New Colorado State University School of Education director traveled vibrant career path

Note to Reporters: A photo of George Kamberelis is available with this news release online at

A middle school teacher’s encouragement provided the spark that prompted the new director of Colorado State University’s School of Education to pursue a career in higher learning.

George Kamberelis, who held a Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair of Literacy Education at the University of Wyoming before accepting the CSU director position, helped build a literacy research center and clinic and new graduate programs in literacy education at UW. Before that, his career path included teaching at nontraditional K-12 schools, founding a successful coffee shop, and holding several university faculty positions.

He succeeds Interim Director Marlene Strathe, who has served in that role since Dan Robinson stepped down in December.

“George’s breadth of experience in higher education and public schools makes him a great leader for the School of Education,” said Jeff McCubbin, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “He has teaching, research and leadership experience that will add value to many aspects of our school, including his scholarship contributions related to childhood literacy and assessment.”

Kamberelis, who started in his new CSU position this summer, said his seventh-grade geometry teacher saw promise in him and urged him to attend St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass., for high school.

“It was there that I got excited about ideas and having a life of the mind,” Kamberelis said, adding that serving as a tutor in an after-school program during a break in his undergraduate education at Bates College also spurred him to pursue a career in education. “It definitely changed my life.”

Teaching vocation

His first foray into the vocation was serving as a house parent and English teacher at Hampshire Country School in Rindge, N.H., the boarding school attended by renowned CSU animal sciences professor Temple Grandin.

Kamberelis earned a master’s degree in literature and religion from the University of Chicago, then worked as a middle-school teacher and co-director at the Van Gorder-Walden School in Chicago, where an alternative education model gave him the flexibility to incorporate the city’s museums and other cultural resources into his curriculum.

Subsequently he held teaching and administrative positions at the Harvard School and Near North Montessori School, both in Chicago. Then came the coffee shop. Kamberelis founded Café Express in Evanston, Ill., in 1982 with the tagline “A Marxist Café Just Trying to Make a Buck” and operated it for the next five years. He said representatives from Starbucks, which was just a coffee roaster at the time, consulted with him before launching their now ubiquitous chain of stores.

He attended Northwestern University in Evanston, where he said he got “hooked on the idea of reading, writing, and thinking for a living,” but then transferred to the University of Michigan to earn a master’s degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in education and psychology. Before joining the University of Wyoming, Kamberelis held faculty positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, Bennington College, and the University at Albany-SUNY.

At Wyoming, he was hired to create and co-direct literacy education efforts. In four and a half years, he and his co-director built a doctoral program where enrollment grew to 22 students. They also worked with the UW Foundation to raise about $10 million for the construction and operation of UW’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic.

Kamberelis was invited to serve on the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress in writing, organized and facilitated by the U.S. Department of Education and ACT.

Among the reasons he said is excited about being named director of CSU’s School of Education is the potential for collaboration among the school’s programs and with other units in the College of Health and Human Sciences and across campus.

“There are lots of pockets of excellence in the school, and there are tremendous opportunities for collaboration and integration across programs,” Kamberelis said. “I think all programs can preserve their identities and missions while also forming partnerships and alliances around shared commitments.”