Measuring creativity has historically been a difficult and expensive endeavor, one which psychologists and educators believe is important, but is often out of reach. Since the 1970’s, many in the industry have used The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a fantastic resource but a significant cost for a budget-limited school district. Enter University of Denver (DU) Morgridge College of Education professors Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak, who are launching a free website to score creativity assessments.

Drs. Dumas and Organisciak

Drs. Denis Dumas and Peter Organisciak, Assistant Professors of Research Methods and Information Science and developers of the free Open Creativity Scoring website.

Dumas and Organisciak, both Assistant Professors of Research Methods and Information Science, have found a powerful synergy for the scientific study of creativity. Dumas’ previous research has focused on educational and psychological measurement, and Organisciak focuses on large-scale text analysis rooted in information science. Dumas’ office in Morgridge College is adjacent to Organisciak’s, and the two realized that they could collaborate on something big.

In the past year, Dumas and Organisciak have focused on automatically and reliably scoring creativity assessments such as the Alternate Uses Task (AUT). The AUT is an activity where participants are given an object—a boring, everyday object, such as a book or a cup—and have a time limit to list as many ideas as possible to use that object in an atypical, ‘alternate’ way.

Their collaboration works like this: Dumas administers the AUT to participants, and Organisciak developed code for an online algorithm, where Dumas can upload the responses he collects. The algorithm scores the alternate uses task – something previously only done by a handful of other institutions, typically at significant cost. The two realized their creation could change how psychologists approach creativity testing. No longer limited by cost, this could open doors for universal testing in vulnerable school districts or psychological clinics with little resources.

With funding from a Morgridge College flowback grant, Dumas and Organisciak built a free and open website where individuals using the AUT can upload their responses and have them scored. This week their website, Open Creativity Scoring, is set to launch, and they could not be more excited.

Dumas and Organisciak see this work as one step in a larger trend of using computing to break free of the restraints of close-ended responses in psychological testing.

“One of the biggest limitations in educational and psychological testing is our reliance on multiple choice items,” said Dumas, explaining that often psychologists or educators use multiple-choice tests because open-ended scoring is too expensive to be within reach.

“We’ve spent the past few years focused on improving what we know about measuring creativity. With the website, we can make that work accessible to practitioners and other researchers,” said Organisciak. “Both testing and studying creativity has been difficult in the past, and we’re eager to see what others can do with access to a reliable, consistent way to measure it.”

“Our work, when you put it together, opens a really important door,” Dumas continued. “We are greater than the sum of our parts and I think it has to do with Morgridge. At most universities, we might have been herded into our own disciplinary silos and never met each other, but here we are really encouraged to work in an interdisciplinary way. Had our offices not been close, we would not have realized our potential.”

So far, everything from their research has been made free, something they prioritize in order to make an impact. According to Organisciak, this is a way to make state of the art research assessible to everyone. He stresses that many people don’t have access to an academic journal to read a paper about writing an algorithm, but with this website, they don’t have to.

The graduating president of the College of Education Student Association is ready for his next chapter.

When Sajjid Budhwani arrived at Morgridge College of Education in 2016 to get his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, he never wanted to be a teacher. He never wanted to work in a school system. He came to Morgridge from Mumbai with an MBA in Marketing, an undergraduate degree in finance and auditing, and years of experience in the business world. What was Sajjid doing at Morgridge, exactly?

Sajjid’s research interests led him to the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program. His dream is to be an educational researcher, focused on improving educational equity and close the opportunity gap through leveraging geospatial research methods, tools, and statistics.

“I want to focus on leveraging Geographic Information System (GIS) to be able to visibly show my research to educators,” Budhwani said. “This is a powerful tool. Social science research can make the most out of GIS. Through asking space and place-based questions, educational researchers, policymakers, and leaders need to continue to grow their capacity in this domain.”

When it came time to decide on his dissertation research, Budhwani wanted to take a transdisciplinary approach.

“I presented my case to my advisor, department chair, and to the Associate Dean, Dr. Mark Engberg,” he said. “They were truly very kind and supportive. Of course, there were hiccups on the way. Challenges are inevitable, especially if you choose to walk the road that is less travelled by others. You need to be persistent and goal-oriented if you need something that badly!”

His dream got one step closer to reality when he was selected by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) as part of the 2018-2020 Jackson Scholars Network (JSN). The JSN develops future faculty of color for the field of educational leadership and policy. UCEA facilitates the development of a robust pipeline of faculty and graduate students of color in the field of educational leadership. As a result, Barbara Jackson Scholars and Alumni enhance the field of educational leadership and UCEA with their scholarship and expertise.

“This has been sort of a dream for me,” he said, referring to the scholarship. “Through the JSN network I am connected to my mentor, Dr. Jayson Richardson [University of Kentucky]. He has been incredibly supportive of my goals. His research interests includes Educational Leadership, School Technology Leadership, and Comparative Education to name a few.”

Besides his mentor, Sajjid also has very high regards and appreciation for his advisor-cum-dissertation director, Dr. Erin Anderson.

“She walks along with you and makes effort to ensure we cross the finishing line,” he said.

His mentor and dissertation director provided several opportunities for Sajjid to leverage his GIS expertise through publication, several paper presentations, and inter-university research collaborations.

Sajjid is graduating this Spring, 2020. “I have just a few days left before I graduate. As I reflect on my journey here at the University of Denver (DU), I think that it was incredible and the most stupendous one. I feel extremely privileged and blessed to have such a wonderful family here at Morgridge College. Our deans are fantastic! Department chairs are truly amazing. Faculty, staff and the Ricks Center for Gifted Children – all have been extremely supportive of my goals, interests, and aspirations! It didn’t feel like I was alone in this journey. Morgridge College was my village, my true asset!”

After graduation, Sajjid’s new and permanent home will be in Toronto, Canada, the dream city of his childhood. He will be working remotely for a company in the United States and feels fortunate to be able to do so. According to Budhwani, he was able to secure his job because of the opportunities presented to him through his time at Morgridge College.

“Although I will be moving to a neighboring country,” he said, “I’m indebted to Morgridge College and University of Denver at large.”

Dr. Mike Hoa Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, was selected as the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Dissertation Award by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans Special Interest Group (REAPA SIG). REAPA promotes inquiry into educational and equity issues affecting Asian and Pacific Americans, facilitates interdisciplinary discussions around these issues, and provides members with colleagueship and support. We recently talked to Mike about his award, what is next in his career, and advice he has for students entering the writing phase of their academic journey.

First, can you tell me your dissertation title? My dissertation is entitled: “Building Capacity at Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI): Cultivating Leaders and Civic Engagement through Federal Policy.” And per the legislation that created AANAPISIs, capacity building is one of their primary charges. Thus, and quite simply, my study uncovers and explains the process in which AANAPISIs build capacity. However, I wanted to get a deeper sense of how these institutions build capacity for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and what that means to those who are involved with this initiative on campus. In doing so, I found that AANAPISIs, through a very intentional and methodical process, develop and cultivate leaders – these are leaders within the student population, but also among staff, faculty, and administrators. Many provided leadership within their own academic units, but also in their local communities and for national projects – all with the desire to enhance equity and justice for AAPI populations. And so, an argument that I make is that AANAPISIs are a race-conscious federal policy that can fulfill its legislative requirement, of building capacity in order to serve AAPI students, but in doing so, AANAPISIs can simultaneously develop leaders who are driven to serve their communities, both internal and external to the institution.

Why did you pick this topic for your dissertation? Prior to starting graduate school, I worked as a Congressional staffer in United States House of Representatives. During that time, I worked on a number of exciting projects, where my most favorite initiatives revolved around higher education; and specifically, on Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), including AANAPISIs. In that position, I was able to serve as a liaison for several institutions as they strived towards becoming an AANAPISI. From there, I knew that I wanted to study these very special colleges and universities. I observed that they were able to do so much with so little, while building environments that validated the lives of their students, while also enhancing the capacity of their staff and faculty towards these efforts.

How does your life experience play into your work? What draws you to this subject and research area? My background in government and public policy greatly informs my work. I certainly bring my lens as a former Congressional staffer to my research. And without a doubt, that impacts the way I think about educational issues and the types of questions I’d like to answer. Given my approach, I’m fascinated by MSIs and AANAPISIs because of their ability to help us rethink the potential of postsecondary education. Additionally, given that MSIs are a federally designated and funded initiative, that specifically focuses on students of color, it is one of the few areas where our government affirmatively declares a commitment to race and issues of great importance for communities of color (i.e., a federally funded race-conscious policy). With that in mind, can the federal government do more and do better? Certainly, with federal policy there is always greater potential, and my research aims to engage with policy makers in order to provide precise interventions – so that we can collectively enhance this critical work.

How does it feel to win? It is a great honor to be selected by my peers and colleagues for this award. I hope that it helps bring much needed visibility to AANAPISIs, and to their students, staff, faculty, and administrators. If you are ever able to visit an AANAPISI, or any MSI, chances are you will find some really amazing and resilient students, and a committed team of staff, faculty, and administrators who will do anything to support them. As I wrote in my dissertation, I am grateful to all of those who have labored to advance the important work of AANAPISIs, and have great hope for their AAPI students.

What is next in your career? From a professional standpoint, I hope to continue partnering with more AANAPISIs and MSIs, and build upon this work. From a personal one, I hope that my research will benefit those who study and work at AANAPISIs, as well as help policy makers who are charged with oversight and appropriations. Additionally, I will continue to bring this work into the classroom. A bit of an unashamed plug, but I teach the MSI seminar and hope that students who are curious about this important institutional type will join us!

What advice can you give to those entering the dissertation-writing phase of their education? For my runners out there, and at the risk of sounding cliché, the dissertation is a marathon not a sprint. And while you are developing your proposal, collecting and analyzing data, or writing up the findings, or really at any point or stage, it may actually feel more like an ultra-marathon. And so, it is so important to find a topic that you are passionate about and drives you.  That will sustain you. Additionally, as isolating as it may feel, be sure to engage with your classmates, staff, faculty, other scholars in the field. Doing so will bring context, perspective, and energy. Finally, I can promise that if you put in the work, it will be a great dissertation – something that you will be proud of. But on the other hand, as one of my professors told me, “a great dissertation is a completed dissertation!”

With support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver is pleased to announce its partnership with Northwestern University’s Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences to develop a “Baby Toolbox,” a multi-dimensional set of brief, royalty-free measures to assess cognitive, sensory, motor and emotional function that can be administered in two hours or less across diverse study designs and settings. Dr. Douglas H. Clements, co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute, serves as the math content lead for this award and Dr. Julie Sarama, also co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute, is a contributing member of the research team.

The “NIH  Baby  Toolbox” (NBT) will be a valid, normed battery of tablet-based (or scored) measures of cognition, social functioning, language (receptive and expressive), numeracy, self-regulation, executive function and potentially motor development of infants and toddlers ages 1 – 42 months. This design is modeled after the  NIH  Toolbox  test battery for ages 3-85, which Morgridge College Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and professor, Dr. Jeanine Coleman, have used in their Cognitive Measures research project for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Prior to the creation of the NIH toolboxes, there were many studies that collected information on aspects of neural function (cognition, sensation, motor, emotion) with little uniformity among the measures used to assess these constructs. Moreover, few studies included capturing information in all four domains because including such breadth of information would be costly in terms of time and subject burden.

With the Toolbox, researchers can now assess function using a common metric and can “crosswalk” among measures, supporting the pooling and sharing of large data sets. The NIH Toolboxes support scientific discovery by bringing a common language to important research questions both with respect to the primary study aims and to those arising from secondary data analyses. The four batteries provide researchers with streamlined measures that have minimal subject burden and cost.

Additional university research teams collaborating on the project are Florida State University, University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University.

Expecting change and quickly being able to pivot has become part of life during the pandemic. Among the many challenges facing mental health and education providers is distance learning and assessment. Rising to the challenge is Dr. Jeanine Coleman, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education. Coleman, along with Morgridge College Professor Emerita, Dr. Toni Linder, and Colorado Department of Education Child Find Specialist Dr. Christopher Miller, published updated guidelines for online play-based assessments to allow specialists to continue to serve families and children in need.

The existing Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) measures four critical developmental domains—sensorimotor, emotional and social, communication, and cognitive—through observation of the child’s play with family members, peers, and professionals. As data shows, early intervention is especially important from birth to age three to help infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays to learn many key skills and catch up in their development. Stopping these assessments because of COVID-19 is not an option, because children need all of the help they can get during this crucial time of their life.

Their publication, Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) Online Guidance, outlines a set of guidelines for how to use TPBA2 online. As the publication notes, “The TPBA2 process has always involved an adult playing with a child while professionals observe the engagement and interaction. Parent–child play is part of that process, and a video of the session is recommended for the team to review. Moving to an online system, where the team is not physically present, requires some interesting modifications.”

These modifications include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, how to support parents so they can use the video platforms, preparing for the online play session, and virtual family involvement.

According to one local Child Find Coordinator, “We have done five TPBAs remotely so far and they have gone well with family coaching.”

Though not perfect, the team published their adapted guidelines and are asking for feedback. As the process evolves, it is important to refine their publication to meet the needs of the community.

Already one school psychologist out of California has asked for a set of guidelines in Spanish, but also noted her appreciation of the project.

“Thank you for supporting educators in the special education realm with your TPBA2 virtual assessment and webinar,” she wrote. “It was very helpful and provided a clear direction on how to implement and go about the process logistically. We are going to be maximizing the opportunity to implement it in our early education program.”

Dr. Judy Marquez Kiyama, Associate Professor of Higher Education, has been awarded the 2020 Parent and Family Relations Knowledge Community (PFRKC) Outstanding Contribution to Literature Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) for her work with Dr. Casandra Harper, Associate Professor, University of Missouri.

Kiyama and Harper have created a body of research that helps the field of higher education counteract the widely used characterizations of parents as helicopters, bulldozers, and lawnmowers. Through their publications, they demonstrate how engagement with families of first-generation, low-income, and students of color can lead to inclusive paradigms of student success.

“I am very grateful to receive this recognition from the PFRKC, particularly because members of the PFRKC are involved in daily efforts to engage parents and families in inclusive and supportive ways,” said Kiyama. “I am also grateful to be able to carry out this research alongside Dr. Harper.”

The 2020 Parent and Family Relations Knowledge Community Outstanding Contribution to Literature Award was established in 2017 to recognize a professional in the field of parent and family programs who has had an important impact on the body of knowledge about, and practices of, engaging parents and families in an institution of higher learning and whose achievements have advanced this profession on any of its aspects. Award winners are chosen by the PFRKC , which is comprised of about a dozen members across the United States whose work support the advancement and impact the parent and family population has on the success of college students. Together, the committee discussed and selected the nominee who met and scored high on the following criteria:

  • The nomination contributes to the field of higher education.
  • The nomination contributes to the topic of engaging parents and families through research, scholarly work, or other publication.
  • The nomination recognizes work published within 5 years.

Dr. Kathy Adams Riester, Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Executive Associate Dean of Students at Indiana University, who nominated Kiyama and Harper, said in her nomination they demonstrate how engagement with families of first-generation, low-income, and students of color can lead to inclusive paradigms of student success. They offer a new conceptual framework of parental engagement, The Model of Parent Characteristics, Engagement, and Support, that offers institutions an alternative way to view the engagement that families of first-generation, low-income, and students of color provide but that might be missed by the institution (Kiyama & Harper, 2018).”

Riester continued, “The value of their work over the past five years is that they have sought to understand the experiences of this population and have captured the voices of their participants, including both the families of first-generation college students, and the staff and administrators who help serve them in their work on campus. The implications that they offer are then applicable to both families and institutions, with the onus for change laying almost exclusively with institutions.”

“It is an honor knowing that our scholarship offers the possibility of informing practice,” Kiyama said. “The next phases of our work include developing a quantitative measure and further exploring how components of the model influence student success.”

In the Spring of 2018, before Dr. Phil Strain and his team from the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center made their official move to the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, Strain collaborated with Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and Dr. Elaine Belanksy, director of the Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE), on a pilot virtual learning series focused on early childhood education through the newly launched ECHO-DU, a hub-and-spoke model of distance learning with a home base inside Morgridge College. The three leaders, in addition to Hema Visweswaraiah, Director at Morgridge’s Fisher Early Learning Center, put together a proposal for Constellation Philanthropy, a community of individual funders working together to increase philanthropic investment in early childhood development in Colorado.

The proposal outlined a pilot project to increase the capacity of early childhood educators in underserved communities in order to provide inclusive educational opportunities for all children. According to the literature, the primary barrier to inclusion is not developmental status or cognitive or physical challenges, but rather problem behavior. Through this ECHO-DU series, educators and therapists would learn the tools to manage problem behaviors in their classrooms and create an atmosphere where children with special needs can learn with their typically developing peers. The Morgridge College team, led by Strain, would begin by teaching the Strain-authored Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTRYC) method. Internally, Morgridge College would leverage the connections of Belansky in rural Colorado, its existing urban partnerships to ensure this information would be widely available to communities who need it, and the invaluable daily lived experiences of the staff from the Fisher Early Learning Center.

Through relationships, research, and reporting, Constellation Philanthropy helps donors invest wisely so all of Colorado’s children can have a great start in life. Kate Kennedy Reinemund, Executive Director of Constellation Philanthropy, was already aware of Morgridge College’s work in this arena through her personal connection to Fisher. She was blown away when Riley came to talk to her about this project.

“When Karen came to talk to us about this proposal, she had an energy that was contagious,” Reinemund recalled. “We were so impressed with the use of new technology to reach students and families who would otherwise go without.”

Other funders to Constellation, including the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, Piton Foundation, Zoma Foundation, and many individuals, felt the same. They decided to fund the very first ECHO at the University of Denver. ECHO-DU is unique, because while most ECHO sites across the world focus on healthcare, ECHO-DU is one of a few focused on the P-20 education system. ECHO-DU participants collaborate with other educators in a case-based learning environment in order to learn about evidence-based practices and develop advanced skills related to mental health, school health-wellness, and school leadership. This pilot project would set the bar for other ECHO-DU projects and address a key finding of the Colorado Early Workforce Survey 2017, by helping teachers build the skills to meet the care and learning needs of children with special needs and challenging behaviors in order to increase the opportunities for inclusion for all children across the state.

The project launched with two ECHO-DU cohorts in the Spring of 2019. The cohorts totaled 35 participants, and each participant had direct contact with 20-25 children, for a total of 700-875 children impacted by the pilot. Additionally, participants became “specialists” in PTRYC and are now able to serve as a resource for the other teachers and children in his or her center or school, potentially impacting hundreds of additional children. The program served to build capacity, which is the vision of Project ECHO globally.

The use of ECHO-DU created a network of practitioners, especially in rural areas, who are now able to use a child and family-centered approach that, with continued implementation, could adequately support both the short and long term social and emotional outcomes of young children and inclusion. Participants were hungry for information and extremely engaged both between and within sessions; for many participants, this was their first exposure to PTRYC or to any evidence-based process for reducing challenging behavior.

“We [Constellation] look for what we call the ‘stickiness factor’,” said Reinemund. “We want to fund evidence-based, high quality programs with scalability. We love how DU takes resources and sees how they can get into the community with maximum potential.”

Strain agrees with Reinmund on the importance of the stickiness factor.

“In the course of my 45-year career I have had the good fortune to hold faculty positions in Schools of Medicine and Education,” he said. “One thing that both fields have in common is a gross disparity between known evidence-based practices and the use of these practices in typical settings.”

According to Strain, the time between vital information appearing in a journal and its appearance in everyday practice can approach two decades. He identifies this lag time as a waste of resources, depriving clients of the most effective services and disproportionately discriminating against the already underserved.

“ECHO-DU is perhaps the most effective antidote to this problem that we have,” he said. “This initial trial, generously supported by Constellation, provided invaluable data about how ECHO-DU can be utilized in the delivery of a very complex behavioral intervention for extreme problem behaviors in young children.”

As a result of the pilot, the PELE Center has adapted all of its distance training and coaching efforts to reflect ECHO-DU learnings.

“The impact of the initial gift from Constellation Philanthropy cannot be overstated,” said Riley.  “It not only successfully funded this program, which will benefit hundreds of children with special needs and their families, it launched ECHO-DU and serves as an exemplar for how this technology, which was originally designed for use in medicine, can advance evidence based practices in education and other fields.”

Nancy O’Sullivan, ECHO-DU Program Manager, says it was because of Constellation’s generosity that Morgridge College was able to build much of the ECHO-DU infrastructure.

“The experience and knowledge we gained were used to successfully launch three more ECHO series within six months after finishing the PTRYC pilot,” O’Sullivan said.

Those ECHO series were: Behavioral Health Solutions for Rural Schools (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 68 registered participants; Empathy and Social Emotional Learning (mindSpark & ECHO-DU), with 75 registered participants; and Wellness Coordinators Make It Happen (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 23 registered participants.

According to O’Sullivan, “Based on our initial pilots and continued success in the virtual professional development space, we have many other groups interested in using ECHO-DU to build capacity in their region.”

Clearly, the ECHO in ECHO-DU is making an impact.

“I am so grateful to Kate Reinemund and her staff as well as all of the Constellation Philanthropy partners for their support,” Riley added. “This was a new project and their sponsorship and vision have allowed this to become a reality, resulting in lasting impact for our community for years to come.”

Jesse Owen, PhD, Professor and former chair of our Counseling Psychology department, was awarded a $2M, multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how psychotherapy can contribute to people being able to live more meaningful lives.

In an effort to build out psychotherapists’ toolkit for understanding the role of virtues in psychiatric patients’ well-being, Owen and Dr. Steven Sandage, Psychology of Religion and Theology at Boston University, are leading a multi-year, multi-site investigation to measure whether growth in gratitude, forgiveness, and humility can predict — or even help to cause — growth in general flourishing and well-being among mental health clients.

“I am excited for the possibilities to explore client and therapist flourishing, to promote what we all truly want — to live the good life,” Owen said of the new grant, which begins April 2020 and closes March 2023.

During this pressing time, we wanted to share some good news. We hope that you can pause and reflect for a moment on the hard work that the Morgridge community – our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, parents and community members – have contributed to the College in the past several years to get us to this point. In this moment, we have a lot to be thankful for, and we are thankful for all your contributions.

We are happy to announce that the Morgridge College of Education has jumped 22 spots in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, a reflection of the College’s continued dedication to improving lives by advancing systemic solutions to complex societal challenges. Morgridge made the list at 112 out of 200 in the top graduate schools in education.

“This type of recognition is wonderful, but what is truly impressive is what these numbers represent,” said Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley. “These numbers denote years of work on the part of every member of our community and reflect our collective commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship. This type of success would also not be possible without thoughtful and deep collaborations with our community partners.”

For several years, Morgridge College’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program has earned a spot in the top programs in the nation. This time, the program came in at number 25 for Education Administration on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list, released March 17. New to the top 25 rankings is Morgridge College’s Teacher Education Program, ranked 18 in the nation for Secondary Education.

Both programs at Morgridge have deep community partnerships, which allow their students to connect theory to practice while receiving invaluable experience, setting them apart from competitors. The Teacher Education Program specifically offers an Urban Teacher Fellowship (UTF), an innovative one-year program made possible by a partnership between Morgridge College and Denver Public Schools. The goal of UTF is to support teacher fellows and provide them with the resources and experiences necessary to ensure that all children have access to highly-trained educators. The Ritchie Program for School Leaders, part of the Educational Leadership program, involves partnerships with several school districts across the state and immerses students in graduate-level coursework and project-based learning that prepares them to meet challenges within complex systems. Each student’s experience is customized to their individual needs and the school where they work.

“At a time when fewer people are entering the field of education we could not be prouder of the impact of these two programs,” continued Dr. Riley. “Facilitating the development of exemplary classroom teachers and school leaders is not only central to our mission as a college of education, but has a cascading effect. Our faculty, students, staff and alumni are working every day to improve the lives of children and families in our communities.” Read Dr. Riley’s Q&A on the teacher shortage in the U.S.

The College of Education traces its roots back to the 1890s when teacher preparation was its primary focus. Today, in addition to teacher preparation, the College has expanded to offer master’s and doctoral degrees in the disciplines across the spectrum of education, wellness, data, information and human development.

Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks professional school programs in business, education, engineering, law, medicine and nursing, including specialties in each area. The Best Graduate Schools rankings in these areas are based on two types of data: Expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students.

The data for the rankings in all six disciplines comes from statistical surveys of more than 2,081 programs and from reputation surveys sent to more than 24,603 academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2019 and early 2020.

Just like their urban counterparts, school districts in rural Colorado confront plenty of daunting health and wellness challenges — everything from hungry children to students stressed by family turmoil and economic instability.

But unlike their urban peers, rural districts typically confront their challenges under the radar. For all their assets (think close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone’s name), rural districts often are hampered by tiny staffs, minimal support and scant access to resources.

The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education aims to help change that. Armed with two recent grants totaling $5.1 million from the Colorado Health Foundation, the CRSHE will spend the next two years equipping 27 high-poverty rural school districts with the support, evidence-based resources and professional development essential to fostering student health and wellness. Read the full story.

The University of Denver Morgridge College of Education (MCE)’s Marsico Institute of Early Learning has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to embark on a new research collaboration with Boulder Valley School District to research evidence-based interventions to support teachers.

“ULTIMATE” (Understanding Learning Trajectories in Mathematics: Advancing Teacher Education), under the direction of Drs. Douglas H. Clements, Julie Sarama, from Morgridge College of Education, and Dr. Douglas Ready from Teachers College, Columbia University, is a five-year grant totaling $4,575,683. Despite the documented importance of early mathematics and of teachers as a critical lever in facilitating its development, there are stunningly few evidence-based interventions available to support teachers. Over two decades, Clements and Sarama have built a professional development tool, called Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories, or [LT]2, a web-based tool for early childhood educators to learn about how children think and learn about mathematics and how to teach mathematics to young children (birth to age 8).

The DU team will work with Boulder Valley School District teachers, blending high quality in-person professional development with the [LT]2 professional development. The grant will allow DU to collaborate with teachers in deepening their understanding of how children learn mathematics and how they can incorporate this knowledge into their instruction.

According to Sarama, “This funding from NSF allows us to directly contribute to teachers of early mathematics and to the hundreds of children they serve, while producing rigorous research that documents the power of teachers’ understanding children’s thinking—serving as a model for the rest of the nation.”

The Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE) at the University of Denver (DU) has a vision for happy, healthy children and families living in vibrant rural communities. The Colorado Health Foundation has stepped in to “Make it Happen” with a $4.9 million grant awarded to CRSHE to increase healthy eating and physical activity among high poverty, rural students and school staff. CRSHE, already a known partner in rural Colorado, will build on existing partnerships with 27 rural school districts to support them in implementing community-driven comprehensive health and wellness plans. CRSHE’s involvement in this process is key; it helps rural districts identify and successfully implement culturally relevant evidence-based practices. The Make it Happen grant period kicked off in October with expected completion in Oct. 2021.

“I’m excited for our rural school district partners. They’ve worked hard to develop thoughtful health and wellness plans and now have both financial resources and CRSHE support to put those plans in place,” said CRSHE Executive Director, Elaine Belansky, PhD.

According to Belansky, one of the top concerns of rural districts is mental health. With that in mind, CRSHE is also launching The Resiliency Project, specifically designed to complement Make it Happen by promoting youth mental health and resiliency. This effort is also generously funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and makes it possible for CRSHE to continue providing hands-on support in rural Colorado through in person meetings with rural educators to discuss mental health promotion strategies and a regional convening to share the latest best practices and school success stories. CRSHE will capitalize on DU’s state-of-the-art ECHO-DU technology, a virtual professional learning tool, in order to provide rural educators information about the latest best practices on topics such as social-emotional learning, suicide prevention, and bullying prevention.

“I’m thankful to the Colorado Health Foundation for recognizing that youth mental health is a top priority in rural Colorado school districts,” continued Belansky. “Allotting funds to address that need allows all of us to keep the momentum going.”

As a leader in Colorado’s Creede School District, Grants Manager and Health and Wellness Coordinator Lauren Sheldrake is looking at ways Make it Happen and the Resiliency Project can impact her constituents.

“In the past year, we have seen a significant increase in the mental health needs of our students and staff,” Sheldrake said. “The grant and these partnerships can open a door to addressing Colorado’s mental health crisis, creating the vibrant communities CRSHE envisions.”

Over the weekend, Elaine was able to chat with Colorado Public Radio about the project and ways the funding will be used in rural districts.

Colorado kicked off its annual legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 8. Prior to the session, Chalkbeat Colorado brought its annual Legislative Preview to the Morgridge College of Education for a collaboration and lively panel discussion on what to expect from Colorado’s upcoming legislative session on Friday, Jan. 3. Chalkbeat Bureau Chief, Erica Meltzer, moderated the discussion and was joined on the panel by State Rep. James Coleman, State Rep. Colin Larson, State Sen. Paul Lundeen, and State Sen. Nancy Todd.

According to Chalkbeat’s breakdown of the panel, here is what we can expect for the legislative session, which kicked off on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

  • Lawmakers have heard from Colorado voters loud and clear: No new taxes for education.
  • Without new money, one area where lawmakers seem poised to make changes is strengthening teacher preparation programs.
  • School accountability is here to stay.
  • Lawmakers want to see school funding distributed in a more equitable manner. But if some students get more money, that means others will get less.
  • Gov. Polis’s $27 million preschool expansion plan faces an uphill battle in the legislature.

You can read Chalkbeat’s full recap here and watch the recorded livestream video below (or on Facebook) of the morning panel discussion.

Rick Ginsberg (00’) is an alumnus of Morgridge College of Education’s Counseling Psychology PhD program. With over 25 years of experience in Psychology, the former owner of Beacon View Consulting, LLC recently accepted a position as president of the Colorado Psychological Association. Here, Ginsberg graciously discusses his new role, his goals for the future, and offers advice for newcomers in the field.

Tell me about your new(ish) role with the Colorado Psychological Association (CPA). What excites you about this position? I am currently the president of the Colorado Psychological Association (CPA) and began my term this past July. CPA is the oldest, and largest, professional organization of psychologists not only in Colorado, but in the entire Rocky Mountain region, and has been in existence since the 1940s. Our motto and mission is that the organization is the “The Voice of Psychology in Colorado”, and through its history CPA has really proven that to be the case, whether that has been educating psychologists and consumers and their support systems of the benefits of quality mental health treatment; providing training and educational services to psychologists to enable them to do their work more effectively; or working with state legislators to protect the public by ensuring everyone who practices in the field is well trained, maintaining ethical standards, and advocating for people with mental health needs. What excites me most about having the honoring as serving as CPA’s president is working alongside incredibly talented, creative, committed, and innovative psychologists who want to ensure that the field is vibrant and impactful in Colorado. When CPA works alongside other mental health partners in the state, be these other professional organizations, consumer advocacy groups, or legislators, one realizes how many people are working every day to improve the lives of others by advancing the various missions of mental health treatment, care, and awareness.

You’ve previously served as a board member of the CPA, specifically as chair of the CPA Legislative Committee and fought for high quality mental health services. As President, what issues do you want to address regarding mental health? Through the years, a great many passionate professionals and laypeople alike have designed plans to address a wide range of mental health issues in the state. CPA has been part of that chorus and almost to a topic, each of these initiatives has its own unique value. The challenge for all of us in the field of psychology, is to take these well-meaning plans and ensure their proper implementation, across time and through a political process that offers a continuing changing landscape in terms of administration and funding. I would say all of CPA, not just me as its president, is specifically committed this year to ensuring that providers of mental health services are well trained and licensed so that quality access can be ensured, and that Colorado joins the other 49 states in demanding that psychotherapy is an identifiable and vital health care service that saves lives, and as such needs to be appropriately regulated by the state. Unfortunately, for too long, Colorado has allowed individuals with little or no training to practice the health care service of psychotherapy. This undercuts its value, increases stigmatization by minimizing the proven medical nature of mental health issues, and continually puts the public at risk. In CPA’s viewpoint, emotional struggles should be normalized as a commonplace phenomenon of simply being human, and mental health awareness and treatment should be seen for what it is – a critical component to anyone’s overall health.

Of the issues you mentioned above, what is Colorado’s biggest challenge in addressing mental health? I look at the state much in the same way that I approach clients, be they individuals or larger systems and organizations; I am convinced that there is nothing wrong with Colorado and how it addresses mental health concerns that can’t be fixed with what is right with how Colorado strives in this area. Obviously, there are enormous challenges that the state faces, from suicide awareness and prevention; to racism, sexism, and other forms of persecution and unfairness to our community which adversely affects everyone’s mental health; to homelessness, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety across the age range of our population; to violence in our communities by means of guns and other methods. I believe the state’s biggest challenge is tapping its immense talent, especially among the community of psychologists, and being creative about identifying problems, offering solutions, mobilizing awareness and action, and shepherding the implementation of innovative, and time-tested interventions that work. When the professionals, consumers, advocates, and legislators work together real change can be made for the benefit of the entire citizenry of the state.

You’re enjoying a tremendous career. How has the University of Denver prepared you for this journey? Any success I’ve had in my career has been directly correlated to the many people who helped teach, mentor, guide, and befriend me along my educational and professional journey – so much of that occurred at DU’s Counseling Psychology Department and the wider DU community. I came to DU’s doctoral program with a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from the University of Oregon, but the depth of my knowledge and growth came from the professors in the department at the time, including, but not limited to Drs. Karen Kitchener, Pat Sherry, Maria Riva, Cyndy McRae, Jesse Valdez, Nick Cutforth, Bobbi Vollmer, and Karen Green. Additionally, the incredible classmates that I shared my educational career with were always indispensable with their wisdom, passion, and good humor – the last being perhaps the most valuable asset when one is undertaking graduate school. These connections, along with all of the incredible professionals I met when in my practica and internships helped me understand how I could try my best to make a valuable contribution to the field.

What do you enjoy most about being a Licensed Psychologist? Undoubtedly what I enjoy most is doing the clinical work when I can sit with people, be honored with the privilege of hearing their stories, be invited into their worlds by offering my assistance, and seeing people’s existing strengths unfold to illuminate pathways forward that they make possible because of their commitment to themselves, their community, and the people and things that they love.

What advice do you have to individuals new to the field or exploring this as a possible career choice? Psychology is an incredibly rewarding field, and it can offer amazing avenues to fulfilling places, but my best advice is to go out and live your life as passionately, kindly, and courageously as you can. In the end, you will learn more about the field and helping others, by learning about life, who you are, and being close to the things in which you believe and love. Take care of yourself and, without reservation, dive into all of the goodness and tragedy and knowledge about life, and you’ll not only figure out if you want to be a psychologist and how to do that well, but you’ll do something even more important – figure out how to be a good person who can live a meaningful life.

On Monday, Dec. 2, educators and community partners from across Denver convened at Morgridge College of Education for the second annual Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Summit. Led by Morgridge College department of Teaching and Learning Sciences (TLS) and the Alumni Office, the SEL Summit is uniquely designed to gather educators (P-12 teachers, counselors, higher education faculty, administrators, social workers, therapists, MCE alumni, etc.) for the purpose of cross-professional education centered on social emotional learning. The summit fosters connections, resource exchanges, and provides information for a community of educators committed to collaboration around SEL integration. The day included whole group presentations, break-out sessions, and small-group discussions. Capped at 130 participants, the SEL summit offers an intimate setting to collaborate.

“The speed with which the RSVPs came in and the diverse roles participants held in education suggests how important social emotional learning is for students and educators,” said Paul Michalec, Phd, Clinical Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, TLS. “Summit participants gained a deeper commitment to SEL, a greater sense of their collaborators inside and outside of school, and a desire to learn more about implementing SEL practices and principles. We are already planning next year’s summit. ”

Watch the recorded livestream video below (or on Facebook) of the lunchtime panel discussion, Collaboration Inside a Local School, featuring representatives from Thomas Jefferson High School, Denver Public Schools.


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