Skip to main content

The Question that Sparked a Movement

If you ask Dana Center founder Uri Treisman about the Dana Center’s origins, chances are he will flash that brilliant smile and admit it was equal parts intention and accident.

As a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, Uri’s curiosity was piqued: what was really behind the disparate success rates of students entering freshman calculus?

Professor Treisman with early ESP students at UC Berkeley.
Treisman with early ESP students at UC Berkeley.


To get at what was happening, he and his team looked beyond some of the (mistaken) assumptions prevalent at the time—some students just weren’t as motivated, or their families didn’t support them, or, they didn’t have what it takes to succeed in rigorous college mathematics.

For months, Uri talked with, studied with, lived with a cross-section of students in freshman calculus.

Ultimately, his research on the mathematics learning of undergraduate students at UC Berkeley led to his development of the Mathematics Workshop Model, also known as the Treisman model and the Emerging Scholars Program. ESP—driven by principles of respect, inclusion, and excellence still entwined in the Center’s DNA today—was explicitly designed as an honors program for first-year calculus students from diverse backgrounds.

Uri and colleagues recruited students into intensive workshops that replaced remedial services with rigorous problems, a focus on deficits with strengths, and student isolation with student camaraderie and community—emerging scholars learning together how to “do college” along with how to “do math.”

By the early 1980s, ESP became a model adopted in colleges and universities across the United States.

In 1987, Uri was recognized with the Dana Foundation’s “Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in American Higher Education.” The year before, Nancy Reagan was the first recipient of the new award—for her work educating young people about the dangers of drug abuse.

The Foundation also granted UC Berkeley a substantial donation to further expand the program, establishing a “Dana Center” to support dissemination of ESP nationally.

Uri Treisman Bio

The Move to The University of Texas at Austin

By the early 1990s, The University of Texas at Austin had launched its own Emerging Scholars Program in the College of Natural Sciences. Leaders in the Office of the Dean and the Department of Mathematics recruited Uri to join the faculty. When Brooklyn-born, Berkeley-grown Uri turned Texan, he brought the Dana Center with him.

While the Dana Center’s work at Berkeley focused on refining and disseminating ESP in higher education and (later) high school, the work in Texas quickly expanded to mathematics and science education, kindergarten through high school.

In 1994, the Center was invited by the National Science Foundation and the Office of the Governor to assume responsibility for the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative, a sweeping endeavor involving thousands of educators and community members.

Within two years, the Texas Education Agency had designated the Dana Center as the Center for Educator Development in mathematics and science, tasked with developing resources to help local communities implement the new, more rigorous, state standards.

This early statewide initiative set the stage for the Dana Center’s work with ever broader networks of fellow educators, researchers, and policy wonks to innovate, co-create, and facilitate new approaches to address difficult problems in American education.

The Dana Center Today

Our staff are dedicated to the same mission that Uri envisioned decades ago. Every day our team works to dismantle barriers in education systems to ensure all students—especially those who have historically been underserved—have access to an excellent education. The Center leadership, with Afi Y. Wiggins, Ph.D., as interim managing director following Uri's transition from the Center in May 2023, and passionate staff are committed to advancing our impactful math, science, and literacy work. 

Over the years, our portfolio of K–12 work has continued to expand. To date, nearly all of Texas’s more than 1,200 K–12 districts have been affected by one or more of our initiatives, and we have worked with dozens of school systems across the U.S. 

Our work to create pathways for student success from high school to and through higher education has also expanded significantly since its launch in 2012. Our Dana Center Mathematics Pathways initiative provides strategies and tools to faculty and institutions of higher education to support the successful implementation of student-success-focused math pathways across the United States. And the Launch Years Initiative is working at scale in 21 states.

We also collaborate with organizations across the education sphere to discover, develop, and scale innovations.

As an entirely self-funded center, the Dana Center receives no direct financial contributions from the Texas Legislature or the University to support the work. Our project-specific work is funded through the generous support of private and public foundations, as well as through contracts with state and national agencies.

Dana Center Through the Years

  • 1990s

    1991: Uri Treisman is recruited from UC Berkeley by leaders in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. The Dana Center comes with him.

    1994: The Dana Center is invited by the National Science Foundation and the Texas Office of the Governor to manage the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative, a project to improve student achievement in mathematics and science statewide. As part of that work, the Center leads a statewide collaborative process involving thousands of educators and community members to develop rigorous K–12 state standards: the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, in mathematics and science.

    1994: The Center launches AmeriCorps for Math and Literacy, a program to provide early math and reading support to struggling young readers in elementary school. Since its inception, this program, now known as Literacy First, has provided rigorous, research-based tutoring to 20,000 students in low-income elementary schools in Central Texas.

    1995: By the mid-1990s, the Dana Center has supported the dissemination of the Emerging Scholars Program model to more than 200 colleges and universities around the country.

    1996: The Dana Center is asked to manage the office that administers the education subtitle of the McKinney–Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act. The Texas Homeless Education Office (THEO) works to ensure that the estimated more than 111,000 homeless children and youth in Texas have access to a free and appropriate public education and have the same opportunities for academic success as students who are not homeless.

    1996: The state education agency designates the Dana Center as the state Center For Educator Development in mathematics and in science, in which role we greatly expand our development of professional learning resources for teachers and leaders.

  • Early 2000s

    2000: In 2000, drawing on the systemic work we began in the 1990s, the Dana Center launches a new program of long-term intensive support for local school districts aiming to improve their teaching and learning districtwide. Key to this work is the requirement that partner districts commit to working with us for two or more years to achieve specific and measurable academic goals.

    2003: The Dana Center enters into a public-private collaboration with Agile Mind, Inc. to develop online course programs for middle school and high school mathematics and science. Since then, these courses have served more than 35,000 teachers and 4 million of their students in 29 states. More than 80% of these students live in historically underserved areas.

    2004: In collaboration with Achieve and with initial funding from the Noyce Foundation, we launch the Urban Mathematics Leadership Network to bring together representatives from large school districts around the nation—including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Spokane, and New York City—to address common challenges in creating coherent and aligned systems to improve mathematics programs. By 2010 this network had joined the larger Urban District Leadership Networks—which we operate in collaboration with the Aspen Institute.

    2006: Building on the success of our intensive district services, we develop and launch a comprehensive suite of protocols, processes, and tools we use in collaboration with partner districts to improve their instructional programs. Since the inception of this district services program, we have worked intensively with more than 200 districts in Texas, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Indiana, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.

    2007: With funding from the Greater Texas Foundation, the Dana Center begins working with the Texas Association of Supervisors of Mathematics to develop a new capstone mathematics course for high school seniors that follows Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. This course, Advanced Mathematical Decision Making, has now been offered in hundreds of schools in XX states, serving thousands of students. In January 2011, the course was adopted by the Texas State Board of Education as Advanced Quantitative Reasoning, a course that satisfies the requirement of a fourth year of high school mathematics for the state’s recommended or distinguished graduation programs.

    2009: The Dana Center begins a collaboration with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to create new academic pathways to help community college students address mathematical deficiencies and complete a credit-bearing, transferable college mathematics course—in one year. The work eventually results in development of two courses—the Statway—a pathway through introductory college-level statistics, and the Quantway—a pathway through advanced quantitative reasoning. This early work helped inform the foundation of the Dana Center’s New Mathways Project—now known as the Dana Center Mathematics Pathways.

  • 2010 to Present

    2010: The Dana Center receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and disseminate tools—and strategies for their use—to support implementation of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics. This work, which the Dana Center carried out in collaboration with the Aspen Institute, included development of low-cost and free or open-access online curriculum, assessment, and professional support resources to help carry out effective, broad-scale implementation of the CCSS for Algebra I and Geometry.

    2012: The Dana Center is awarded a contract to collaborate with Agile Mind and the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) to develop mathematics assessment tasks for the PARCC assessment.

    2015: In 2015 Dana Center was awarded a contract from the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to build the capacity of teachers, school-level leaders, and above-school-level leaders to ensure that all students, from prekindergarten through grade 12, meet or exceed the expectations set out in the mathematical practice and content standards of DoDEA’s College and Career Ready Standards for Mathematics. The project serves more than 170 DoDEA schools on military bases around the world.

    2016: Inside Mathematics, originally a project of the Noyce Foundation, joined the Dana Center portfolio of services when the Foundation concluded its operations in 2015. A professional resource for educators passionate about improving students' mathematics learning and performance, the Inside Math site features hundreds of videos and commentaries unpacking real classroom examples of innovative teaching methods.