Cecilia Orphan, PhD, assistant professor in the Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Department, is co-leading a Joyce Foundation grant-funded study totaling $101,000 with the newly-launched Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges to 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.

“Many rural public higher education institutions were vulnerable before COVID-19 due to enrollment declines and chronic underfunding from their states,” said Orphan. “These institutions are vital to their regions, because they serve students who would be unlikely to leave their regions to pursue education and educating public health workers and teachers to fill shortages in rural communities.”

The study will showcase the contributions of rural public higher education institutions, focusing on access, attainment, equity, public health, and regional wellbeing, and then shift to explore how such contributions are at risk due to COVID-19. By studying rural postsecondary institutions in real-time, the findings will inform policy recommendations for federal and state policymakers so that they can ensure these institutions survive and continue to fulfill their vital missions in rural regions. At the close of the project, the research team will also create an interactive website with data about rural public colleges that will be available to policymakers and the public.

To conduct the study, Orphan will work with collaborators Kevin McClure, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Watson College of Education, Andrew Koricich, associate professor at Appalachian State University and Alisa Hicklin Fryar, associate professor at The University of Oklahoma.

The study is currently underway. Findings will be described in a policy brief and website set to be released in November, 2020. For more information, visit the Open Campus Weekly Dispatch.

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.”

This year, we held the MCE Day of Celebration to celebrate our graduating students on Thursday, June 11 at 3 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). While we couldn’t celebrate in person this year, we have recorded a very special video to honor our students. Watch the video on our MCE Day of Celebration page.
This year’s MCE Student Awards Ceremony took place virtually on Friday, June 5 at 4 p.m. While we coudn’t celebrate in person this year, we recorded a very special online ceremony to honor our student awardees. Watch the video on our 2020 Student Awards Ceremony page.

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.

The University of Denver (DU) is launching a new University-wide You Rock! Award. The You Rock! program honors faculty and staff for their accomplishments large and small, and is based on a similar initiative from the Morgridge College of Education. Members of the DU community can nominate a colleague for their good work, and recipients will receive a certificate with the details of the submission and be celebrated in monthly University communications.

With the cooperation of the Morgridge College of Education, Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs, Kate Willink borrowed an idea born of the unit’s Inclusive Excellence Committee. You Rock! started as a popular recognition program out of the dean’s office and has grown over the years into an important part of the college’s culture. Morgridge faculty and staff keep a stack of You Rock! slips close at hand. When they see something worthy of appreciation, they write up a You Rock! form, including the person to receive the recognition, a little bit about what they did and which of the college’s values best fit the deed. These forms end up in a jar in the dean’s office. Every other week, a name is drawn to win a prize and all the forms are distributed to the recipients. Dean Karen Riley notes that many people save their You Rock! forms, proudly displaying them pinned to bulletin boards and taped to the walls of their offices.

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.”

At Morgridge, we are committed to Inclusive Excellence. Hear more from our faculty about how they integrate Inclusive Excellence into their individual classrooms in the video below.

Special thanks goes out to HED student, Nathan Willers, for compiling these faculty videos!

Patricia Garcia, a current Counseling Psychology Master’s student, was recently featured in a DU Newsroom profile story as part of the University’s coverage of graduation and commencement. Patricia is graduating this spring and reflects on her experience in the CP MA program at Morgridge.

“One of the big things that this program does is we immediately get immersed in doing counseling,” she says. Garcia especially enjoyed testing her counseling skills at The Bridge Project, a free after-school and tutoring program run by DU’s Graduate School of Social Work.

“I was able to work with a lot of immigrants and people from different cultures and countries. It was this melting pot of cultures,” she says. “It was pretty much interacting with the kids from the time you got there until you left.”

Looking ahead to June, when she receives her hard-earned master’s degree, she’s poised to help and understand people all the better. Garcia plans to return to New Mexico to work with populations that face the same challenges she once confronted.

I am excited to announce that Dr. Ryan Gildersleeve has accepted the role of Associate Dean at the Morgridge College of Education, effective August 1, 2020. Please join me in congratulating Ryan on his new role and welcoming him to our leadership team.

As you may know, Ryan joined the Morgridge faculty team in 2012. He was promoted to Professor of Higher Education in 2018, and he previously served as the Program Coordinator and Department Chair for the Higher Education Department from 2013-18.

Throughout his roles in the college, Ryan’s commitment to equity, inclusive excellence, and justice has become evident in both his scholarship and instruction. His leadership in these areas has been pivotal to both the Higher Education Department and the college, engaging students in research, policy, and practice to understand and transform education systems.

Ryan’s work has been active in local, national and international contexts. During his recent sabbatical, he spent time as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Spencer Foundation in Chicago, a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Higher Education Futures in Denmark, and a Visiting Scholar-in-Residence for Equity and Inclusion at Colorado Mountain College. At the University of Denver (DU) campus, he has contributed significantly to efforts related to DU Impact 2025, the Morgridge Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee, and serves as the Morgridge liaison to the Center for Professional Development.

Ryan is also the Executive Editor of About Campus, the leading practitioner-focused journal in higher education/student affairs. Currently, he is co-editing a book tentatively titled, “Transforming the University: New academic realities, new institutional hope” with international contributors from the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society.

Prior to becoming a faculty member, Ryan’s practical experience focused largely in out-of-classroom learning contexts, including elementary after-school learning programs, K-12 summer bridge and college outreach programs, postsecondary residential education, and student leadership development. His research broadly focuses on educational opportunity and historically marginalized groups, contributing to research in the philosophy of higher education, critical policy studies, and critical qualitative research methodologies. His research has engaged significantly with Latinx (im)migrant communities.

From 2012-14, Ryan was also a National Academy of Education Fellow, and he received the 2011 American Educational Research Association Early Career Award from Division D – Research Methodology. He earned his Artium Baccalaureus in Theater from Occidental College and his Master’s in Higher Education and Organizational Change and his PhD in Education from University of California, Los Angeles.

Given Ryan’s vast leadership experiences in higher education, research and inclusive excellence, we are thrilled to have him. In his new role, Ryan will be a key member of the college’s existing leadership team.

Please join me again in congratulating Ryan.

– Dean Karen Riley

With COVID-19 shutting down schools and pushing instruction to the virtual classroom, many parents find themselves with new multitasking challenges. They’re not just parents anymore; they’re also part-time teachers, school counselors and virtual fieldtrip organizers. As director of the University of Denver’s Ricks Center for Gifted Children, Craig Harrer knows a few things about managing learning and tailoring education to the needs of individual students. Harrer shares his expertise in a Q&A with the DU Newsroom.

Craig answers the following:

  • As COVID-19’s toll on lives and the economy mounts, how should parents talk to their children about the virus and the reasons for school shutdowns?
  • Many parents find managing homework a stressful enterprise, much less managing a full schedule of classroom assignments. What’s your best advice to help them get through the school day?
  • How can parents help their children adapt to a virtual classroom?
  • Do you have any tips for parents who have children of different ages?
  • When a family is sheltering at home, what’s the best way to supplement schoolwork?
  • A big part of the school day is social engagement. How can parents — many of whom are working from home — provide that during a time of isolation?

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.”


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