Tarlau is 2020 recipient of emerging faculty award for engaged scholarship

Each year, Penn State recognizes outstanding faculty and staff with annual awards in teaching and excellence. These awards highlight many of the University's faculty and staff who go above and beyond.
Tarlau is 2020 recipient of emerging faculty award for engaged scholarship

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  — Rebecca Tarlau, assistant professor of education and of labor and employment relations in a 75/25 split appointment in the College of Education and College of the Liberal Arts, has received the 2020 Outreach and Online Education Emerging Faculty Award for Engaged Scholarship.

The Emerging Faculty Outreach Award is a University-wide honor that recognizes early-career tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members whose work has significant potential to advance engaged scholarship through teaching, research, and/or service. Their engaged scholarship work shows significant potential to influence societal issues on local, regional or national levels.

Tarlau, who joined Penn State in 2018, researches how education can spark social movements. Her experiences while community organizing in Latin America in the U.S. showed her education’s potential to advance economic and racial justice in poor communities and inspired her to pursue the research further through a doctoral degree at University of California, Berkeley. She’s spent a decade researching how grassroots social movements promote educational practices that affect social and economic change.

Her recently published book, “Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education” (Oxford University Press), examines the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), a national social movement of rural workers struggling for agrarian reform.

“Tarlau’s passion and commitment to education as a vehicle for social change have been significant for me, professionally and personally,” a nominator said. “Her research that documents the visionary, yet actual experiences of social movements, inspires and expands the imagination of what is possible and through which mechanisms we may achieve a more equitable society.”

Since 2012, she’s been a member of the Friends of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, an international solidarity group that works closely with one of the largest social movements in Latin America. She decided to join this organization after spending 15 months researching the Landless Workers Movement in 2010 and 2011 and realizing that writing about the movement was only one form of support. She also wanted to work side-by-side in the movement, offering her time to help coordinate activist exchanges, lead community forums, facilitate international delegations, and organize actions in response to the movement’s needs.

She’s also active in the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, an alliance of anti-hunger, labor, environmental and food producer groups working together to rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system. That effort led to her recent participation in the organization of the US Food Sovereignty Alliances’s first national education course, which is also an ongoing topic in her research

Her work also focuses on teacher activism and teachers’ unions in Brazil, Mexico and the United States, where she has looked at how teachers’ efforts are fighting to improve teacher public education and racial justice.

In 2019, through a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, she spent 10 months traveling across the U.S. to talk with teachers about their visions for social and racial justice.

“Tarlau’s vital research sheds light on how teachers themselves are developing solutions to these pressing issues as individuals within their classrooms and through teacher-leadership collectives,” a nominator said.

At Penn State, Tarlau is creating a Center for Social Movements and Education with John Holst, associate professor of education. The center’s mission is to be a networking space and community-building initiative for scholars and community members interested in investigating how social movements can educate and inspire people to shape public and education policy. To date, 18 Penn State faculty members and several community affiliates have expressed interest in joining the center.

March 31, 2020