A legacy of leadership

Dean Pam Grossman has guided Penn’s Graduate School of Education through a capital campaign, a global pandemic, a historic building expansion, and unprecedented growth with ambition and compassion.

Nine years ago, on Sept. 19, 2014, the Penn Graduate School of Education (GSE) community came together to celebrate the School’s Centennial, reflecting on how far it had come from its initial 97 students, three faculty members, and nine courses. The kickoff for what would be a yearlong 100th birthday party featured the requisite cake, balloons, and music. But it also included one very important attendee: Pam Grossman, a scholar of teacher education from Stanford University’s School of Education who was soon to become Penn GSE’s newest dean.

The outgoing dean sits in a chair in a lecture hall in the Graduate School of Education
Outgoing Dean of the Graduate School of Education Pam Grossman. (Image: Stuart Goldenberg)

Grossman, who began her career as a high school English teacher, had never planned to be a dean—in fact, she had previously turned down other offers so she could continue teaching and advising doctoral students at Stanford. But she felt a pull to lead Penn GSE, compelled by its unique partnerships with the School District of Philadelphia and the potential to make a real, tangible impact.

“It was a big leap for us, particularly because I’m from the Bay Area and had never spent time in Philadelphia, so there was a lot of learning to be done,” Grossman says. “But if you care about urban education, which I do, it really helps to be in a city.”

She officially became dean in January 2015, leading the School into its second century. During the busy years that followed, change was the only constant. Some of it was actively pursued—such as the fundraising and groundbreaking for a new building expansion. And some of which—namely the COVID-19 pandemic—could never have been foreseen. But Grossman steered the School through it all with a steady hand, aspiring to create an inclusive community devoted to academic excellence, innovation, local engagement, and international impact.

“As a global leader in the field of education, Pam, not surprisingly, has a passion for improving our educational systems at every level. Through her leadership, GSE has cemented its place among the top schools of education,” says Wendell Pritchett, who served as provost and interim president of the University during her tenure as dean. “Pam has also been a crucial collaborator in our University efforts to create an even more meaningful educational experience for our students.”

The breadth of all she has accomplished came into sharp relief when she announced the bittersweet news that she would be stepping down this summer.

“Dean Grossman is leaving the school in exceptionally good shape,” says Penn GSE’s Chair of the Board of Advisors Doug Korn, a 1984 graduate of the Wharton School. “We have tremendous momentum programmatically, academically, organizationally, and reputationally. By the end of Pam’s term as dean, the School’s physical plant—its learning spaces and public areas—will have been expanded and completely updated to contemporary standards. The School is objectively bigger, better, stronger, and more financially sound than ever.”

“Pam Grossman is an admired teacher, scholar, and leader with an exceptional track record at the helm of Penn’s world-renowned Graduate School of Education,” says President Liz Magill. “She has made an indelible mark on Penn GSE, shepherding a significant expansion and renovation project, leading an ambitious fundraising campaign, growing student enrollment, and supporting a strong and committed community that values education to the highest degree. In too many ways to name, her mark will be felt for years to come.”

This story is by Rebecca Raber. Read more at Penn GSE Magazine.