Charles M. Payne B.A. Thesis Prize

The University of Chicago Committee on Education (COE) is pleased to announce the Charles M. Payne B.A. Thesis Prize for the best undergraduate thesis that investigates topics in education research. The prize will be awarded to a B.A. thesis that exemplifies the highest qualities of originality, disciplinary rigor, and relevance to the cause of improving education, broadly conceived. Because education is a multi-disciplinary field, the selection committee will consist of COE faculty and PhD students who collectively have expertise to evaluate submissions representing the applicants’ respective disciplines. Students enrolled in any program of study in the College are encouraged to apply, so long as their thesis involves substantive treatment of a topic in education research.

This prize is named in honor of Professor Charles M. Payne, who was a member of the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago and served as Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration (now the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice) from 2007 through 2017.

During his career at Chicago, Professor Payne produced influential scholarship about education and school reform in Chicago, strengths he combined with an outstanding teaching record that earned him great respect among his students. He was also deeply engaged with practice serving as the interim Chief Education Officer at the Chicago Public Schools. With Bishop Arthur Brazer, he founded the Woodlawn Children’s  Promise Community.

Professor Payne’s books include So Much Reform, So Little Change, (Harvard Education Publishing Group, 2008) which examines the persistence of failure in urban schools, and a co-edited anthology, Teach Freedom: The African American Tradition of Education For Liberation (Teachers College Press, 2008), which is concerned with education as a tool for liberation  from Reconstruction through Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools.  He is also the author of Getting What We Ask For:  The Ambiguity of Success and Failure In Urban Education (Greenwood Publishing, 1984) and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (University of California Press, 1995).  The latter has won awards from the Southern Regional Council, Choice Magazine, the Simon Wisenthal Center and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.  He is co-author of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (1999) and co-editor of Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850 -1950 (2003).

Click here to learn more about Professor Payne’s record of scholarship and service in a retrospective on Professor Payne’s career at UChicago in SSA magazine.

2023 winner:

Felix Gonzalez Islas, for his B.A. Thesis: “Chicago’s Dreamers and Doers: Higher Education and Supporting the Needs of Undocumented Students.”

2023 Charles M. Payne B.A. Thesis Prize Winner Felix Gonzalez Islas
poses with Dr. Lisa Rosen and Dr. Jill Mateo

Past winners:

2021: “Analyzing SEL Implementation in Title I Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic” – Amara Cohen

2022: “The Reparations Won Curriculum: Examining Dignity Restoration Through Education.” – Lily Zheng

How to Apply:

The application deadline for this prize is Friday, May 3, 2024.

Completed applications should be submitted to Megan Swartz,

Applicants must submit the following:

*A PDF of their B.A. Thesis.

*A letter of recommendation from an advisor (and preceptor if applicable to your program of study)

*Both of the above items should be attached to an email that includes your name, advisor’s name, and your phone number.


The winner will receive a $500 prize.

For more information on this opportunity, please contact:

Lisa Rosen, Associate Senior Instructional Professor and Associate Director of the Committee on Education at