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Ginsberg Center welcomes new director

The Ginsberg Center's commitment to fairness impressed Theresa Cusimano so much that she immediately accepted when a search firm invited her to interview to become its new director.

"The University of Michigan's longstanding commitment to social justice drew me in to accept this leadership opportunity, particularly as the commitment to social justice is illustrated within the work of the Ginsberg Center," says Cusimano, who will begin her new position Dec. 1.

The Ginsberg Center, established in 1996, is one of the largest, most comprehensive service-learning centers in the nation. Through programs, initiatives and publications, the center encourages community service and academic learning in order to promote civic participation, build community capacity and enhance the educational process. It includes several leading community service programs, including one of the largest Alternative Spring Break programs in the country.

"With over a third nationally of higher education faculty already using service learning as a teaching pedagogy, I believe it will be my job to simply keep up with the demand of the engaged scholars at U-M," Cusimano says. "In my experience, entire colleges, schools and departments are now using service learning as a retention strategy, as well as a learning outcome to allow students to illustrate their critical thinking and problem solving abilities in real world settings within local communities. I look forward to facilitating the 19 colleges at U-M as they expand this student-centered learning strategy."

University officials welcome Cusimano to the Ginsberg Center.

"Theresa's credentials, experience and, especially, educational philosophy toward service learning and community partnerships are all excellent fits for this institution and for Ginsberg's future," says Simone Himbeault Taylor, associate vice president for student affairs; and adjunct assistant professor, Center for the Study of Higher and Post-secondary Education. Cusimano will report to Himbeault Taylor.

Residential College Director Charlie Bright, who served as chair of the search committee, says Cusimano's appointment will bring resolution a long transitional process at the Ginsberg Center.

"The continuing internal reorganization, which she will lead, will serve to anchor and expand the many cross-campus alliances, curricular and co-curricular, that Ginsberg has been developing in recent years," Bright says. "My hope is that, in the next years, Ginsberg will establish a solid foothold in the many units and departments on campus that are committed to community engagement and social change. It promises to be an interesting, even exciting, time for the center."

"We're looking forward to her arrival," says Margaret Dewar, faculty director of the Ginsberg Center and professor of urban and regional planning. Dewar says she will work closely with Cusimano at the Ginsberg Center. "We had outgrown our previous administrative structure and this promises to help us leap to the next level.

"(Cusimano) has a lot of experience in higher education working on service-learning and civic engagement issues, she has a strong commitment to social justice and is a proven administrator."

Cusimano currently is executive director of the Colorado Campus Compact in Denver, where she created and led the Intermountain West Consortium, a four-state service-learning collaborative. In this role, she provided strategic regional and statewide visioning and received the largest higher education AmeriCorps education grant in the country.

Before this, she worked as a policy associate for Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, as an education advocate promoting the reform work of author and activist Jeremy Rifkin's Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C., and as assistant dean of students and director of student life at Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee.

In 1990 Cusimano earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. She followed this in 1995 with a master's degree in higher education administration, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Cardinal Stritch College. In 1998 Cusimano earned a Juris Doctorate in education law from the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Law, receiving the Outstanding Student Award for her public interest work.

In her career, Cusimano has spoken to thousands on topics ranging from non-violent civil disobedience, human rights, service-learning and education reform.

Cusimano says she looks forward to working with a "team that has done a great deal of strategic thinking and planning."

"As a new community member, it is my goal to listen and learn, first and foremost," she says. "I heard the Ginsberg board voice its concerns regarding the state of Michigan and its economic fragility, especially how that impacts communities ... the high rate of home foreclosures was just one example. I hope to use my experience in law, advocacy, education reform and federal grants to assist Michigan communities by linking U-M students, faculty and staff through service learning, community based research and overall civic engagement strategies of mutual benefit."

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