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

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.

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.

Instructional Designer

Amanda Fowler is a doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction Department. She earned an MFA in Film and Electronic Media at American University, focusing on World Cinema and Documentary Filmmaking. She earned a bachelor’s from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in languages and literature. Amanda joins the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with over a decade of teaching experience which includes serving as a professional development coordinator at universities and colleges in the United States and South Korea. Amanda’s research interests focus on Black feminist thought in nontraditional educational spaces.

Project Assistant

María Velázquez is a Project Assistant for the Discussion Project. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at UW-Madison. Her research examines structures, policies, and politics that shape inequities in schools, and the ways in which educators and organizing communities seek to disrupt them. María is excited to support the work and research of the Discussion Project this academic year as a Project Assistant. Particularly, after having the opportunity to participate in the Discussion Project Virtual online course during the Spring of 2021 which supported her facilitation of discussion during her summer teaching. As a PhD candidate, she holds a minor in Qualitative Research Methods in Education and brings with her extensive qualitative research experience.

Graduate Program Assistant

Mike Haen is a PhD candidate in the Composition and Rhetoric program in the Department of English. While at UW, he has worked as the Assistant Director for Writing Across the Curriculum, taught introductory and intermediate undergraduate writing courses, and led workshops and one-to-one instruction at the Writing Center. His research explores the interactional moves that instructors and tutors deploy in conversations with students about their writing. Drawing on discourse analytic methods, he aims to develop theories and concepts that can help teachers and tutors reflect on and evaluate their strategies and practices for working with developing writers. He is excited to be applying his qualitative research experiences as a member of the Discussion Project research team.

Undergraduate Program Assistant

Jadie Dawson is an Undergraduate Program Assistant for the Discussion Project. She is a third-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.

Undergraduate Program Assistant

Allyson Janowski is a part-time Administrative Assistant for the Discussion Project. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Industrial Engineering and minoring in Data Science, and aspires to work in healthcare systems. Allyson is very involved in UW-Madison’s section of the Society of Women Engineers and is currently their VP of External Relations. Outside of the university, she loves to work out, read, and spend time outside.

Expert Classroom Observer

John Howe is an Expert Classroom Observer for the Discussion Project. Before joining this project, John taught high school English for 25 years in the Madison Metropolitan School District, where he enjoyed teaching a wide variety of courses in writing and literature. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, hiking, and spending time with his family.

Expert Classroom Observer

Jennifer Unitan comes to The Discussion Project with more than 15 years of classroom experience as a substitute teacher for the Stoughton Area School District. In addition to covering academic curriculum, she is particularly interested in teaching her students to advocate for themselves and to communicate positively and assertively with both teachers and peers. Jennifer earned her BBA from the UW-Madison School of Business. Prior to teaching, she worked in budgeting and human resources for both government and nonprofit agencies. Jennifer also co-founded Kids4Kids, Inc., a 501(c)3 which has been teaching youth the skills to run a non-profit while raising money for local families in crisis for the past seven years.

Independent Contractors and Contributors

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 has 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

Anissa Butler (Ed. D) is a Curriculum Designer & Instructor for the Discussion Project. Anissa values the opportunity to help educators learn how they can support inclusive practices that value all student voices. As a retired, 30 year veteran teacher who has worked in schools throughout Colorado, she continues her commitment to those goals by working with programs and organizations that help educators incorporate engaged discussion, structured inquiry, and student and teacher self-reflection, as a way to support social justice through education.

“[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