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The College of Education and Human Sciences is Stepping Up Our Commitment to Early Childhood

New Faculty Strengthens Strong Tradition

With a strategic emphasis on collaboration, the College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) is stepping up its commitment to early childhood development in Nebraska and across the globe. CEHS is pleased to announce recent faculty additions that support early childhood. This publication illuminates the diverse background and talents that these early childhood professionals bring to CEHS. These additions represent four departments, further enhancing a college that is well-respected for its scholarship and its impact on early childhood development.

CEHS is investing in the future through the human dimension. These individuals are building long-term partnerships with colleagues throughout the college, across campus, and with early childhood professionals across Nebraska. They will have an impact ranging from the family level to a global level.

CEHS is excited about the diverse expertise of this group that includes child health, child mental health, nutrition, child obesity prevention and neurobiology. Several of these new faculty members are part of a proactive effort of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources to fill strategic needs in high impact areas, including its Healthy Humans initiative.

Outreach through efforts such as UNL Extension and the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute provide additional opportunities for faculty members to make an impact on children and families. Their strong focus in research adds another important dimension to the strategic mission of early childhood at UNL and CEHS. As these passionate individuals collaborate with an established and respected group of faculty and leaders; as they reach out to colleagues and practitioners across campus and in the field; and as they engage with children and families, expect a powerful united force that will have a positive, meaningful and lasting influence here in Nebraska and abroad.

Steven Barlow

Steven Barlow Corwin Moore Professor
Special Education and Communication Disorders

Steven Barlow Corwin Moore Professor
Special Education and Communication Disorders

Steven Barlow has a passion for research and developing innovative therapeutic interventions and new technologies to improve healthcare and feeding for infants. Barlow received his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in speech physiology and neurobiology. Since then his work has taken him to the Boys Town National Institute and Creighton University, Indiana University, and the University of Kansas. From 1991–1994 Barlow was an associate editor for the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research and has trained 25 doctoral students at various levels. Barlow has made more than 175 presentations of scientific material and has been published over 110 times in journals such as Neurology, Journal of Perinatology, Pediatric Research, Brain Research, Experimental Brain Research, NeuroImage, Human Brain Mapping, Journal of Biomechanics, and Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Barlow will continue his research lab that focuses on neurobiology of premature infants. This research uses innovative sensory stimulation during critical periods of development to drive feeding ability, overall brain development and long-term behavioral and learning outcomes. Consequently, the findings of his research are rapidly evolving into therapeutic applications with adults who suffer from neural disorders.

Barlow loves being able to work with students and help them deepen their understanding of the brain. In his lab, Barlow has the pleasure of working with doctoral students in all different areas such as bioengineering, neuroscience, speech- language pathology, human biology, computer science and electrical engineering. Barlow is excited to be a part of the early childhood team at UNL and is enthusiastic about making a difference in peoples’ lives through his research.

Linda Boeckner

Linda Boeckner Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Linda Boeckner Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Reaching limited income families with nutrition education programs is what Linda Boeckner is passionate about. Boeckner received her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in nutrition and has since held positions in the field of teaching and outreach. She has been published in Social Science and Medicine, Nursing Research, Nutrition Research, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior and others.

At UNL, Boeckner serves as a professor of nutrition and a program leader in UNL Extension assisting with efforts that will reach children, youth and families with best nutrition practices for a healthy lifestyle. Her administrative responsibilities include serving as a liaison between extension and CEHS and leveraging resources for extension outreach programs that impact children, youth and families. Boeckner’s research focus is still developing, but she currently oversees an obesity prevention research program that includes graduate student training and provides them with learning opportunities in the community and schools. As program leader, she will be working with teams that specialize in school readiness for children and their success in school. This will bring together multiple perspectives that will impact the early childhood years. Boeckner hopes to foster a premier extension education program that combines social, emotional, mental and physical development of children and youth within the family context, and she believes UNL and CEHS is an ideal setting to reach this goal.

Weiwen Chai

Weiwen Chai Assistant Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Weiwen Chai Assistant Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Nutritional habits and obesity most commonly begin in childhood. That’s why one of Weiwen Chai’s primary research interests is in childhood obesity prevention through nutritional interventions. Chai, who received her Ph.D. in human nutrition at the University of Wyoming, is exploring ways to change eating behaviors and increase physical activity in children, with the involvement of families and schools.

Obesity and cancer are prevalent issues many Americans face. At UNL, Chai will focus her research on nutritional and behavioral prevention in those areas. She is interested in investigating how dietary, lifestyle, socioeconomic and genetic factors influence the development of obesity and cancer through prevalence, source and intervention studies. Chai was awarded a National Institutes of Health post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in nutritional epidemiology and cancer prevention and has been published in numerous journals including Mediators Inflammation, Nutrition and Cancer and International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Prior to coming to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Chai was the director of nutritional studies at Logan University.

One of her goals at UNL is to become an effective and successful educator and researcher by serving the mission of the college and the university. She is also thankful for the great opportunities, collaborations and programs UNL offers.

Dipti Dev

Dipti Dev Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

Dipti Dev Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

Child obesity is a growing health and public policy issue that Dipti Dev is ready to tackle. She comes to UNL from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she focused her doctoral dissertation on childhood obesity prevention and early childhood, education environments and policies. Dev has published five research articles in peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journals including the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Young Children, and Childhood Obesity.

Dev has extensive interdisciplinary, international industry experience. She has worked with Abbott Nutrition and PepsiCo on regulatory affairs and food product development. She is also passionate about extension work and has developed and implemented early childhood nutritional education and outreach programs.

At UNL, Dev is an extension specialist and an assistant professor in Child, Youth and Family Studies. CEHS’s mission of improving the lives of individuals, families, schools and communities is embodied in Dev’s work by generating knowledge through research and applying this knowledge through outreach. Her research focuses on developing and evaluating interactive, web-based programming for child care providers to practice healthful feeding strategies while encouraging children to make healthy food choices and preventing childhood obesity.

Dev is also collaborating with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and Nebraska Department of Education to implement Step Up to Quality in Nebraska. The goal of this project is to improve child care nutrition and physical activity environments to help young children develop healthy eating behaviors.

Tonia Durden

Tonia Durden Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

Tonia Durden Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

Cultivating an awareness and development of cultural identity in young children is Tonia Durden’s life work. At Georgia State University, she focused her doctoral dissertation on examining elementary pre-service teachers’ reflective journeys toward culturally relevant pedagogy. Durden’s work has been published in many journals including the International Journal of Multicultural Education, The Urban Review, Early Childhood Education Journal, the Journal of Extension and the Journal of Youth Development.

As an assistant professor and extension specialist at UNL, Durden is focused on early childhood curriculum and assessment, specifically building teacher competencies in providing quality and culturally responsive educational experiences for young children. Her research examines how educators and families can support the socio-cultural and identity development and awareness of young children.

One of Durden’s goals at UNL is to lead extension and early childhood education efforts to create quality and accessible experiences for young children, particularly those with the highest need. She is achieving this through guest lectures, working with undergraduate and graduate interns and research assistants, and by disseminating research to the community through extension programs. Her zealous approach to teaching was developed through teaching stints in elementary schools and at two universities.

Samuel J. Meisels

Samuel J. Meisels Founding Executive Director
Buffett Early Childhood Institute

Samuel J. Meisels Founding Executive Director
Buffett Early Childhood Institute

Dr. Samuel J. Meisels is the founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska where he is also a professor of child, youth and family studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and holds courtesy appointments on the other NU campuses as a professor of public health, public administration and education.

A former preschool, kindergarten and first grade teacher, he has held positions at the Developmental Evaluation Clinic of Boston Children’s Hospital, the Department of Child Study at Tufts University where he was a professor and the director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School, and the University of Michigan, where he is now professor and research scientist emeritus. An author of more than 200 publications, in 2002 he became the president of Erikson Institute, ne of the nation’s leading graduate schools in child development. He was appointed president emeritus of Erikson Institute after he left to start up the Buffett Institute in June 2013.

He holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Roosevelt University.

Kathleen Mortiz Rudasill

Kathleen Mortiz Rudasill Associate Professor
Educational Psychology

Kathleen Mortiz Rudasill Associate Professor
Educational Psychology

Studying the transitions that preschool children make to various stages of K-12 has captured the imagination of Kathleen Mortiz Rudasill. Her dissertation work at the University of Virginia focused on predictors of teacher-child relationship quality, and a recent article she co-wrote in the Journal of School Psychology details her research about child temperament and its affect on classroom conflict. Rudasill’s research suggests that early elementary years are powerful for setting a trajectory for success and that if the teacher-child relationship is negative, the child is not getting an optimal set of experiences for interacting with other kids.

At the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Rudasill is an associate professor in educational psychology and is co-director of the Early Development and Learning Lab. Rudasill joined CEHS from a position at the University of Louisville. Her 2010 article on student-teacher relationship quality in the Journal of School Psychology was awarded article of the year. She has also been published in Developmental Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Early Childhood Research Quarterly and many others.

Rudasill’s research is focused on understanding individual differences in children and how these contribute to academic and social success, with a major focus on sources of support at school. She is passionate about children with temperament traits that make the school experience more stressful or difficult. Most of this work is centered on key transition points and how support at school may facilitate positive outcomes during these transitions.

Natalie Williams

Natalie Williams Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

Natalie Williams Assistant Professor
Child, Youth and Family Studies

When Natalie Williams thinks about her work as an assistant professor of child health-mental health at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she thinks about raising the bar on healthy lifestyles for young children and their families.

Williams specializes in researching how psychological and behavioral factors play a role in the health of young children and childhood obesity. Her background in health and psychology fuel her focus on the cause, treatment and consequence of childhood obesity and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, especially to underserved families. Williams is also interested in how parents and other caregivers influence the growth and nutrition of children during the first years of life and expanding her research to include a global focus. Through her research, Williams hopes to identify key social networks that are influential in determining infant feeding practices associated with healthy development.

Williams received a joint Ph.D. in developmental and child clinical psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has worked in the field of social and behavioral science at multiple universities and research institutes including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the University of Memphis, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Her research includes caregiver interventions to promote healthy growth and lifestyles in children. Professionally, her experience includes teaching, assessment, policy, program development, supervision of students in clinical practicums, licensed clinical psychologist, and a multisystemic family therapist.

At UNL, Williams will also be an academic advisor for graduate students. She loves connecting with students and helping facilitate their success.

Mary Willis

Mary Willis Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Mary Willis Professor
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Children form their ideas and concepts about culture at a young age. Researching family transitions from one culture context to another is the focus of Mary Willis’ work. Willis is especially interested in family health and finding ways to help immigrant and refugee students have a less stressful transition to local culture and more success in school. As a proxy to study overall health in refugee and immigrant populations, Willis focuses on dental health. By offering dental education and training, she is helping these families improve their overall health.

Willis received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. Since, she has held a variety of positions in research and teaching including stops at the United States Agency for International Development, Emory University and Nebraska Wesleyan University. In 2005, her article about Sudanese refugee resettlement earned Willis the Leslie Hewes Award for best social science article in Great Plains Research. She has been published in other prestigious journals such as Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies and American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

She has been at UNL since 2000 but only recently found her way to the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences where she continues to provide nutrition training to public school students in Ethiopia and to Ethiopians who have experienced previous health-related disease or injury. Willis is also tracking the impact of mentoring by UNL students to immigrant and refugee students in Lincoln Public Schools.

Faculty in CEHS whose work addresses early childhood issues

Krista Adams, TLTE
Steven Barlow, SECD
Linda Boeckner, NHS
Eric Buhs, EDPS
Lisa Franzen-Castle, NHS
Weiwen Chai, NHS
Virginia Chaidez, NHS
Brandy Clarke, CYFS
Cynthia Cress, SECD
Rochelle Dalla, CYAF
Dawn Davis, SECD
Dipti Dev, CYAF
Beth Doll, EDPS
Tonia Durden, CYAF
Carolyn Edwards, CYAF
Jean Ann Fischer, NHS 
Marilyn Grady, EDAD
Maria de Guzman, CYAF
Erin Hamel, CYAF
Ruth Heaton, TLTE
Michael Hebert, SECD
Cody Hollist, CYAF
Jody Isernhagen, EDAD
Soo-Young Hong, CYAF
Lisa Knoche, CYFS
Marjorie Kostelnik, CEHS Dean
Gina Kunz, CYFS
Jenny Leeper Miller, CYAF
John Maag, SECD
Chris Marvin, SECD
Yolanda Mitchell, CYAF
Sam Meisels, CYAF
Tori Molfese, CYAF
Toni Morehouse, SECD
Ron Nelson, SECD
Reece Peterson, SECD
Kathy Phillips, TLTE
Helen Raikes, CYAF
Jenelle Reeves, TLTE
Zainab Rida, NHS
Kathleen Moritz Rudasill, EDPS
Michelle Rupiper, CYAF
Susan Sarver, CYAF
Sue Sheridan, CYFS, EDPS
Sue Swearer, EDPS
Shinya Takahashi, NHS 
Julie Thomas, TLTE
Julia Torquati, CYAF
Guy Trainin, TLTE
Alex Trout, SECD
Eric Unrau, CYAF
Stephanie Wessels, TLTE
Natalie Williams, CYAF
Mary Willis, NHS
Judith Wilson, TLTE
Amanda Witte, CYFS
Janos Zempleni, NHS