A college built to make a difference

Davenport University’s College of Urban Education invests in teacher and student success

Michigan’s education system is facing an alarming teacher talent crisis, and nowhere is this felt more profoundly than in urban school districts.

According to a Michigan Educators Survey, teacher retirements are up 44% since August 2020, while 18,000 educators are eligible for retirement and 12,000 are eligible for early retirement. This growing retirement trend exacerbates an already difficult talent shortage for urban schools, who already see as many as 70% of new teachers leave their position within five years.

Teachers and administrators within urban schools often lack the resources and adequate training to support their students. This results in an especially high turnover rate for teachers and leaders because those new to the profession may not be prepared to address the challenges encountered in underserved urban communities.

As a result, students in urban schools are at a significant disadvantage. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only 27% of high school students from schools with low income and high diversity complete college within six years, a 24-percentage point gap compared to students from higher-income and less-diverse schools at 51%. This is where Davenport University’s College of Urban Education comes in.

Making an impact

The mission of the Davenport University College of Urban Education, established in 2013, is to train and support teachers and administrators in the urban setting and ultimately improve the academic performance of their students.

Dr. Susan Gunn took over as dean in 2015, which is the same year the Master of Urban Education program was launched. In the years since, the College of Urban Education has also developed a master’s degree in urban educational leadership designed primarily for individuals looking to become an assistant principal, principal or dean of students in urban schools and districts.

The college also offers two graduate certificates as well — one in urban education, which allows students to receive an interim teaching certificate to teach in Michigan schools while they fulfill credential requirements, and another in urban education leadership that provides an alternative route to school administrator certification.

And it’s evident that the College of Urban Education’s programs yield results. “We know that our programs are effective because we have seen the data that proves when teachers have the right training their performance excels,” Gunn said. “By the time they graduate, they have between a 40 and 105% increase in their skill levels.”

Why is this important? According to the Learning Policy Institute, attrition rates are two to three times higher for teachers who enter the profession without full preparation than for teachers who are comprehensively prepared.

The success of the College of Urban Ed’s programming also extends to graduate’s classrooms as well. Teachers who have attended the college have seen double digit increases in their students’ overall education attainment and engagement. Gunn also pointed out that from the first cohort of Master of Urban Education graduates in 2016, close to 50% of them have since been promoted to a leadership role in their schools and districts.

“When you talk to them, they credit their fast rise in their careers to what they learned through the College of Urban Education,” she said.

Creating a college of practice

One of the college’s unique offerings is its dynamic mentoring program. The college partners with mentors and coaches who have extensive teaching experience in urban school districts and pair them with a teacher candidate. The mentors then go into the teacher’s classrooms every week, spending an hour observing and evaluating them.

In a traditional teacher education program, an observer might only come into a teacher candidate’s classroom twice a semester.

She noted that teachers who are earlier in their career need a lot of support, so the College of Urban Education is committed to offering them three years of coaching — a tremendous benefit. And since students take courses through the college at night, they can take what they learn and apply it in the classroom the very next day. This is why Gunn refers to the College of Urban Education as a “college of practice.”

Another unique aspect of the college is its focus on cultural competency. Throughout all of its courses, the college embeds culturally responsive teaching principles so that whether someone teaches in an urban, suburban or rural setting, they can meet their students where they’re at.

“They know how to adapt their instruction to be culturally relevant and engaging for all their students,” Gunn said.

The College of Urban Education also encourages community family partnerships. Often in underserved communities, students face challenges that a teacher cannot address directly. What they can do, though, is partner with people organizations in the community that are able to provide wraparound services to support these students.

“Once you get those needs met, that provides an even better learning environment,” Gunn said. “We train our teachers on how to partner with community stakeholders and that’s really key to having successful teachers who will succeed in engaging students and promoting positive changes in student achievement.”

The college’s next chapter

As part of its growth, the College of Urban Education will soon offer two new undergraduate programs. The program will recruit diverse candidates and train them to be highly qualified STEM elementary or secondary teachers who can teach in urban environments.

“There’s a great need for STEM teachers, especially in high-need urban communities,” Gunn explained.

She added that the college is ready to address these needs by training individuals who will be committed to the communities in which they teach — teachers who are confident because they’ve been well-prepared.

The college recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program that will directly benefit this effort, as it will provide scholarships for juniors and seniors who are STEM majors and wish to become K-12 educators. For each year they receive the scholarship, the students will commit to two years of teaching in an urban setting.

“This scholarship is very instrumental in attracting great talent,” Gunn said.

The grant will also benefit the college’s Future Urban STEM Educators (FUSE) Club, which addresses STEM inequities in underserved communities by introducing high school students to the wonders of STEM teaching.

The College of Urban Education continues to earn support from its local communities. The Jandernoa Foundation recently awarded a $500,000 grant to the College of Urban Education. The local family foundation has been a longtime supporter of Davenport, and is often recognized for its continued commitment to supporting initiatives focused on advancing K-12 teachers.

“We are thrilled to partner with Davenport to support the College of Urban Education,” said Mike Jandernoa, founder and chairman of 42 North Partners. “By investing in our teachers and their students we are strengthening the talent and opportunities that will ultimately see our economy and our communities thrive. It is our hope that our gift will help amplify the impact of Davenport’s programs across the state.”

Ultimately, Gunn believes the hallmark of the College of Urban Education is its commitment to students who truly want to impact the lives of K-12 students in an urban setting and the guided coaching and mentorship it helps provide.

“I love the fact that we’re not only training teachers, but we’re also supporting them and ultimately their students every step of the way,” she said.

Meet Dr. Susan Gunn

Davenport University - Dr. Susan Gunn

Before becoming dean of the College of Urban Education at Davenport, Dr. Susan Gunn held the dual position of associate dean of the college and chair of the science department in the College of Arts and Sciences. She received a bachelor’s degree in education and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Michigan. She also completed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan Medical School. Gunn has experience teaching at the high school, undergraduate, graduate and medical school levels.

At Davenport, Gunn designed and managed the implementation of several certificate and degree programs, including the bachelor’s degree in biological laboratory sciences, the certificate in urban education, the certificate and master’s degree in urban educational leadership and the new bachelors of science in urban STEM education degree. She has also developed STEM-based community outreach academic summer camps and afterschool programs.

As a product of Detroit Public Schools, Gunn is passionate about urban education and helping develop well-trained STEM educators who can share the importance of science with K-12 students. She’s also invested in ensuring students of color receive a high-quality, career-ready education.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2050597. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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