from people in the School of Education. 

The challenge was figuring out ways to strengthen our community, our culture and our climate within the school in ways where people felt comfortable making connections with their colleagues and taking risks in their ideas. That was a challenge because it was a different type of culture before I came here. It was productive for what it needed to be, but it was not as inclusive, I think, as people wanted it to be.