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.

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, serving as project manager, curriculum designer, and instructor. 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.

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.

Curriculum Designer & Instructor

John Zola is a Curriculum Designer & Instructor for The Discussion Project. He spent 32 years as a high school social studies teacher; most recently at New Vista High School, a “break the mold” public high school in Boulder, Colorado. There, he developed a wide variety of courses and implemented Socratic seminars on a regular basis. John also served as the Director of School and University Partnerships at the University of Colorado School of Education, where he taught social studies methodology courses over the past two decades. Throughout his career, John developed interactive teaching materials and trained colleagues in active learning strategies and Socratic seminars.  He has presented workshops that help teachers make the voice and work of students central in the classroom. Many of these workshops were presented in countries of the former Soviet Bloc where they helped to promote the skills and dispositions needed in the new democracies. John currently conducts in-service trainings on Socratic seminars, civic education and teaching strategies in a variety of locations around the United States, Central Europe, and Asia.

Curriculum Designer & Instructor

Mariana Castro is a Curriculum Designer & Instructor for The Discussion Project. She serves as Deputy Director at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), a center committed to the improvement of educational outcomes for diverse student populations and to foster collaborations across academic disciplines and practitioners. She brings more than 28 years of experience in education as a former science teacher, a language specialist and a bilingual educator. Throughout her career, she has engaged in curriculum and instruction, teacher preparation and professional learning in the areas of science, language development and bilingual education. In her research, Mariana integrates her background as an educator, her passion for working with multilingual children, youth and their teachers, and her commitment for social justice.  Over the last 14 years, her work has also involved policy work related to the education of multilingual learners, including the development of language proficiency standards in Spanish and English. Mariana has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  She currently serves as the PI for research related to language practices of multilingual students, curriculum and instruction in dual language immersion programs, teacher professional learning and family engagement.


Program Assistant

Rosette Cirillo is a Program Assistant for the Discussion Project. She is a PhD student at UW-Madison studying Philosophy of Education, Ethics and Education, and Historiography in the Curriculum & Instruction department. Her current work explores how teachers, leaders, and policy makers perform their “selves” when faced with an ethical dilemma. After receiving her Ed.M. at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, she taught 8th grade English in Chelsea, Massachusetts while also teaching in pedagogy, leadership, and critical theory experiential learning courses at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She received her BA in Philosophy and Medieval Literature from Bard College. Having spent time studying group dynamics and discourse, she believes student-centered discussions are an essential part of learning at any level.

Program Assistant

Janel Anderson is a Program Assistant for The Discussion Project. She is a PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Janel’s research focuses on the work of teachers and uses a mixed-methods approach to articulate the changing roles and work of K-12 teachers. Before returning to graduate school Janel was a classroom teacher for 19 years. She taught US History, Government, and Foreign Policy in rural and suburban schools in Wisconsin. She was also a member of the graduate faculty at UW-La Crosse, where she was a facilitator for K-12 educators in their graduate program. She has been a guest lecturer for UW-Madison, George Washington University, George Mason, and UW-Milwaukee. She received her BA in history from the University of Minnesota and MA from UW-La Crosse in Educational Leadership.

Instructional Designer

Maria Widmer is an Instructional Designer for The Discussion Project Virtual and for the UW-Madison School of Education. She is a PhD student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison. Maria’s research focuses on issues of equity in online education at the postsecondary level. She holds an M.Ed. in Learning, Design, and Technology from Penn State University and brings ten years of experience as an online instructor.

Undergraduate Program Assistant

Jadie Dawson is an Undergraduate Program Assistant for The Discussion Project. She is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Education Studies and Psychology. Her research interests include alternative education and curriculum, though they’re always developing and changing. Outside of the university, she loves to explore new places and discover underground restaurants.





“[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