Syracuse University Magazine


Timothy Eatman

Publicly Engaged Scholar

Timothy K. Eatman is the second generation of his family to be born and raised in Harlem. His father taught in public schools before completing seminary and being called to a church, where he and his wife helped establish a small, nonprofit college prep school called Mt. Pleasant Christian Academy. It was only natural for Eatman to attend the academy, which is now in its 33rd year. “Seeing that institution grow and develop over the years had a great influence on my decision to be an educator,” says Eatman, professor of higher education in the School of Education and faculty co-director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, a national consortium based at SU. “My focus is on how we can provide educational opportunities for young people that are equitable.”

Eatman was fascinated with human development and how best to capture the gifts and talents of all students, so he pursued a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Pace University with an eye toward teaching. But when it came time to student-teach, Eatman realized he is much better at educational theory and lesson planning than he is in the classroom. “I talk about myself as an educational sociologist,” says Eatman, who went on to earn a master’s degree in college student affairs at Howard University and a Ph.D. degree in educational policy studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
It was when Eatman was doing post-doctoral work at the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan that he first learned about Imagining America (IA), which was headquartered there. As IA’s first director of research, he helped establish and lead the Tenure Team Initiative on Public Scholarship, a major study on faculty rewards. When IA headquarters moved to SU in 2007, Eatman was invited to apply for a faculty position in the School of Education and continue as IA’s director of research. In 2012, he was appointed faculty co-director of IA with Cornell professor Scott Peters. “Imagining America creates spaces in higher education where spirits and hearts meet minds for deep, impactful, and sustained knowledge-making and healing,” Eatman says. “We do work at the nexus of community engagement and the arts, humanities, and design.”

As faculty co-director of Imagining America, Eatman works with a team of scholars around the country on a multidimensional effort to ensure that publicly engaged scholarship is recognized as an important part of the academic promotion and reward system. “Writing a book is not the only way knowledge is made at universities,” says Eatman, who does faculty development workshops all over the world and is an honorary professor at the University of South Africa. “The continuum of scholarship is expansive enough for us to value the work of bench chemists as well as chemists who work with students and community partners to address problems with lead paint in older homes. Many institutions have used our reports as a way to start conversations and actually change tenure policy, including at SU.” In October, the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest and most widely known academic honor society, presented Imagining America with its Key of Excellence award in recognition of innovative programs that demonstrate the range and relevance of the arts and sciences to their communities.

An artist as well as a scholar, Eatman is a pianist and songwriter who has sung in and directed choirs, plays the piano at Bethany Church, composes music for community theater productions, and writes songs for such special moments as his wedding, his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and for his two daughters, Jasmin and Jamila. “We’re all interdisciplinary beings, and that’s an important reason why artists and scholars in public life matter,” he says. “I am really blessed.”  —Christine Yackel