Estela Mara Bensimon, Ph.D.

Professor of Higher Education

University of Southern California Rossier School of Education

Estela Mara Bensimon, Ph.D.

Professor of Higher Education

University of Southern California Rossier School of Education

Estela Mara Bensimon is one of a small number of faculty at the University of Southern California honored with the title of University Professor. She is also Dean’s Professor in Educational Equity at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Founding Director of the Center for Urban Education (CUE). Known for her creation of the term "equity-minded," Dr. Bensimon has worked tirelessly to normalize racial equity, helping higher education leaders, faculty, and staff feel empowered to address the subject on campuses across the country and make changes leading to improved outcomes for minoritized students.

Founded by Dr. Bensimon in 2000, CUE has worked with thousands of college professionals—from presidents to faculty to academic counselors—to help them take steps in their daily work to reverse the impact of the historical and structural inequities that prevent many minoritized students from excelling in higher education. The organization's tools and processes have empowered professionals to act as "researchers" into their own practices. Dr. Bensimon has insisted that the focus of CUE’s work be on racial equity, with the ultimate goal of creating not just marginal changes in policy or practice, but shifts towards cultures of inclusion and broad ownership over racial equity. The impact of CUE’s work has been felt in numerous large systems of higher education, including the University of Wisconsin, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, community colleges throughout California, private independent colleges, and even the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Professor Bensimon’s critical action research agenda has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, College Futures Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Teagle Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and others. The critical research and policy methods she created with the support of the Ford Foundation—involving over 100 young scholars, PhD students, and nonprofit leaders—have helped lead to significant changes in the academy and policy world. Many scholars and students Professor Bensimon has mentored have risen to faculty positions, presidencies, and leadership roles at policy organizations. Throughout her career, she's served as an external reviewer for the promotion and tenure of dozens of assistant and associate professors of color.

Dr. Bensimon has published extensively about racial equity, organizational learning, practitioner inquiry, and change. Her articles have appeared in journals such as the Review of Higher Education, Journal of Higher Education, Liberal Education, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, and Harvard Educational Review. Her most recent books include From Equity Talk to Equity Walk (with Tia Brown McNair and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux); Critical Approaches to the Study of Higher Education (co-edited with Ana Martinez-Aleman and Brian Pusser) which was selected as the 2016 Outstanding Publication by the American Education Research Association, Division of Postsecondary Education; Engaging the Race Question: Accountability and Equity in US Higher Education (with Alicia C. Dowd); and Confronting Equity Issues on Campus: Implementing the Equity Scorecard in Theory and Practice (coedited with Lindsey Malcom). Her opinion pieces have been published in Inside HigherEd, the Denver Post, the Sacramento Bee, Zocalo, and elsewhere.

Dr. Bensimon has held some of the highest leadership positions in American higher education, including at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (President, 2005-2006) and in the American Education Research Association, Division on Postsecondary Education (Vice-President, 1992-1994). In 2017, she was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Education and was presented with the 2017 Social Justice in Education Award by the American Education Research Association. In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Dr. Bensimon to the Education Commission of the States. She has served on the boards of the American Association for Higher Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and was the Chair of AERA’s Social Justice and Action Committee.

In 2007, Dr. Bensimon was presented with a Distinguished Service Award in recognition of exceptional commitment to the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), and in 2018 she received its Leadership Award. In 2020 she was honored with ASHE’s Howard Bowen Award for a Distinguished Career. The University of Wisconsin system recognized Dr. Bensimon with the Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award in 2010. In 2011, she was inducted as an AERA Fellow in recognition of excellence in research and received ASHE’s Council on Ethnic Participation Founders Service Award. In 2013, she received the Association for the Study of Higher Education Research Achievement Award. She is a recipient of the USC Mellon Mentoring Award for faculty. In 2015, she received the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) Outstanding Latina Faculty Award for Research & Teaching, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Montclair State University’s College of Education and Human Services. In 2018, she was the AERA Division J Research Award recipient. She is also the 2020 McGraw Prize winner for innovation in higher education.

Aside from her work as Founder and Director of CUE, Dr. Bensimon teaches at USC as the Dean’s Professor in Educational Equity and also serves on the Board of Directors of the Campaign for College Opportunity and Complete College America. From 1996-2000, Dr. Bensimon was associate dean of the USC Rossier School of Education and was a Fulbright Scholar to Mexico in 2002. She earned her doctorate in higher education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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