New faculty Q&A: Molly Shea

September 4, 2019

During her younger years, Molly Shea did much of her learning through informal means such as playing soccer and spending time in the outdoors with her father. It was not until college that she began to see the possibilities for transformative learning in school and through community-led social movements.

Shea joins the University of Washington College of Education’s faculty this fall as an assistant professor in learning, education and politics. Her work examines how knowledge and practices are built, preserved, constrained and reorganized within contentious political moments, and how learning takes shape through these efforts.

Shea comes to the UW after serving on the faculty of San Francisco State University and is primary investigator for a National Science Foundation-funded project that focuses on developing high-tech, low-cost making projects to enhance computational teaching and learning alongside community.

In the following Q&A, Shea discusses her research agenda, which books have influenced her and more.

What drew you to education?

Education can be a powerful place of social transformation. It can help us become something beyond our current imagination. It can be the heart of a community. It can also be a place that causes harm. The vulnerability of learning and the risk it involves led me to want to look at it closely, scrutinize its purposes, and hope to contribute to building toward greater justice in our society through its possibilities.

Describe your research agenda. What makes this work meaningful to you?

I study learning in the context of social change making efforts. How do people build knowledge and expertise as they seek to transform their social circumstances? How do people develop and use technology to inform, disrupt and adjust practices? And, how do we attend to power in contexts of teaching and learning given histories of institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism? All of these questions focus on issues of power in informal and formal learning environments and what people do to reorganize for more just social futures.

This work is meaningful to me because it is a line of inquiry about which I have so much more to learn. It feels fundamental to how we structure our communities and how we work against histories of white supremacy and patriarchy in order to imagine more equitable places for learning and becoming.

What attracted you to UW College of Education?

It is a humbling feeling to be joining such an incredible faculty and a school that has produced so much powerful scholarship focused on issues of equity and justice. I look forward to being stretched through the process of deep engagement with faculty, community partners and students. Coming from San Francisco State University, I taught exclusively undergraduate courses. I am looking forward to the opportunity to learn from students across programs and to work with graduate students for the first time.

What's a course you're particularly excited to teach?

All of them! I love teaching and learning in a community of dedicated scholars. It is a tremendous gift to take part in this process.

Tell us about an education-related book or movie that has influenced you.

“The Mind at Work” by Mike Rose articulated something I had long felt about the ways in which class, race, gender and power are embedded in our notions of intelligence. More recently Bettina Love's book entitled “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” spoke to the urgency of working toward social change through teaching and reorganizing for justice more broadly. In terms of movies “Planet B-Boy” is a beautiful exposé on peer-to-peer learning, friendship, artistic expression and joy.

What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?

I think Seattle is beautiful, and I’m nervous about the rain.

Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?

My family, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” women’s soccer, Megan Rapinoe and peach pie.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications