Spotlight: Wang named inaugural Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership


Xueli Wang has dedicated much of her academic career to improving the higher education landscape to help students — especially those who begin their journey at two-year colleges — find their path to success.

This past fall, she was awarded a prestigious endowed professorship as the inaugural Barbara and Glenn Thompson Professor in Educational Leadership.

Wang’s research puts a particular emphasis on community college students who aim to transfer to a four-year institution to earn a baccalaureate degree, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) fields.

Xueli Wang
Xueli Wang

Wang explains that she is grateful and humbled by the recognition.

“It’s a very important validation because if we look across schools of education, and at the education field in general, it’s not always the case that work on community colleges and transfer students is receiving this kind of visibility,” she says.

Wang adds that the honor will inspire her ongoing learning and embolden her to engage in opportunities for growth.

“It creates this space that further encourages me to embrace risks and vulnerability,” she says. “As I continue to push my work toward newer and less charted directions, I think that kind of mindset and freedom is very important.”

In addition, Wang adds that the professorship will allow her to grow her expertise in new areas. For instance, she is interested in piloting research to better understand mental health issues among community college students. She would also like to give tangible support back to the institutions and students who collaborate with her in research.

Jim Thompson, who chaired the School of Education’s Board of Visitors from 2014 to 2020, established the professorship in honor of his parents, Barbara and Glenn, who grew up on farms in Dane County before going on to receive master’s and doctorates in educational administration from UW– Madison.

“I’m delighted that Xueli Wang is the recipient of this endowed professorship,” says Jim Thompson. “She embodies both the spirit and practice of educational leadership through both her important research and teachings.”

Jim’s UW–Madison memories stretch back to childhood, when his parents would drive about 40 miles from the family home in Monroe to Madison each Saturday to take classes. Barbara Thompson served from 1973 to 1981 as the Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin, becoming the first woman to be elected to that post. Glenn Thompson likewise pursued a career as an education administrator, and retired as a top official with the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA).

Wang says that Barbara’s lifelong commitment to public education deeply resonates with her own. She aims for her future research to continue to sup- port and amplify the mission of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, the School of Education, and the Wisconsin Idea.

“This professorship serves as a timely and continuous reminder to be that grounded researcher, teacher, and learner who acts with clarity, urgency, and an unwavering commitment to equity and social justice,” says Wang.