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McNeil wins Notre Dame award for advancing human rights

By Theo Helm

Nicole McNeil, a professor of psychology, Alliance for Catholic Education College Professor and the director of the Education, Schooling, Society (ESS) program in the Institute for Educational Initiatives, has been awarded the 2022 Grenville Clark Award by the University of Notre Dame.

The Grenville Clark Award is given to a faculty member or administrator whose voluntary activities serve to advance the cause of peace and human rights. McNeil

McNeil is an expert in the cognitive development of children, with a particular focus on how they think, learn, and solve problems in academic domains, and she’s had a career-long dedication to children’s well-being. She played a supporting role in promoting restorative justice education to the South Bend Community School Corporation and is an advocate for evidence-based educational practices to improve children’s learning.

An avid mentor of young researchers and a champion for research-practice partnerships, she bridges the divide between theory and practice. She is the creator, organizer, administrator, and evaluator of TutorND, a free tutoring program for the Notre Dame and South Bend community created in response to the needs arising from the global pandemic. She also regularly tutors within TutorND, embracing the mantra of learning as a mechanism for justice in the world. 

“Nicole has poured her time and heart into work that improves the lives of children,” said Mark Berends, the Hackett Family Director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives. “Her passion and attention to detail has been instrumental in the success of TutorND, and it’s shown by her willingness to take on any duty – whether leading TutorND’s implementation or tutoring children herself.” 

“It’s rewarding to see Notre Dame recognize contributions to tutoring with the Clark award,” McNeil said. “People hear the word ‘tutor’ and assume it’s about helping a child who’s falling behind academically, but that’s an uninspired view. It’s more about fostering caring relationships and finding what works to spark curiosity and a love of learning.”

She sees tutoring as one of the best ways to advance IEI’s mission to improve education for all children, particularly those who have been historically underserved. 

“Many so-called geniuses throughout history were intensively tutored as youths, and some families today are willing to pay as much as $1,250 an hour for a good tutor,” McNeil said. “Our team at TutorND hopes to disrupt these opportunity gaps by making evidence-based tutoring more open and accessible. We have a collaborative learning community of faculty, staff, students, and community partners who are enthusiastic about helping children get what they need to reach their full potential. It’s a blessing to work with them.”

In addition to her work as ESS director and psychology professor, McNeil also prepares ACE Teaching Fellows in the Alliance for Catholic Education to be successful in the classroom and leads the Cognition, Learning, and Development (CLAD) Lab at Notre Dame.

Under her leadership in the past year, ESS was also approved by the University’s Academic Council to be a supplementary major, allowing students to take ESS courses and complement their primary major in a more intensive way. 

To learn more about TutorND, including how to volunteer, please visit our website

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