2021 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award

This year, Dr. Sally Nuamah (Northwestern University) was selected as the recipient of the 2021 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award. This award was established to highlight field-based urban scholarship and promote the dissemination of work by activist urban scholars. The award is co-sponsored by SAGE Publishing and UAA. The inspiration for this award is the career of Dr. Marilyn J. Gittell, former Director of the Howard Samuels Center and Professor of Political Science at The Graduate School at City University of New York. Dr. Gittell was an outstanding scholar and a community activist who wrote seminal works on citizen participation, and was founding editor of Urban Affairs Quarterly, (now known as Urban Affairs Review). Thus, the award seeks to honor the contributions of a scholar whose research record shows a direct relationship between activism, scholarship, and engagement with community(ies).

Award Committee Assessment:

Pictured: Sally Nuamah (Northwestern University)
Pictured: Sally Nuamah (Northwestern University)

“The winner of the 2021 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award is Dr. Sally A. Nuamah, Assistant Professor of Urban Politics in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Dr. Nuamah’s portfolio of scholarship, advocacy, and film-making is an exemplar of activist scholarship in the spirit of Marilyn J. Gittell. She has been recognized for her contributions to political theory with her scholarship on race, gender, and education. Her commitment to improving the lives of Black girls and women includes illuminating educational inequities in punishment and abuse, and lifting up the potential for schools to support girls’ achievement and ultimately their participation in democracy. This work includes deep personal engagement and policy advocacy in the U.S., Ghana, and South Africa. Dr. Nuamah collaborated with low-income girls in Ghana to produce the film HerStory about becoming first-generation college students; the film funds scholarships and a foundation. Dr. Nuamah pairs her research on the politics of public school closures with forums for scholars, activists, and policy-makers, documentary film- making, and teaching and mentoring in impacted communities with low-income Black girls and women.”

Award Committee:

Lisa Bates, Committee Chair (Portland State University), Sarah Krusemark (Hunter College), Ashley Nickels (Kent State University), Hayden Shelby (University of Hawai’i at Manoa), and Barbara Wilson (University of Virginia)

Award Winner:

Sally A. Nuamah explores issues of race, gender, education policy, and political behavior. She completed her Ph.D. in political science at Northwestern University in June 2016. Currently, she is a tenure-track professor of Urban Politics, Human Development and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, and Political Science (by courtesy) at Northwestern University. Previously, she worked as an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, a Women and Public Policy fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a predoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her award-winning book, How Girls Achieve, was released by Harvard University Press in 2019. Dr. Nuamah’s work has been published in Perspectives on Politics; Urban Affairs Review; Journal of Urban Affairs; Politics, Groups and Identities; and the American Education Research Journal.

Professor Nuamah is also the founder of the TWII Foundation, an award-winning organization that provides girls with scholarships so they can be first in their families to go to college. Professor Nuamah is the creator of the documentary film HerStory about girls and education in Ghana, which was named “Best Documentary Short” by PBS and is currently distributed by the Discovery Channel.


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