Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award (Sponsored by SAGE)

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  5. Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award (Sponsored by SAGE)

The Marilyn Gittell Activist Scholar Award was established to highlight the importance of field-based urban scholarship and promote the dissemination of work by activist urban scholars. The award is sponsored by SAGE.

The inspiration for this award and lecture is the career of Dr. Marilyn 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). She was deeply committed to training young urban scholars of color and women, and taught them to understand the workings of democracy from the ground up, using the methods of rigorous field research. Over the course of her career, Dr. Gittell became well-known for research that dealt with difficult policy issues, that directly engaged the communities impacted by those issues, and that challenged both scholars and policymakers to consider the community impacts of policy actions. 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).

DEADLINE: September 18, 2023 (11:59pm CST) – Last day to submit a nomination

Eligibility Guidelines
Nomination Instructions
Award Benefits
Selection Process
Past Recipients
Eligibility Guidelines

The award is designed to focus on the research of an individual who is, or has been engaged in field-based research in an urban context (anywhere in the world). The research would ideally incorporate direct engagement with local community-based organizations and/or local residents around a policy area of high importance.

Nomination Instructions

Nominations may be made by any UAA member. To make a nomination provide:

  1. the nominee’s name, institutional affiliation and email address
  2. the nominee’s curriculum vitae and
  3. any supporting documentation of the nominee’s community engagement.
Submit a Nomination


Prior Nominees

All nominations made within the past three (3) years, will be given full review and consideration. For this year’s selection process, previous nominations will be considered for submissions made in:  2021, 2022, and 2023.

If a nomination was made prior to the three years noted above, a new nomination must be submitted to receive consideration by the committee. Each new nomination will remain in the nominee pool for three years (including the year of nomination).

To verify the year of any nomination, contact the UAA Executive Office at

Award Benefits

The award recipient receives:

  • A special award plaque
  • A complimentary conference registration waiver including meal + reception tickets (valued at $500+ USD)
  • Up to four (4) nights of complimentary lodging at the conference hotel for the year in which the recipient receives the award
    • If recipient is not able to attend the UAA Conference in the year of the award, the lodging benefit may be deferred up to one year

The award recipient will also participate in a special session at the annual UAA conference to share her/his research, its findings and implications for practice and policy.

The plaque will be presented at the Annual Awards Program held during the annual UAA conference. Following the conference, a press release will be prepared announcing the recipient.

Selection Process

The award winner is selected by a committee appointed by the Governing Board Chair. The committee informs the Executive Director of the outcome. The Executive Office contacts the recipient.

Past Recipients

Gregory Squires
(George Washington University)

Gregory D. Squires is a Research Professor and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology at George Washington University. Prior to coming to GW he served as a Research Analyst for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an Intergovernmental Personnel Act Fellow for HUD’s Office for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, and a Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has published 17 books, more than 75 refereed journal articles, over 30 book chapters, and approximately 125 op eds in various outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Defender, La Opinion, The Progressive, The Nation, The American Prospect, American Banker, National Underwriter among others. He has served as a board member, consultant or advisor to several government and non-profit organizations including the Consumer Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Board, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Wisconsin and Washington DC Advisory Committees to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Social Science Advisory Board of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, Fair Housing Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and several others. He is currently a community development columnist for Social Policy.

UAA Press Release


Loretta Lees
(University of Leicester)

Loretta Lees (FAcSS, FRSA, FHEA) earned her Ph.D in Human Geography from the University of Edinburgh. She is currently Professor of Human Geography at Leicester University but will be Director of the Initiative on Cities at Boston University from July 1st 2022. Dr. Lees has held academic positions at Waikato University, the University of British Columbia, and King’s College London (where she worked for 16 years and was Chair of the Cities Research Group). She has published 17 books, 66 peer-reviewed articles, and 43 book chapters on topics ranging from gentrification/urban regeneration, global urbanism, urban policy, urban public space, architecture, urban social theory, and scholar-activism. She is currently Chair of the London Housing Panel working with the Mayor of London and Trust for London on housing policy. She sits on the International Advisory Board of the Small Business Anti-Displacement Network (SBAN), University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Education & Research. Since 2009 she has co-organised The Urban Salon: A London forum for architecture, cities and international urbanism and since 2016 the Leicester Urban Observatory. In 2017 Urban Studies identified her as the 17th most referenced author in urban geography worldwide and the only woman in the top 20.

UAA Press Release


Sally Nuamah
(Northwestern University)

Sally Nuamah, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Urban Politics in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University.

Previously, Dr. Nuamah 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. She completed her Ph.D. in political science at Northwestern University in June 2016.

Professor Nuamah explores issues of race, gender, education policy, and political behavior. 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.
UAA Press Release


Janet Smith
(University of Illinois at Chicago)

Janet L. Smith, Ph.D. is Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Program in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs and co-director of the Natalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Professor Smith’s research and praxis are situated at the intersection of housing, social justice, and urban policy. She has co-edited two books and written numerous articles, book chapters, and reports. Much of her research addresses systemic inequities in housing, with a particular emphasis on the affordability issue. Her publications have deepened and provided new insights into the ways that city-building and land markets impact housing and neighborhood development.

Professor Smith has used the center she co-directs as a change agent and has found multiple ways to use her scholarship in support of community groups advocating for policy and programs to prevent displacement and promote more permanent affordable housing for lower- income families and individuals. For example, she provided support, data and research to help the Coalition to Protect Public Housing in their efforts to preserve and produce public housing in Chicago.

Professor Smith is a member of the Chicago Housing Justice League, a large citywide coalition that helped shape the City’s affordable housing policy and is currently fighting for passage of a just cause for eviction code. While much of the public component of her work is centered in Chicago, she has worked across urban spaces in a global context. Her contributions and commitment to activist-scholarship are truly outstanding.
UAA Press Release


Lisa Bates
(Portland State University)

Lisa K. Bates, Ph.D. is Associate Professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.

Dr. Bates’ scholarship on housing policy and planning attends to the legacies of discrimination in urban policy-making. Her work on gentrification and displacement has been widely cited. In 2018, she was awarded the PSU Portland Professorship in Innovative Housing Policy, which supports translating her research into action. Her work includes deep engagements with community-based organizations working towards racial justice and housing rights, and a research and advisory practice with Portland’s planning agencies.

Dr. Bates is also co-founder of the Black Life Experiential Research Group, a 2019 Creative Capital award-winning art collaborative. The Black Life ERG is an interdisciplinary, transmedia art collaborative using research, socially engaged art practice, and spatial intervention to develop new visions of Black history, present, and possibility.

Her B.A. is in Political Science from the George Washington University, and she earned her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining PSU’s faculty, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
UAA Press Release

2019 Honorable Mention

Andrea Roberts
(Texas A&M University)
Dr. Andrea Robertsis Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and an Associate Director of the Center for Housing & Urban Development at Texas A&M University. She is the founder of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, a research & social justice initiative documenting African American’s placemaking history and their contemporary planning practices and challenges. Roberts’s scholarship aims to diversify planning history, identify promising grassroots preservation practices, and amplify minority communities’ concerns in policy arenas. She has written about intersectionality and preservation for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, rural Black women’s placemaking in The Journal of Planning History, and storytelling among grassroots preservationists for the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. Current projects include a book about Black historic preservation practice and a statewide Black settlement Atlas. The Atlas is a participatory action research tool designed to crowdsource data while supporting descendant communities’ preservation goals. Most recently, Roberts was an Emerging Scholar Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) School of Architecture where she also earned a Ph.D. in community and regional planning. In addition to her Ph.D., Roberts holds an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College.
UAA Press Release


Henry Taylor
(University at Buffalo)

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. is a Professor and the Founding Director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo. His contributions to scholar-activism have been long-standing and deep, delving into both international and local urban issues with a mastery of critical scholarship and a love of community. He conducted an unparalleled seventeen-year investigation into the details of daily life in Cuba, creating an antidote to the shallow and stereotypical images common to much of academic and mainstream writing about this country. He has received awards from universities for developing their community engagement work and awards from communities for connecting them to universities. Dr. Taylor has written and worked on urban planning, racial justice, and the history of African-Americans in industrialized cities. He has written opinion pieces in the mainstream press on topics ranging from school reform to solidarity between Black and Latino communities. He has written technical reports for Buffalo’s neighborhood development efforts and blogs on structural racism. He has authored or co-authored six books and dozens of journal articles. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Urban Affairs. Dr. Taylor fully embodies the connection between good scholarship and good activism and stands as a model for young academics hoping to make a difference the world.
UAA Press Release
SAGE Publications interview

2018 (Honorable Mention)

Elizabeth Sweet
(Temple University)

Elizabeth Sweet is on the faculty at Temple University. Her work focuses on feminist and anti-racist approaches to safe cities and sustainable community development in Latina/o and Latin American communities. She is committed to collaborating with communities in order to influence policy, and she has worked with groups in the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia. She uses a mixed-methods and place-based approach. Among her many projects are a chapter on migrant women’s safety and an article on methodologies for making communities safer through reconceptualizing bodies and space. She works with Women for Economic Justice in Chicago and Coalicion Fortalez Latina In Norristown, Pennsylvania with the goal of creating inclusive and equitable cities.
UAA Press Release


Samuel Myers
(University of Minnesota)

Samuel L. Myers, Jr., is the Director and Professor, Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. His research has focused on racial earnings inequality, racial disparities in crime, discrimination in home mortgage lending and consumer credit markets, racial and ethnic disproportionality in child welfare systems, faculty underrepresentation in STEM fields, and racial disparities in government contracting.

At the University of Minnesota, Myers holds concurrent appointments in the Applied Economics Ph.D. Program and the graduate minor in population studies. He maintains an affiliation with the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing, China) where he was in residence in 2008-2009 and is a visiting lecturer at the National Law School of India University (Bangalore, India). He received his Ph.D. in economics from MIT and his undergraduate degree from Morgan State University.
UAA Press Release
SAGE Publications Interview


Nico Calavita
(San Diego State University)

Nico Calavita recently retired after 30 years of teaching in the Graduate Program in City Planning at San Diego State University. Calavita’s areas of interest include affordable housing and community development, growth management, the politics of growth and comparative planning. In his work, research and community service – based on equity planning principles – are inextricably linked. For example, his research and publications on housing policies, such as Housing Trust Funds, Housing Linkage Fees and Inclusionary Housing are based on his direct involvement in the attempts to implement those programs in the City of San Diego, including being Chair of the City of San Diego Housing Trust Fund Board of Trustees during the 1990s. Over the years he has published many Op-Ed pieces in the San Diego Union and LA Times, on affordable housing, equity planning and smart growth. He is the author with Alan Mallach of “Inclusionary Housing in International Perspective: Affordable Housing, Social Inclusion, and Land Value Recapture” published in 2010 by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
UAA Press Release
SAGE Publications interview


Bruce Nissen
(Florida International University)

Dr. Nissen is the Director of Research at the Center for Labor Research and Studies at Florida International University (FIU). He has published several dozen refereed journal articles, book chapters, and research reports based on field research in Miami. All of the research has been based on involvement in or close consultation with community and labor organizations in Miami. Living wage research arose out of close collaboration with the Community Coalition for a Living Wage, which successfully won living wage ordinances in Miami-Dade County, the city of Miami, and the city of Miami Beach. Research examining labor-community coalitions grew from that collaboration and other ongoing engagement with the Miami Workers Center, the Power U Center for Social Change, South Florida Jobs with Justice, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, and others. Research on immigrant labor and safety conditions and unions was based on close contact with community-based immigrant groups like We Count! Labor union research has centered on activist unions that attempt to transform the lives and civic engagement of their members, such as SEIU Florida Healthcare Union.

In 2004 Dr. Nissen founded the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy (RISEP) within FIU’s Center for Labor Research and Studies. Foundations interested in funding “social justice infrastructure” organizations in Florida asked him to develop a research capability in south Florida, which RISEP became. In the five years that Dr. Nissen led RISEP, it published over 80 research reports that directly addressed the concerns and programmatic issues of these organizations. While maintaining rigorous scholarly standards, this research did address issues that are often overlooked by academic research disconnected from activist and community based organizations.

2015 Honorable Mention

Joan Wynne
(Florida International University)

Joan Wynne, Ph.D. directs the Urban Education Program at FIU. The influence of her students and educators like Lisa Delpit, Asa G. Hilliard III, Robert P. Moses has driven her research and writing about transformational leadership, quality education as a constitutional right, and building partnerships among youth, parents, schools and communities. Her newest book, Confessions of a white educator: Stories in search of justice and diversity, explores what works and doesn’t work in public education. In the fall, 2015, her book, Who speaks for justice? Finding our voices in the noise of hegemony will be published.

Wynne, for 10 years at Morehouse College, taught and directed The Mays Teacher Scholars Program. At Georgia State University, she co-directed the Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, directed an Urban Teacher Leadership Master’s Program and codesigned two research grants awarded by the Annenberg Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. At FIU, she has continued her research in education for liberation, supported by
grants from the Urban Education Corps, the National Science Foundation, and the Children’s Trust.

Her last ten years have been dedicated to researching the visionary curriculum and pedagogy of the Algebra Project and the Young People’s Project, organizations that are deeply rooted in American history and grassroots communities. In 2001, she received “The MLK Torch of Peace Award for the Promotion of Racial Harmony.”


Christine Drennon
(Trinity University)

Drennon served as the research partner on the Promise Neighborhood planning effort, and is currently the research director of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative, and the Byrne Criminal Justice Initiative – three federally-funded projects geared to revitalizing San Antonio’s eastside neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods have the highest poverty rates, lowest educational attainment rates, and highest recidivism rates in the City. In that capacity, she is responsible for community engagement, data collection and analysis, and project impact assessment — ensuring that resident voices are represented in these neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Recently, her work revealed the strong correlation between pre-K attendance and later success in school and led to the creation of additional pre-K sites. Her findings on the lack of social services and amenities in the area resulted in the designation of the local middle school as a ”community school” by the school district. Additional engagement in the neighborhood with youth on probation revealed that issues as simple as transportation cause many to miss their appointments with probation officials, thus violating probation and often having it revoked. Presentation of these findings to the probation department, police department, housing authority, and city officials resulted in proposed strategies to place probation officers in the neighborhood for increased access.

Dr. Drennon received her M.A. in Geography from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Texas, Austin. She serves on the Board of the Ella Austin Community Center and the Alamo Community Group (an affordable housing provider). She has served as an expert witness for MALDEF, and finally, she has published most recently in the Geographical Review and Journal of Geography in Higher Education.


Kitty Kelly Epstein
(School of Educational Leadership & Change, Fielding Graduate University)

Dr. Epstein is a Professor of Urban Studies and Education at Holy Names University. She recently completed a four-year leave of absence during which she served as Director of Policy and Resident Engagement for the Mayor of Oakland. Her 2012 book, Organizing for Change in a City, captures the results and insights drawn from her service to the city. In a previous book, A Different View of Urban Schools, she advocated for more ethnically accurate curriculum materials for use in California schools. Through a combination of scholarship and her various service and community organizing efforts, she has shown a deep commitment to equity and meaningful change in urban communities.


Dr. John M. Wallace Jr.
(Philip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice, in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh)

Dr. Wallace is the lead investigator for the Center on Race and Social Problems’ Comm-Univer-City of Pittsburgh Project, an integrated program of research, teaching, and service that seeks to examine and directly address challenges faced by economically disadvantaged children, families, and communities. Dr. Wallace also is a co-investigator on Monitoring the Future, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s ongoing national study of drug use among American youth. His recent research efforts have focused on comprehensive community revitalization initiatives, racial and ethnic disparities, the effect of crime on clergy and congregations, and violence and substance abuse among adolescents. Dr. Wallace earned his PhD and Master’s degree in sociology from the University of Michigan, and his BA in sociology from the University of Chicago. His work has been widely published in books and peer-reviewed journals, including DRUG AND ALCOHOL DEPENDENCE, AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, and the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIAL WORK. He serves on several local and national boards. Dr. Wallace is a community leader and pastor of the Bible Center Church of God in Christ in the Homewood neighborhood.


Marla K. Nelson
(Department of Planning and Urban Studies, University of New Orleans)

Marla Nelson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Planning and Urban Studies at the University of New Orleans where she serves as coordinator of the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, the only accredited planning program in the state of Louisiana. Her areas of expertise include local and regional economic development, community development and urban revitalization. Nelson’s current research focuses on how cities cope with population decline, whether sudden or prolonged, sustained or temporary, and the tensions among equity, efficiency and environmental management in the implementation of redevelopment strategies. Her recent work on New Orleans addresses planning and policy interventions to deal with vacant and abandoned property and the difficulties city officials have faced in translating the desire for a safer, better city into policies that could direct a just redevelopment. Active in local, national and international organizations, Nelson is member of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, the national and Louisiana chapters of the American Planning Association (APA), the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans Board of Directors, the Planners Network Steering Committee, the Urban Affairs Association Board Governing Board and the Urban Conservancy Board of Directors.

Beverly Wright
(Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice)

Dr. Beverly Wright, environmental justice scholar and advocate is the founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University. The Center addresses environmental and health inequities along the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and is a community/university partnership providing education, training, and job placement. Since Hurricane Katrina, the Center has focused largely on research, policy, community outreach, assistance, and the education of displaced African-American residents of New Orleans. Most recently, her focus has been on the education, training and public policy needs of those communities affected by the BP oil spill disaster. Among her many committee service and leadership roles, Dr. Wright served as the co-chair of Sustainable Energy and Environmental Taskforce for New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu’s transition team. Dr. Wright received the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award in 2006, the 2008 EPA Environmental Justice Achievement Award, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition 2008 Community Award, the Ford Motor Company’s Freedom’s Sisters Award in 2009, the prestigious 2009 Heinz Award, the 2010 Beta Kappa Chi Humanitarian Assistance Award of the National Institute of Science, and the 2010 Conrad Arensberg Award from the Society for the Anthropology of Work. She was also recognized by the Grios 100 History Makers in the Making in 2010.

William P. Quigley
(School of Law, Loyola University New Orleans)

William P. Quigley is the Janet Mary Riley Professor of Law and Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. He has been an active public interest lawyer since 1977. He has served as counsel with a wide range of public interest organizations on issues including Katrina social justice issues, public housing, voting rights, death penalty, living wage, civil liberties, educational reform, constitutional rights and civil disobedience. Bill has litigated numerous cases with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Advancement Project, and with the ACLU of Louisiana, for which he served as General Counsel for over 15 years. Bill received the 2006 Camille Gravel Civil Pro Bono Award from the Federal Bar Association New Orleans Chapter. Bill received the 2006 Stanford Law School National Public Service Award and the 2006 National Lawyers Guild Ernie Goodman award. He has also been an active volunteer lawyer with School of the Americas Watch and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Bill is the author of Ending Poverty As We Know It: Guaranteeing A Right to A Job At A Living Wage (2003) and Storms Still Raging: Katrina, New Orleans and Social Justice (2008). In 2003, he was named the Pope Paul VI National Teacher of Peace by Pax Christi USA and is the recipient of the 2004 SALT Teaching Award presented by the Society of American Law Teachers. For the past two years Bill has also served as Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a national legal and educational organization dedicated to advancing and defending the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.