Alumni News

Joan Lipsitz (Ph.D. ’77) named Purpose Prize Fellow

Joan Lipsitz was among the first group of Americans to be named Purpose Prize Fellows. The Purpose Prize is a major new initiative to invest in Americans over 60 who are contributing to social innovation as they “lead with experience.”

Lipsitz has had a long and distinguished career dedicated to improving education and other services for adolescents. After completing her doctoral degree at the School of Education, she founded the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Early Adolescence, the first national center to conduct cross-disciplinary research, provide training and technical assistance, and serve as an information resource for people who work with 10-to-15-year-olds. The center flourished for 18 years, initially housed at the School of Education and later at the School of Public Health.

At UNC, Lipsitz also served on the faculty of the School of Public Health and of the Bush Institute for Child and Family Policy, a cross-disciplinary institute funded by the Bush Foundation. Its mission was to empower mid-career professionals to effect policy influencing children and adolescents.

Turning to the national arena, Lipsitz was instrumental in forming the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform – an alliance of more than 60 middle grades stakeholders dedicated to improving schools for young adolescents across the country.

In this capacity, she also helped the Forum launch “Schools to Watch,” a powerful school reform program aimed at improving middle grades education by identifying high-performing middle schools and selecting those schools to serve as national models.

Lipsitz and other Forum members use several specific criteria to define a high-performing middle school: high academic standards, a qualified and diverse teaching force, a socially equitable approach to education and sensitivity to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence. Currently, nearly 100 schools in 14 states have been identified through “Schools to Watch,” with more being added each year. 

These model schools are visited by hundreds of educators and administrators from around the country. In addition, the schools and the Forum develop tools and online tours to help guide school improvement and middle-grades educational policy.

Lipsitz was one of 55 men and women to be named Purpose Prize Fellows. The Purpose Prize is an initiative of Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank that works to reframe the debate about aging in America.