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Afra Ahmed Hersi, Ph.D., named next dean of Loyola’s School of Education

| By Rita Buettner
Afra Ahmed Hersi, Ph.D.

Afra Ahmed Hersi, Ph.D., will lead the School of Education at Loyola University Maryland as its interim dean, the University announced today. Hersi, who has served as chair of Loyola’s Teacher Education Department since 2017, will begin a two-year term on July 1, 2021.

Hersi joined the Teacher Education department faculty in 2007, received tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2013, and was recently promoted to professor of literacy education.

“As an immigrant from Somalia, educated in racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse public schools, a high-school teacher in diverse suburban and urban communities, and a teacher educator, I am committed to working towards greater equity in educational opportunities for all students,” she said.

As interim dean, Hersi will lead the faculty in shaping curricular offerings to meet current and future market needs, foster collaborations among departments in the School and throughout the University, and work to enhance recognition and reputation of the School.

“Dr. Hersi brings to the role 24 years of experience in education, including 14 in higher education, as well as a focus on equity, social justice, and educator preparation,” said Amanda M. Thomas, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Her expertise, experience, and marvelous energy will serve the School of Education well, especially at this moment in Loyola’s history.”

Hersi received her Ph.D. and Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College, and B.A. in History, Social Studies, and Secondary Education from Radford University. She grew up in northern Virginia, where she began her teaching career.

“In the School of Education, we have some of the best people applying their expertise to further our mission to prepare highly effective and ethical educators who are change agents committed to social justice, improving education and life for children. The School of Education is a place where this mission is lived in a purposeful and impactful way,” Hersi said. “I have a steadfast belief in the people within our School of Education community. I look forward to leaning into our equity and inclusion mission and strengthening education throughout Baltimore, Maryland, and the region.”

Hersi has published research in the areas of immigration and education, literacy and language development for bilingual learners, culturally and linguistically responsive practice, and teacher education. Her focus is on academic opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse students and research that expands the educational and life opportunities of marginalized children, their families, and communities.

“By preparing transformational educators, leaders, and counselors, we can have a significant impact on undoing systemic oppression. We are going to need all of our hands on this,” Hersi said. “Educators have a direct influence in helping improve children’s lives. The School of Education has really embraced equity and inclusion, creating opportunities for our students to grow as responsive, culturally relevant, and antiracist educators.”

With her co-principal investigator, Timothy Clark, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and statistics, Hersi was recently awarded an NSF Robert Noyce Capacity Grant to develop evidence-based innovative models and strategies for recruiting a pipeline of highly qualified teachers with strong backgrounds in STEM content as well as training in effective culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogies.

In 2016, Dr. Hersi received the Dean’s Outstanding Achievement in Research, Teaching, and Service Award. Among the grants she has received are the Verizon Foundation Grant, and the Knott Foundation Grant.

Particularly during the pandemic, Hersi emphasizes the importance of addressing the dramatic inequities in P-12 education. 

“We must act with greater urgency and work to dismantle systemic inequity that has persisted in education and in access to public health,” she said. “We are talking about public health, but we are also seeing local and national conversations about the scale and impact of this historic education interruption. Leaning into equity and inclusion work will be critical as we work to build asset-based support for students and communities.”

As dean of the School of Education, Hersi hopes to strengthen community partnerships moving forward.

“We want to prepare changemakers in our programs to make a difference in the world. As an urban School of Education, we have always been outward-facing toward our city, Baltimore, our region, state, and beyond.”

Hersi will succeed Joshua S. Smith, Ph.D., who has been dean of the School of Education since 2012. In August 2019, he announced his plans to step down from the position and join the Loyola faculty as a professor, though he delayed the transition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Founded in 2009, the School of Education offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. Within the Jesuit traditions of intellectual excellence, social justice, ethical responsibility, and cura personalis, the School of Education promotes leadership and scholarship in the development of teachers, counselors, administrators, and other educators.

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