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Obama appoints School of Education dean to National Science Foundation

By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 19, 2012

When Deborah Loewenberg Ball, the dean of the School of Education, heard her phone ring last May, she almost didn’t answer.

The caller ID read “unknown,” usually a sign of telemarketers, but she picked up, anyway. The White House Office of Appointments and Scheduling was on the line.

President Barack Obama announced Ball’s appointment to the National Science Board, a body that governs the National Science Foundation and advises the president and Congress on science and mathematics research, last week.

“I am honored that these talented individuals have decided to join this administration and serve our country,” Obama said in a statement. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

As part of the 25-member board composed of professors, deans and organization presidents from across the country, Ball said she is looking forward to contributing her experience in the fields of education and mathematics.

“It’s exciting,” Ball said. “It’s not something you expect at all. And it’s just a terrific honor to be asked to do something of this kind.”

At the University, Ball is the William H. Payne Collegiate Professor of Education, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor, and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research. Ball also founded Teaching Works, a program founded to improve teacher education across the nation. As part of this program, she continues to teach mathematics to elementary school students every summer.

“That keeps me grounded in the realities of some of the challenges of helping even pretty young children learn mathematics,” she said.

Whether in the classroom with elementary school students during her 15-year stint as a mathematics teacher, or on the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, a committee created by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to design Michigan’s teacher evaluation system, Ball is often looked to as a leader in the field.

University Provost Philip Hanlon, who has worked with Ball on projects such as Teaching Works, praised Ball for her knowledge, insight and vision.

“I’m not surprised President Obama tapped her,” he said. “As a member (of the board), Dean Ball will continue the tradition of service to our nation by U of M.”

While the National Board of Science is broader in scope than Ball’s previous membership on the National Board for Education Sciences, her new appointment will still contain an educational component.

She said she hopes to build connections between research funding and improving the education system in the United States, since her background in the field of education is unique among the board members.

“Whenever I’ve had opportunities in the past to interact with scientists and mathematicians, it adds a great deal to what we do in the School of Education by making the connections back and forth between research and practice and what we do to try to improve education for young people,” Ball said.

She added that she expects the appointment will benefit the University.

“The University of Michigan is a huge player in research,” Ball said. “I think that I will learn things about the kinds of priorities the National Science Foundation is making and things that might help us improve the kinds of priorities we are setting here.”