Novella Zett  Keith Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Novella Zett Keith

Professor Emerita of Urban Education
Temple University

I am interested in participatory democracy and social justice and look to campus-school-community partnerships, service learning and civic engagement as providing educational spaces where these aims can be pursued. My current work focuses on creating such spaces and supporting capacities for democratic engagement in professionals, community partners, and students. Crossing borders such as those of race, class and the Global North and Global South is an important part of this work.

Subjects: Education, Sociology


My family migrated to the US from Italy when I was a teenager. At a time (the '60s) when the economy rewarded skilled workers, my parents quickly found well-paying jobs (Mom, especially, did well in the Manhattan fashion industry).  And so my brother and I went to college (which included a junior-year abroad in Paris for me) and stayed on this side of the ocean, while my parents journeyed back to their home town, where their 16 years abroad gained them the sobriquet of ‘gli Americani’ (the Americans).  Myself, I felt unroooted—the not entirely unhappy state of not belonging anywhere. Maybe that’s how some explorers feel! And so I ventured into another culture, marrying a Jamaican, experiencing the in-between world of a mixed-race family, raising a biracial multi-nation child. I write all this because, though I didn't always see the patterns, it seems that my personal experiences instilled in me the desire (and provided some of the needed understanding) to break down barriers between people and to change the institutions that support those barriers.
What intrigued me most in school and life was what we now call ‘diversity.’  Reading fiction avidly from childhood and, later, the formal study of literature literally opened up my world.  Extensive 'educative' travel, living in Jamaica, and graduate work in ‘Third World’ and development sociology gave me more insights into the mechanisms of systemic privilege and oppression--including my own white and class privilege!  But it wasn't until I joined the Urban Education faculty at Temple (in 1992) and engaged, along with my students, in community service learning in urban schools, that I began to understand the intertwined nature of the personal, social and systemic and the extent to which 'personal' transformation was intrinsic to social justice work. This theme is now at the center of my ongoing intellectual work.
In addition to the Routledge book, Engaging in Social Partnerships, I have published two books, one co-authored and one co-edited:  The Social Origins of Democratic Socialism in Jamaica (Temple University Press, 1992, with Nelson W. Keith) and New Perspectives on Social Class and Socioeconomic Development in the Periphery (Greenwood,  1988, also with Nelson W. Keith).  My research has been published in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Journal of Curriculum Studies, Caribbean Geography, Comparative Literature and Culture, Theory Into Practice, Educational Administration Quarterly, Education and Urban Society, Journal of Adolescence, as well as practitioner-oriented publications.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    My research and professional work are primarily in the areas of community service learning, campus-school-community collaborations/partnerships, and participatory program development--always with a deliberate bias toward social justice and democratic practice.  I am currently gathering information to create a series of mini-case studies designed to supplement the material in Engaging in Social Partnerships and facilitate the kind of practitioner reflection that can promote practical wisdom (or wise practice).
    I have a wealth of experience in creating community service learning programs and professional collaborations that support the values of civic engagement across borders.  In particular, I co-created and led, for some seven years, a college service learning course through which all undergraduate teacher education majors engaged with urban schools and neighborhoods; I created and continue to lead a summer abroad program in Jamaica (now in its 12th year) that centers on global service learning; and I created and co-led (for some five years) a 12-credit graduate certificate in diversity leadership.  I also have extensive experience in practice-oriented research, acquired as director or assistant director of various higher education-based projects that focused on student learning and program outcomes, including in the area of civic engagement.  

Personal Interests

    I am a longtime practitioner of meditation and continue to read fiction avidly, especially works that speak to my interests in personal and social transformation, mystery, and border crossing.  Together with a friend, I have been developing ideas and doing research for a novel that brings to life notions of diversity and crossing borders, along with a personal quest for transformation.  


Featured Title
 Featured Title - Engaging in Social Partnerships - 1st Edition book cover