Through her work at UNL, Tonia Durden strives to make an impact.
The assistant professor in Child, Youth and Family Studies and an early childhood Extension specialist, is working to help communities support the healthy growth, development and success of young children. For those efforts, Durden has received the 2013 Early Achievement Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
A national awards committee for Cooperative Extension Family Life and Human Development Specialists selected Durden from a national nomination process. The group is affiliated with the USDA/NIFA Division of Family and Consumer Sciences.
The national award is given to a Cooperative Extension state specialist in Family Life and Human Development who has made significant contributions within the first six years of his or her career. The group says they “recognize and honor exemplary work, to point in the direction of excellence, and to show others good examples of exemplary Extension Family Life and Human Development State Specialists’ work.”
“What’s exciting about watching a young faculty member like Dr. Durden early in her career is knowing that, as impressive as her achievements are already, she has only scratched the surface of what is surely to be a sterling career of serving young children and their families,” said Charles Hibberd, dean of UNL Extension.
One of Durden’s projects is developing and coordinating curricula and resources for a 13-state pilot program that provides training and technical assistance to early childhood educators who care for young children of off-installation military families. The children in the study are at-risk of falling behind peers in school because at least one parent serves in the military, often overseas.
The research, named the Childcare Youth Training and Technical Assistance Project, is funded by the Department of Defense and is a collaboration with Penn State University.
Nearly 200 training sessions and 25 train-the-trainer events have been held in the 13 states. More than 4,800 people have attended these events including childcare providers that work in facility- or home-based settings, professionals that work for local educational and governmental agencies, and individuals considering starting their own family child care business. Coupled with online training, the impact has reached more than 100,000 children of military families.
In Nebraska, Durden leads The Learning Child project. Under her guidance, UNL Extension has committed more than $250,000 to help families prepare their children to be kindergarten ready. TLC provides programming through publications, social media, tablet and phone apps and community instruction. Because of TLC, approximately 21,500 children have access to early childhood professionals and parents who have the essential skills and knowledge to support their healthy growth and development.
“I am committed to using Extension, outreach, scholarship and research to develop and support culturally responsive professionals who strive towards becoming agents of change in their classrooms, communities and beyond,” said Durden.
Durden received the 2013 Early Achievement Award at a Dec. 5, national webinar hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.