Collaborations between University of Nebraska researchers and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute have led to progress toward improvements in early childhood development and education across the Cornhusker State.
The institute, which recently released a report on its first five years, was created in 2011 through a gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett. It began operations in June 2013 and has been led by Samuel J. Meisels, founding director of the institute and a nationally recognized leader in the field of early education.
The institute is a multidisciplinary research, education, outreach and policy center designed to transform the ways children — from birth to grade three, particularly those most vulnerable due to poverty, abuse or developmental, learning and behavior changes — are taught and supported.
Working on all four NU campuses, Meisels and the Buffett Institute leadership team established two signature programs: the Achievement Gap Challenge and Early Childhood Workforce Development Program.
“From the moment I came to Nebraska, I had one big idea: to make Nebraska the best state in the nation to be a baby,” said Meisels. “At the five-year mark, we are well on our way to meeting our goals and are deeply grateful for the partnership and collaboration of so many in Nebraska committed to improving the lives of young children and their families and the communities in which they live. We are also incredibly proud to be part of the University of Nebraska, whose unique commitment to early childhood development is unrivaled in America today.”
Husker collaborations with the institute include:
Marjorie Kostelnik, Beth Doll and Kathleen Lodl helping guide the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission. The statewide group is developing an action plan to address challenges faced by the early care and education workforce. Top issues being addressed include low wages, a shortage of qualified child care providers and educators, and the need for sustained public commitment to strengthening early care and education in Nebraska;
The Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools is an evaluator of the institute’s Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan;
Julia Torquati, professor of child, youth and family studies, and the Bureau of Sociological Research partnered on the institute’s Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey; and
The institute partnered with Susan Swearer, professor of educational psychology, and her team on the 2016 Conference on Bullying Prevention.
The institute also co-sponsored the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools’ summit on research in early childhood in 2016 and 2018, and hosted the 2016 Transdisciplinary Conversations event at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Husker faculty who have presented as part of institute projects and events include Stephanie Wessels, associate professor of teaching, learning and teacher education; Michelle Rupiper, emeritus associate professor of practice in child, youth and family studies; Holly Hatton-Bowers, assistant professor of child, youth and family studies; and Tonia Durden, assistant professor of child, youth and family studies.
And, three Husker students have been selected to participate in the institute’s graduate scholars program. They include Amanda Moen, educational psychology and Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools; Sonya Bhatia, educational psychology; and Tuyen Huynh, child, youth and family studies.
“The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is an integral part of the University of Nebraska and represents our commitment to ensuring that all children have the same opportunity to develop, learn and thrive,” said Hank Bounds, president of the University of Nebraska. “The Institute is creating a new model for how public higher education can be engaged in the lives of young children. The implications for quality of life, workforce development and economic well-being are significant. In releasing the report, Meisels said that the Institute’s work has just begun.
“We have set the course for this extraordinary institute through the partnerships we are forming, the work we are doing, and the knowledge we are developing,” Meisels said. “What we have started in Nebraska has relevance for every other state in the nation.”