2020: A Year of Impact

This is What Impact Looks Like

2020 started strong at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE). 

With full momentum, we had our strategic plan to guide us. It called for interdisciplinary action across the college from each of us — our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and partners — to help solve the complex challenges we face in education across the communities in which we live, work and serve, each and every day.  

At MCE, we are unique. We have expert faculty in education who work across the fields of learning, policy, wellness, information science and human development. We have committed students who apply real-world learning to their academics inside and outside the classroom. And we have unwavering staff who bring decades of experience to their roles in the college. 

Over the years, we have gone through intensive planning initiatives and discussions. We have learned that we need to work together as a community in order to achieve real and sustained impact. During the world’s cries for racial justice and in the COVID-19 pandemic, we reflected on how we could come together across disciplines to better use our unique assets to elevate our mission and vision more than ever before.

At this time in our nation’s history, reminders of our collective teamwork and the strong foundation that we have built over time at MCE are important. We are excited to share some of the highlights.

In 2020, MCE rose 22 spots in the annual U.S. News & World Report, making the list at 112. For several years, our Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program has been ranked among the top programs across the country and this year we were thrilled to be ranked 25. A historical first in the college, we were equally excited when we learned that our Teacher Education Program was ranked number 18 in the nation for secondary teacher education. On top of it all, our faculty nearly doubled their funded research.

Leading within our community is part of our mission and our responsibility as educators. In January, MCE played a significant role in hosting more than 200 community members from across the field of education to attend Chalkbeat Colorado’s Annual Legislative Preview. This bipartisan event is essential to the education community to set the stage on pivotal topics that surface in Colorado’s legislative session, affecting thousands of students and educators across the state. Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat’s news bureau chief, moderated the panel and was joined by State Reps. James Coleman and Colin Larson, and State Sens. Paul Lundeen and Nancy Todd, who discussed everything from strengthening teacher preparation programs to equitable school funding and preschool expansion plans.

2020 was also a big year for mental health and wellness in education. The Department of Teaching and Learning Sciences hosted its second annual Social Emotional Learning Summit with our Office of Alumni Engagement. Led by Drs. Amy McDiarmid, clinical assistant professor, and Paul Michalec, clinical professor, and Betsy Leonard, community engagement specialist, the summit included State Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and 130 cross-professional educators. With its sold-out attendance, the high demand further validated the crucial need for the community to convene on social emotional learning topics including anxiety, depression and suicide among Colorado’s youth. On this day of impact, attendees departed the event with shared resources, support and expertise.   

The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) also received two large grants this year focused on student health and wellness, totaling $5.1 million from the Colorado Health Foundation (CHF). It has only been two years since CRSHE came to MCE, and within that time, Dr. Elaine Belansky, executive director, along with her team, have made significant strides, partnering with rural communities in Colorado. Thanks to CHF’s generous funding, CRSHE will be able to equip 27 high-poverty rural school districts with support, evidence-based resources and professional development in the next two years.

At the Marsico Institute, Drs. Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama, co-directors, received a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to evaluate whether their LearningTrajectories.org web tool is by itself an effective intervention for young children and their teachers. Also, Drs. Clements, Sarama and Traci Kutaka, research associate, continued to expand their research in early childhood curriculum when they received a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). This project is a re-analysis, interpretation and new analysis of data from their existing IES-funded Learning Trajectories (LT) project, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics, which will inform the construction of two novel indicators of instructional efficacy to support teachers in the classroom. 

While the academic year started off strong at MCE, we would be remiss to say that this year’s global hardships haven’t affected our community in personal and professional ways. During this time, we have paused and reflected on our responsibility to further elevate educational equity in our communities.   

At the onset of the pandemic, CRSHE launched a resource website for Colorado educators looking for fun ways to engage learners and parents trying to get work done with children at home, and students trying to cope with the stay-at-home orders. The website included tips on talking with children about COVID-19, resources for at-home learning, mindfulness and self-care, healthy eating and physical activity and online teaching tools.

Dr. Cecilia Orphan, assistant professor in the Department of Higher Education, played an instrumental role in advocating for rural higher education institutions. In partnership with the Joyce Foundation, Orphan has begun to co-lead a grant-funded study totaling $101,000 with the newly-launched Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges. This work will identify how rural public higher education institutions are being impacted in real-time by COVID-19 budget shocks due to state funding cuts and rising costs associated with virus mitigation.

At MCE’s Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center, Dr. Phil Strain, director, and his team of experts were very concerned that preschool children with disabilities would be more likely to experience negative consequences from the pandemic. In response, PELE created valuable resources for early care and education providers serving children with autism. The center provided weekly guidance for adult family members with children at home on topics such as building positive routines and creating visual supports. PELE’s reach in the pandemic has been extensive. The center additionally supported school districts across multiple states, including Colorado, Iowa, Oregon and Washington to implement ideas and address real-time concerns.

MCE’s interdisciplinary work in the midst of the pandemic signifies the impact of working together. In moments of uncertainty this year, we thought it was very important to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of our students. Although the celebrations looked different, the message and sentiment were the same. We recognized 30 remarkable students who showcased their research, leadership and commitments to equity and social justice across their fields of study during our virtual Student Awards Ceremony.

Additionally, the Class of 2020 graduated into a world where they would truly have an opportune moment to make an impact. Thanks to Dr. Karen Riley, dean, Dr. Mark Engberg, associate dean, each of our department chairs and MCE alumni, more than 300 of our graduates were sent off with well wishes to acknowledge their major milestones with family and friends across the globe online.

MCE remains committed to using education as a tool for creating positive social change in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. At the time of finalizing this report, the college has come together again in unprecedented ways, and across disciplines, to identify existing efforts and to initiate new opportunities that will create meaningful change within the college, academy and broader community in the pursuit of racial justice. 

While we embark on the road ahead, 2020 has solidified that when we work together, we will all continue to make an impact.

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