The Discussion Project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and operates within the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Dean Diana Hess

Principal Investigator

Diana Hess became dean of UW-Madison’s School of Education on Aug. 1, 2015. Hess, only the ninth dean of the School of Education since its founding in 1930, comes to this post after serving as senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago since September 2011. The Spencer Foundation funds research to improve education policy and practice. Hess, however, is no stranger to UW-Madison. She first arrived on campus in 1999 to join the School’s No. 1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction as an assistant professor. She climbed the ranks, becoming an associate professor in 2005 and a full professor in 2009 before taking a leave from the university to work at Spencer. Since 1997, she has been researching how teachers engage their students in discussions of highly controversial political and constitutional issues, and what impact this approach to civic education has on what young people learn. Her first book on this topic, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion won the National Council for the Social Studies Exemplary Research Award in 2009. Her most recent book, The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, co-authored with Paula McAvoy, won the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award in 2016 and the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2017. Also in 2017, Diana Hess was recognized by the National Council on Social Studies with Grambs Distinguished Career Award for Research. Professor Hess is deeply committed to working with teachers to improve the quality of democratic education in schools. To that end, she frequently keynotes conferences and leads professional development courses and workshops. Professor Hess serves on the board of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and the iCivics Scholars Advisory Board.

Program Director

Lynn Glueck is the Program Director for The Discussion Project. Lynn brings a diverse array of skills to the Discussion Project after a twenty-five year career in K12 education. She started work as a bilingual elementary teacher in a high-poverty school, and has since played several roles in teaching and administration. She was a high school English teacher and then became a Library Media Instructor, after which she went into educational leadership and administration. She has been Professional Development Coordinator, School Improvement Administrator, for the Madison School District, and then became an Instructional Coach for secondary teachers. She has trained in Authentic Intellectual Work. She has an MA (UW-Madison) in English Literature and an MLS (UW-Madison) in Library Media Science. Additionally, she is certified as a Director of Instruction and Instructional Coach.

Michael Culbertson

Lead Researcher

Michael J. Culbertson is the Lead Researcher for The Discussion Project. Michael is a mixed-methods research methodologist with a focus in education. He has experience conducting evaluations in a variety of educational settings, including the educational programs of a national cyberinfrastructure organization, a university health education needs assessment, adult agricultural education, and leading national evaluations of two financial literacy programs for K-12 students. When he has the opportunity to provide formal or nonformal instruction, he enjoys crafting thought-provoking questions that lead students and colleagues to develop their own new insights on the current topic of discussion. Before joining The Discussion Project, Michael was a Research Scientist at Education Analytics. Previously, he supported strategic reflection and planning for organizational leaders at Denver Public Schools.

Dr. Paula McAvoy

Curriculum Developer

Dr. Paula McAvoy is an Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at North Carolina State University. She developed and implemented The Discussion Project for the School of Education at UW-Madison. Paula has an extensive background in teaching and professional development. Before earning her PhD from UW-Madison’s Department of Educational Policy Studies, she taught high school social studies and English for ten years. She has taught at UW-Madison, Illinois State University, and Loyola University-Chicago. She frequently leads multi-day professional development workshops for high school teachers that focus on facilitating discussions of controversial political issues.  She is co-author, with Dean Diana Hess, of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education (Routledge, 2015), winner of the 2016 AERA Outstanding Book Award and the 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Education.

Program Writer

Carrie Welsh is the Program Writer for The Discussion Project. Carrie has a background in writing and English language education and has an MA in the history of education from the department of Educational Policy Studies at UW-Madison.

Project Assistant

Rob DeMeuse is the Project Assistant for The Discussion Project. He is a PhD candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis in the School of Education. Rob’s research uses joint quantitative and qualitative methodologies in order to better understand and predict voting behavior in public school district referendums—rural Wisconsin, in particular. He received his bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison in secondary social studies and political science education and taught high school social studies in Evansville, WI, for three and a half years before returning to pursue doctoral studies.








“[We had] fantastic workshop facilitators. Not only did they share with us a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, they worked hard to create a kind, caring, and dynamic learning environment. Finally, being together with more than a dozen amazing and dedicated teachers was tremendous. Don’t miss out on this fantastic workshop.” – Andy D., Department of Geography