College of Education and Human Development

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Lesa Clarkson

Lesa Clarkson

Areas of interest

My research agenda focuses on teaching and learning mathematics in the urban classroom, specifically identifying successful strategies that increase student achievement primarily among underrepresented student groups. I developed a community engaged research program called Prepare2Nspire that provides tiered mathematics tutoring and mentoring to increase mathematics proficiency and confidence among students who need it the most. This research is aligned with my personal and professional mission to give a voice to the urgency of preparing teachers and schools for attracting and serving ALL students. Currently, I am examining the effects and consequences of eighth grade algebra in Minnesota. Social justice and equity along with excellence and achievement are intertwined in my work.


PhD University of Minnesota
mathematics education


The foundation of my research agenda is mathematics in urban classrooms. This interest evolved from my initial study which examined a middle school reform mathematics curriculum to determine if mathematics achievement, as determined by the state standardized assessments, is increasing particularly among under represented students. African American students, specifically, are included in the group because historically this group of students has the lowest scores on the national and state assessments. My personal belief is that the color of a student’s skin is not correlated to their achievement in mathematics. This belief has generated two foci that are intertwined with mathematics in urban classrooms: (1) successful strategies that increase student achievement (as demonstrated by the MCA in mathematics) and (2) reducing the achievement gap between students who have “rich, meaningful” mathematics experiences and those students whose mathematics experiences are less than desirable.

The achievement gap is especially problematic in urban classrooms. My research examines best practices that will provide all students with engaging mathematics experiences in addition to the basic “tools” that are essential for students to use in the actual engagement phase. I run a community-engaged research program called Prepare2Nspire that offers tiered mentoring for underserved students to increase math proficiency.


Advancing Black Intellectualism (ABI) Award, Common Ground Consortium (CGC), University of Minnesota, 2022. This award recognized the embodiment of the 2022 CGC Conference theme Advancing Black Intellectualism: Lifting As We Climb, as well as, support of CGC scholars and/or the general academic spirit of the CGC.

2023 Outstanding Community Service Faculty Award, University of Minnesota, 2023. This award is the highest honor the University of Minnesota awards to a faculty member for service to the community. The award recognizes the significant contributions made to the community, including building University-community partnerships and programs that benefit students, faculty, staff, and community partners.

President’s Community Engaged Scholar Award, University of Minnesota, 2018

Inspiring Women in STEM Award, Insight Into Diversity, 2016

Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award Faculty/Staff Recipient, University of Minnesota, 2011


American Educational Research Association 

Benjamin Banneker Association 

Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics 

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 

Sponsored Projects

Prepare2Nspire: Prepare2Nspire’s vision is to provide urban middle and high school students with weekly mathematics tutoring and mentoring. The goal is to inspire participants to pursue postsecondary education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. This project has been funded by The Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and 3M. 

News Stories

 University of Minnesota - “Prepare2Nspire + 3M = inspiring students to study math" Nov 20, 2018

 Daily Planet - “University program preps first-generation college students” June 21, 2013

 Minnesota Daily - “U gets funds for new math education program”  June 17, 2013

MPR News - ic-teaching-loss March 2023 

CEHD Connect Magazine - “In support of equity and diversity” September, 2023 


Covington Clarkson, L. M., Forrester, J. V., & Contreras Gullickson, E. (2023). Prepare2Nspire: A community engaged social justice mathematics project. In J. Etim & A. Etim (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Solutions for Equity and Social Justice in Education (pp. 246–262). IGI Global. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9678-4.ch014

Asojo, A. O., Covington Clarkson, L. M., & Vo, H. (2023). Bridging the digital divide in design and math through an immersive maker program for underrepresented students. In Hsueh-Chih C. & Jon-Chao H. (Eds.), Pedagogy, Learning, and Creativity (ISBN 978-1-80356-666-5). In-Tech.

Forrester, J. V., Covington Clarkson, L. M., & Contreras Gullickson, E. (2022). Research-to-practice-to-community-engaged research: Empowering community learners. In Fernández, C., Llinares, S., Gutiérrez, A., & Planas, N. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 45th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (Vol. 4). Alicante, Spain: PME. 

Covington Clarkson, L. M., Forrester, J. V., & Contreras Gullickson, E. (2022). "Missionaries" no more: Tutors as beneficiaries in a community-based tutoring program. In Fernández, C., Llinares, S., Gutiérrez, A., & Planas, N. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 45th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (Vol. 4). Alicante, Spain: PME. 

Contreras Gullickson, E. A., & Covington Clarkson, L. M. (2022). Prepare2Nspire: Effects of a near-peer tutoring program. In Count Me In: Community and Belonging in Mathematics (Vol. 68). American Mathematical Association.

Baldinger, E. E., Staats, S. K., Covington Clarkson, L. M., Contreras Gullickson, E. A., Norman, F., & Akoto, B. (2021). Returning voice to the 'silent M:' A review of conceptions of mathematics in integrated STEM education. In Integrated Approaches to STEM Education: An International Perspective. Springer.

Covington Clarkson, L. M., & Contreras Gullickson, E. A. (2020). Black girl (math) magic: Her voice. The Lighthouse Almanac, 3(1), 60–67.

Ntow, F. D., & Covington Clarkson, L. M. (2017). Should I stay or should I go? Persistence in postsecondary mathematics coursework. The Mathematics Educator, 26(2).

Covington Clarkson, L. M., Love, Q. U., & Ntow, F. D. (2017). How confidence relates to achievement: A new framework. In Proceedings of the Ninth International Mathematics Education and Society Conference (Volume 2, pp. 441–451). Volos, Greece: University of Thessaly Press.

Covington Clarkson, L. M., & Robinson Johnstone, J. (2011). When the African-centered paradigm is not enough: Lessons from an urban charter school. Journal of Negro Education, 80(2), 108–120.

Chahine, I., & Covington Clarkson, L. M. (2010). Improving instruction through an inquiry model: A case study of elementary mathematics teachers. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 3(1), 82–97.

Covington Clarkson, L. M., & Seashore Louis, K. (2007). Leadership for curriculum change: Principals engaged in "closing the gap." In A. Danzig (Ed.), Curriculum Leadership (pp. 111-130). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.