Our Staff

Get to Know Us

Phil S. Strain, Ph.D.


Dr. Phil S. Strain is James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Urban Education at the Morgridge College of Education and Director of the PELE Center, University of Denver. He is the author of over 300 scientific publications, has served on the editorial boards of 22 professional journals and has been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator of grants and contracts totaling over 80 million dollars. He is particularly interested in expanding inclusive preschool options, comprehensive services for young children with autism and prevention and intervention for children with challenging behaviors.

Edward (Ted) Bovey, M.A.


Edward (Ted) Bovey is the Associate Director of the PELE Center at the University of Denver. Ted has worked with young children with autism, children with developmental disabilities and families for over 20 years as an inclusive preschool teacher, early interventionist, researcher, trainer and consultant.  Ted currently works on several state and Federal projects training early childhood professionals in the use of evidence-based practices for young children with ASD, the LEAP Preschool Model, inclusion for young children with disabilities and in the implementation of the Pyramid Model a classroom-based version of Early Childhood Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

Ron Roybal


Ron Roybal is currently working at the University of Denver for the Morgridge College of Education, after 15 at the University of Colorado Denver. His responsibilities have included the LEAP USA and LEAP Outreach projects, the Professional Development in Autism project, the Colorado Autism Project, TACSEI and CSEFEL. He presents at national challenging behavior conferences and professional development/staff development days around the country. Trainings include building relationships, classroom organization and management strategies, social-emotional teaching strategies and understanding and reducing challenging behaviors. Prior to being an educational consultant, Ron was a teacher in an early childhood inclusive classroom for students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and typically developing students. His extensive experience in inclusive classroom settings as a teacher and coach for children with special needs and children at risk or with challenging behaviors bring a unique perspective as a trainer and coach.

Johanna Berry Wasser M.A., ECSE


Johanna Wasser has dedicated her professional career to promoting social-emotional competence and inclusion practices in early childhood education for over 20 years. She received her Master’s in Early Childhood Education and maintains her license as an Early Childhood Special Educator since 2006.  Johanna has worked with children, families and professionals in a variety of settings including home, community, early childhood programs, and public school districts. Before joining the University of Denver, Johanna was employed at the University of Colorado Denver from 2009-2018.  Her roles included Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator for Pyramid Plus Center, research assistance for the Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC) and LEAP Model consultant. When Johanna is not hard at work she enjoys spending time with her family and playing in the mountains.

Alissa Rausch, Ed.D.


Dr. Alissa Rausch is an Assistant Research Faculty Member in the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver.  She has worked as clinical faculty in the early childhood and early childhood special education licensure program at CU Denver. Her work in higher education blossomed from 15 years of practice as an early childhood educator working in inclusive preschool classrooms serving young children and their families. Alissa also had the privilege of serving children from diverse backgrounds and their families in their homes and in community settings. Her current work centers on supporting preservice and in-service practitioners to build their capacity to act as agents of social change and implement quality inclusive practices for young children in the field of early childhood education.

Delphine Cillard-Garcia


Delphine Cillard-Garcia is the part-time Administrative Assistant for the PELE Center within the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. She has held positions as a Marketing Specialist for international marketing and communications projects. She also has experience as an Administrative Assistant within a variety of corporations and non-profit organizations.

Ben Riepe


Ben has 13 years of experience as a Head Start teacher, coach, and trainer. He is on staff at both the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations and the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, where he supports high fidelity program-wide implementation of the Pyramid Model with families of diverse backgrounds in Denver, Colorado. His previous work includes the Colorado Center for Social Emotional Competence and Inclusion, where he supported communities in their efforts to embed evidence-based inclusion practices into their systems and classrooms.

Angie Van Polen


Angie Van Polen is a LEAP Project Manager at the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver. Angie has 20 years of experience in the field of education. She has held positions as a special education teacher, special education consultant and state education agency consultant. Her experiences and background provide her with a strong understanding of inclusive practices at a classroom level, as well as, at a state-wide systems level to inform implementation practices, scale-up and sustainability. Much of her work has been focused on improving systemic scale-up and sustainability while engaging various cross-disciplinary teams to improve agreed-upon outcomes.

Nancy Burdic


Nancy Burdic joined the PELE Center as a Senior Research Associate after a 37-year career serving students in the public school setting. As a Speech/Language Pathologist, her 21 years in Early Childhood Education were the most rewarding of her professional life.  She characterizes her extensive training in the LEAP model as transformative, which in turn, significantly informed her practices as an Early Childhood Education (ECE) classroom provider, ECE instructional coach and ECE department director. Given the substantial research evidence supporting LEAP and her own personal experience using the approach, she is committed to assisting others in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care to achieve the highest outcomes possible for each and every child in their care.

Kelly Wilson


Kelly Wilson rejoins the PELE Center in the role of Senior Research Associate. Kelly began her career with the PELE Center in 2001. She implemented LEAP (Learning Experiences: Alternatives for Preschoolers and Parents) Preschool Model in classrooms supporting teaching staff, families, and administrators with inclusive practices to support all children in their natural settings. She has been training and implementing Pyramid Model practices for almost two decades. Kelly is co-author of Prevent Teach Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, First and Second Edition, and Prevent Teach Reinforce: for Young Children, First and Second Edition. For the past six years. Kelly has worked with Health Care Policy and Financing, our state Medicaid office, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Office of Early Childhood to learn about systemic barriers and implement solutions at state and federal levels. Kelly is excited to rejoin her colleagues at the PELE Center and continue supporting teams, administrators, and state systems in LEAP and other practices that promote and support high quality inclusion.

Dameri Watson


Dameri is a Senior Research Associate with the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center at the University of Denver. Prior to this, Dameri worked for an Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) Program supporting the scale-up of the LEAP Preschool Model in the largest county in Oregon. She also supported providers in understanding and reducing challenging behavior through the use of Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC). Early in her career, Dameri worked as an ECSE teacher in an inclusive preschool setting and continuously ran into the issue of possessing theoretical knowledge of inclusive best-practices but lacking coaching support for high-quality fidelity implementation. After Dameri personally received coaching in the LEAP Preschool Model, it all clicked into place, and she was able to put theory into practice and experience the positive impact on children and families first-hand. Dameri is committed to assisting Early Childhood Education providers, just like she once was, in fostering high-quality inclusive settings that unlock the potential of all children.

Sally Hansen, MA MFT


Sally Hansen is the Director of Development and Technical Assistance for the PELE Center.  She has been working in the field of early childhood education and children’s mental health since 2001. Sally has worked as a teacher and therapist in a therapeutic preschool program, an early childhood education consultant, and as an early childhood program administrator.  Since 2014, Sally has provided technical assistance to early learning programs in Minnesota. She is experienced in designing and delivering professional development using proven adult learning strategies. Sally has extensive experience assisting classroom staff to implement evidence-based practices in inclusive settings, providing coaching to individuals and program leadership teams, and leading a state implementation team for cross-sector collaboration. She holds a B.S. degree in both Psychology and Communication Studies and a M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Jackie Joseph, PhD


Dr. Jackie Joseph is a Research Associate Professor at the PELE Center, where her work promotes high-quality inclusion across the early childhood care and education system. She specifically focuses on family-partnerships and evidence-based strategies for fostering each and every young child’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. Jackie returns to the PELE Center after spending the last few years working in child care administration, bringing with her an applied understanding of implementing and scaling inclusive practices and models, and particularly the LEAP and Pyramid Models.  Dr. Joseph has two young children herself, one of whom has a rare genetic syndrome. Her anti-ableist research and work are strongly influenced by her family’s experiences and center around co-creating inclusion and belonging for all young children, disabled and nondisabled, and their families.