Centers in action

The College of Education currently has four centers of excellence in operation which serve multiple audiences externally and internally:

Though each center operates with a specific, different purpose, brief updates from three of the centers demonstrates the continuing reach and impact each has, whether providing a learning opportunity for pre-service early childhood education teachers, strengthening the teaching of literacy in the classroom or engaging the youngest of our learners — and their teachers – in STEM education. 


Richard O. Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy (JCCL)

Lori Norton-Meier, Director

Mission: The JCCL’s mission is to promote comprehensive literacy of all learners by transforming literacy education through expanding pre-service and in-service teachers’ literacy knowledge and instructional expertise in professional learning communities.

UNI Literacy InitiativeMost significant accomplishment of the past year:

We are in the second year of the UNI Literacy Initiative (ULI) where we bring 15 teachers to campus each summer for two weeks followed by a trip to the Iowa Reading Conference in Ames, Iowa, where the teachers present roundtables about what they are thinking about in relation to the teaching and learning of literacy. During the school year, they carry out a research project that is shared at the annual Share Fair in April. This year four teachers from Year 1 are joining us as literacy coaches in Year 2. Teachers received three graduate credits, a mix of children's, adolescent, and professional literature, all expenses related to travel, and a $200 stipend at the completion of the experience.

Two additional highlights/efforts for the center this past year: 

The Young Readers and Writers Conference was held on campus in November 2022. This brought over 100 4th and 5th graders to campus to hear the children's book author Renee Watson speak ,followed by break out sessions with faculty members and with the help of 60 UNI student volunteers, the children received a walking tour of campus. Students who attended were from two of our partnership schools: North Cedar in Cedar Falls and Irving Elementary in Waterloo. 

The JCCL continues to provide support to the UNI Literacy Clinic that provides the opportunity for UNI students who are working on their literacy endorsement to have one-on-one tutoring experience in one of our partnership schools. The UNI tutors are paired with one elementary student and they prepare literacy lessons to expand their understanding of literacy teaching and learning. The semester-long experience ends with a family night and the sharing of an anthology where each student/tutor contributes one piece of writing. 

What key initiatives are planned this next year?

We will begin taking applications for the third cohort of the UNI Literacy Initiative on November 1st. Watch our social media accounts for links to the application. The second Young Readers and Writers Project will take place in 2024. The UNI Literacy Clinic will continue with a section at Irving Elementary in the fall and North Cedar Elementary in the spring. We also have several research studies that are gearing up. One study is a collaboration between Iowa, Kentucky and Washington state to grow K-3 teacher leaders in science and literacy. 

Estimate of how many people the center has touched in the past year:

  • 513 university students 
  • 172 University Faculty 
  • 1299 PK-12 Students 
  • 1179 PK-12 Teachers 
  • 52 PK-12 Administrators 
  • 425 Community Members

Any interactions with alumni recently? 

We interact with so many alumni at the Iowa Reading Conference! We have a booth and so many people just come over to share wonderful stories about their time at UNI. Next year we hope to capture some of those stories. If we could feature one very new alumni, it would be our former undergraduate research assistant, Keaton Wessel. She came back this summer AFTER graduation to help us with ULI and many other initiatives. She is now a 2nd grade teacher at Audubon. 

Final thoughts?

If alumni could get the word out about ULI–that would be helpful!

Child Development Center (CDC)

Maria Ackerson, Director

Mission: Our mission is to provide a safe and nurturing environment to support learning for the families and students of the University.

Child Development CenterMost significant accomplishment this past year:
We recently had a visit from a NAEYC assessor and we are anticipating a successful renewal of our accreditation. Our accreditation will continue to equip our program with the tools to provide the best learning experiences for young children and provide the highest quality professional preparation of educators by meeting national standards of quality.

Additional highlights for the center this past year:
We strive to create a community focused on the importance of relationships between our families and staff. The main purpose is to advance and promote the educational experience of young children. Parents are encouraged to participate in family involvement opportunities throughout the school year. We invited families for a homecoming playground party followed by a picnic, we asked parents to come read to their child's classroom, lunch time slots were opened for parents to join their child for a meal, and families helped provide snacks/drinks to student staff during finals week.

What key initiatives are planned this next year?
Staff will be attending the Iowa AEYC Early Learning Fall Institute to learn, grow, and collaborate with other educators across the state to gain new skills that will further advance the CDC.

Estimated number of people whom your work has touched in the past year:
We currently have 62 children we care for and benefit from the involvement of 50 student staff in addition to our 10 lead teachers.

What interactions with alumni do you have?
Ten of our 11 lead staff are UNI alumni. We have a volunteer who is a UNI alumni: Barb Gregerson ('68, BA, early childhood education). She comes to the CDC monthly to interact with the children. She brings six puppets that correspond to the 6 Pillars of Character (Trustworthiness, Caring, Fairness, Responsibility, Respect, and Citizenship). This alumni creates a positive learning environment and children look forward to her visits! 

Iowa Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education (RCEDE) 

Beth VanMeeteren, Director

Mission: The Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education is a source for groundbreaking, early childhood curriculum and resources for educators of children from birth through age 8. Through its activities, the Regents' Center aims to accomplish the following: 

  • Develop research-based programs and curriculum materials that respect the unique developmental needs of young children and their families.
  • Promote applied and interdisciplinary research in early education.
  • Disseminate information about developmentally appropriate early education to educators, parents, and the public at state, national, and international levels through workshops, conferences, and publications.
  • Assist in developing early education programs for at-risk children and their families.
  • Inform policy makers about the developmental and educational needs of young children and their families.
  • Promote inter institutional collaboration among the three State Regents' universities, other educational agencies and government agencies.

STEM in early childhoodMost significant accomplishment this past year:
We provided classroom kits and professional learning to 250 Iowa educators across the state through the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council's Scale Up. Materials in the WaterWorks classroom kit allows children to engineer the movement of water and construct an understanding of the properties of water at the same time. Photos and vignettes of Iowa teachers were highlighted in the book "Investigating Water With Young Children" published by Teachers College Press. The book is written for educators of children ages three to eight and provides a framework to enable K-2 children to engage in STEM every day during small-group reading instruction.

Additional highlights/efforts for the center this past year:
Our work in infant toddler STEM is gaining national attention. Our program coordinator, Sherri Peterson, just completed trainings on infant toddler STEM for the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance and finished up with a book study using our book, Investigating STEM With Infants and Toddlers, published by Teachers College Press. She served on a national panel alongside Doug Clements to discuss early STEM at the Region IX Head Start's Early STEM Institute in San Jose, California.

What key initiatives are planned this next year?
First, we are laying the groundwork to offer an early childhood STEM minor at UNI beginning fall 2024. This minor will enhance the preparation of early childhood majors and elementary education majors who wish to teach children from birth through third grade.

We are also collaborating with HighScope to write a proposal for National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to study how HighScope's Plan-Do-Review process works with our open-ended STEM investigations. HighScope is a renowned education foundation that conducted the longitudinal landmark study, The Perry Preschool Project, that followed children from preschool into their 40s. We are pleased to partner with them as our approaches to early learning closely align.

According to their website, children with risk factors with access to a high quality preschool program were more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job, have higher earnings, own their own home and more. The difference between the program cost and savings (e.g., from less welfare) was a return of $12.90 per dollar spent. This Plan-Do-Review process is a trademark of the HighScope approach and the strategic backbone for children and adults moving successfully through life. This unique dynamic of shared control between the child and adult lays the groundwork to actively engage young children in learning and helps children build essential school readiness skills.

Estimated number of people the center has touched in the past year: 7,680. 

Any interactions with alumni in the past year? Anything you encourage alumni to do to connect with your center?
If you are a UNI alumni that is serving as an elementary principal, superintendent, STEM coach, child care director, preschool, kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher, please check out our free STEM resources on our website and take a look at our early STEM books. Consider our professional learning on how to provide PK-2 children access to STEM every day using our STEM experiences. If you are a UNI alumni that employs people with young children, consider investing in high quality childcare with a focus on early STEM. If you are a high school industrial arts educator, consider working with Panther Products, who produce our early STEM materials, to have your high school students produce these same materials for your district's preschool through second grade classrooms.

Final thoughts?
Explore our site and discover STEM resources, curriculum materials for educators, videos, the latest in Iowa Regents’ Center news and professional learning and more. 

Updates on CET and NPPS

Center for Educational Transformation Closes

After a decade of contributions to the field of education, Dean Colleen Mulholland announced in July 2023 that the Center for Educational Transformation had ceased operation.

The CET began as a Board of Regents, State of Iowa, initiative to inform educational practices, policies and procedures, with initial support of the  Carver Charitable Trust. Since 2019, a diminishing pool of educational research funding supported a renewed effort to engage, facilitate and inform culturally responsive policy and practice. Upon departure of the center director, the dean conducted listening sessions with both internal and external stakeholders. 

Based on feedback, the college has chosen to fold remaining resources into ongoing programming to support future and current teachers’ needs. 

Dean Mulholland noted the impact of the CET and the many contributions of its leadership, faculty, fellows, graduate students, staff and partners through its research projects and educational summits. “Most recently, CET concluded its Parent PARTNER Project to create a culturally tailored, trauma-informed program aimed at decreasing adverse childhood experiences – a fitting representation of the intersection of education, health and culture.” 

National Program for Playground Safety

The National Program for Playground Safety's mission is to raise awareness about playground safety and the necessity for appropriate, healthy spaces to support child development and well-being. It helps educate communities on safe, quality and fun play areas, advocating at the local, state and national  level.

The NPPS was initially funded with grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention, with the goal of raising awareness on playground safety. Recently, the program has conducted investigations to understand child injury rates and epidemiology, as well as field testing and observations, to gain a broader understanding of environmental and other issues that affect the design of playgrounds and the health of the child. 

The program has received funding from various sources, including the U.S. Department of Defense and Canadian Standards Council, and undertaken statewide, national and international educational efforts. This includes a toolkit which has been distributed to more than 150,000 schools, after-school and child care programs, and online safety training programs. 

Heather Olsen, EdD, a professor in Health, Recreation and Community Services, has served with NPPS for 24 years and will rejoin her colleagues in full-time teaching status next semester, January 2024.  A national search is currently underway for the next director of NPPS.