UIC Fellows to Study Social and Emotional Learning in Math, Arts Education

The University of Illinois at Chicago has selected the first scholars for its new predoctoral fellowship in social and emotional learning research.

Amy Mart and Ari Frede, both doctoral students at UIC — and former Chicago-area teachers — will begin two-year fellowships this month with UIC’s SEL Research Group and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL.

The fellowships, which include a $30,000 stipend, travel allowance, and full tuition waiver at UIC, allow education scholars to devote two years of study to social and emotional learning, a field of education that mounting evidence suggests has a strong connection to academic achievement.

“The goal of the fellowship program is to train future leaders in SEL research and practice,” says Roger P. Weissberg, NoVo Foundation Endowed Chair in Social and Emotional Learning at UIC and professor of psychology and education. “We selected Amy and Ari from a highly competitive applicant pool because they are strong researchers, with first-hand knowledge about how to enhance children’s social, emotional, and academic learning.”

Weissberg, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor who directs the SEL Research Group and also serves as CASEL’s president and chief executive officer, says the fellows will advance social and emotional learning as a strategy to promote students’ academic performance, mental health, social relationships and citizenship, and help make it a core component of everyday instruction.

Mart, who taught third grade in Chicago’s Irving Park community before working in educational research and consulting, plans to study how teachers in high-poverty urban high schools can use social and emotional learning to help them teach complex math concepts.

“A lot of SEL skills are implicated in the kind of work that really gets kids engaged in thinking deeply about math,” Mart said. “Kids need to have the skills to collaborate with each other. They need to have the skills to manage stress if they’re working on an extended problem.”

Frede aims to promote arts education and social and emotional learning by opening the Orange School, an arts-based, interdisciplinary elementary charter school in Chicago with a primary focus on social and emotional skills. He plans to research how such schools can sustain their missions amid the shifting priorities and pressures of school districts and other agencies.

“It’s high time that we are able to talk about social-emotional learning and arts education with the same level of sophistication and urgency that we talk about other academic subjects,” Frede said. “Both of these areas provide skills and content knowledge that provide multiple entry points for kids to access the rest of their academic curriculum.”

Before beginning their doctoral studies, both Mart and Frede taught with Teach For America, a national corps of recent college graduates and professionals who teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. Mart was a Chicago corps member from 2007 to 2009. Frede was a corps member in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta from 1992 to 1994, before moving to Illinois to take positions in teaching and school leadership.

Mart, a resident of Chicago’s Logan Square community, earned a master’s in human-development counseling from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in her hometown.

Frede, who resides in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago, earned a master’s in southern studies from the University of Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College with concentrations in education, 20th century American fiction and children’s literature. He is a native of Peterborough, N.H.

The UIC SEL Research Group, which includes scholars in psychology, education, sociology and public health, fosters projects that address social and emotional learning research and assessment, practice, educator preparation and policy development. The group is supported by NoVo Foundation, the philanthropic organization led by Jennifer and Peter Buffett, the daughter-in-law and son of billionaire Warren Buffett.

CASEL is a Chicago-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to advance the science and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning.