Durden receives USDA award for extension efforts

Posted December 12, 2013

Tonia Durden

CYFS faculty affiliate Tonia Durden, assistant professor of child, youth and family studies at UNL, has received the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2013 Early Achievement Award for helping communities support the healthy development of young children.

The national award recognizes a cooperative extension state specialist who has made significant contributions in the area of family life and human development within the first six years of a career.

For more information, read the full story from UNL's College of Education and Human Sciences.

Dalla to found first quarterly journal on human trafficking

Posted November 26, 2013

Streets of Mumbai
UNL associate professor Rochelle Dalla visited Mumbai, India, in summer 2012 to interview women trafficked into prostitution. Dalla recently learned that she will become the founder of the Journal of Human Trafficking, the first quarterly academic journal devoted exclusively to the topic.

It's everywhere – provided you know where to find it.

Years of research have taught CYFS faculty affiliate Rochelle Dalla that the lesson applies both to the shadowy practice of human trafficking and the scattered information surrounding it.

Dalla will aim to assemble research and foster discourse on the issue by founding the recently approved Journal of Human Trafficking, which she cited as the first of its kind.

"It will be, as far as I know, the only quarterly journal in the world devoted just to trafficking," said Dalla, associate professor of child, youth and family studies at UNL.

Published by Routledge, the peer-reviewed journal will release its first issue in early 2015.

"I really want this to become a centralized place of dissemination for people to go for the latest, cutting-edge information related to trafficking," said Dalla, who will serve as editor-in-chief of the journal. "In that respect, I would expect the impact to be a better understanding of what's happening out there in terms of research and programming."

In preparing the proposal she would eventually submit to Routledge, Dalla conducted online searches for trafficking-related information. The resulting articles came from more than 75 academic publications with emphases ranging from geography to religious studies, she said, illustrating the need to consolidate scholarship on the subject.

"There's so much knowledge and information out there," said Dalla, "but the scholars and people who are developing programs don't necessarily have access to all that, just because they don't always know where to look."

Dalla noted that human trafficking need not involve the actual transport of its victims, broadly defining the practice as "the use of force, fraud or coercion in the exploitation of other people." She said trafficking's many forms include bonded labor, the cultivation of child soldiers, and the sale or abduction of women and girls into the commercial sex industry – the focus of her own research.

According to Dalla, the new journal will highlight research on these and many other types of human trafficking. It will also encourage submissions from the full array of academic disciplines studying the practice.

"It's going to be totally interdisciplinary," said Dalla, "because it really has to be."

Dalla is also leveraging the power of the Web to compile resources for those who study and combat trafficking. She's begun collaborating on a new website that will specifically provide information on trafficking in India, where she previously conducted research.

Designed in conjunction with students from UNL's Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, the website should be completed by summer 2014, Dalla said.

"The ultimate outcome will be a website that has as much information as possible about anti-trafficking people and organizations in all of India," she said. "It really is just a way of [getting] all this information together so that people who want to do anti-trafficking work are actually able to do that work."

The website might also serve as a template for sharing anti-trafficking resources available in other parts of the world, said Dalla.

"What [the students] are doing is creating a prototype," she noted. "The code and the algorithms they're using ought to be able to be manipulated so that they can [ultimately] be applied to other countries."

Days in the Life

Dalla said the website's inspiration sprung from difficulties she experienced trying to coordinate a research trip to the Indian city of Mumbai in summer 2012, shortly after submitting her proposal for the journal. Dalla was struggling to establish contact with PRERANA (PRAY'-nuh), a Mumbai-based nongovernmental organization that assists women trafficked into prostitution.

With just two weeks remaining before she departed for Mumbai, Dalla hoped PRERANA could help her organize interviews with women willing to tell their stories. Hours, then days, then weeks of futile Internet searches and phone calls had left her wondering whether she should even make the trip, she said.

"Just trying to set the research up was so difficult," Dalla explained. "The only reason that I ended up going is because I have a colleague from Mumbai who's at Ohio State and gave me [the PRERANA director's] cell phone number. Had it not been for that, the trip would not have happened."

Had it not, Dalla would have missed the opportunity to interview 30 women from Kamathipura (kuh-maw-tih-POR'-uh) and Falkland Road, two of Mumbai's largest red-light districts. It was there that she learned how many such women wound up in circumstances that Dalla described as the "lowest of the low."

"My questions were: How are they being trafficked? How are they getting here? What are their backgrounds? Where's their family? And I guess I had these images of [people] stealing them off the streets or something," said Dalla. "But, by and large, it was their own family members that were selling them."

Whether sold by their families or manipulated by the lies of others, most of the interviewed women came from poor rural communities and were trafficked during their early adolescence, Dalla said.

"It wasn't like I hand-picked [only those women] who had some kind of horrendous background story," she said. "It just so happened that they all did."

The women have since spent their adulthoods working in one-room brothels, Dalla said, that also function as their homes. Yet the threat of physical violence – combined with a lack of economic resources, education and social capital – makes escape an unthinkable prospect.

"The culture of Mumbai – the culture of India – is that these women are filthy [and] dirty," she said. "The shame surrounding what they've been doing would make it impossible for them to do anything other than what they're doing."

Still, Dalla emphasized that groups like PRERANA, which provides refuge and bank accounts for the children of trafficked women, offer hope for slowing the cycle of exploitation and poverty.

It's the same hope Dalla holds for her own projects, which she believes could shape future research and programming related to trafficking in places such as Mumbai.

"What I would expect is that, five or 10 years down the road, there will be five, six, seven, eight journals all devoted to human trafficking," Dalla said. "And there should be! So I really hope that these [projects] open up that kind of dialogue."

CYFS to host 2013-14 conversation series

Posted November 19, 2013

CYFS Conversation Series

The Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools has announced its 2013-2014 CYFS Conversation Series, a set of five sessions dedicated to helping the center's faculty affiliates address the many issues that arise when coordinating and conducting research studies.

Organized as a dynamic forum for asking questions and sharing insights, the Conversation Series will include opportunities to meet methodologists with novel expertise, learn details of the grant review process from those with firsthand knowledge, and discuss the realities of video-based data collection.

Running from December through May, the sessions will take place in Mabel Lee Hall on UNL's City Campus.

CYFS faculty affiliates interested in participating can learn more about the series here.

CYFS affiliates amass poster awards at Rural Futures Conference

Posted November 6, 2013


Nine doctoral student affiliates of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools received recognition for their research at the 2013 Rural Futures Conference, earning multiple graduate student poster awards presented Nov. 5 in Lincoln, Neb.

Amanda Witte, Michael Coutts and Shannon Holmes received the competition's top honor for presenting a poster titled "The Impact of Teacher Motivation for Intervention on Rural Student Behavioral Outcomes." The poster summarized a study of how teachers' motivation influences the impact of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC), a family-school partnership approach co-developed by CYFS director Susan Sheridan.

Holmes, Witte, Coutts and Tyler Smith also took second place for "Supporting Family-School Partnerships in Rural Communities: Preliminary Results of a Randomized Trial." The group highlighted an investigation into how CBC shapes the beliefs and practices of parents and teachers as they contend with children's behavioral issues across the classroom and home.

Two groups of CYFS affiliates tied for third place in the competition. Coutts, Holmes and Smith placed third for "Providing Specialized Services to Rural Educators: An Introduction to Conjoint Behavioral Consultation via Distance Delivery (CBC-D)." The presenters detailed the use of distance technology for delivering the CBC approach to isolated rural communities, outlining the considerations and implications of adopting this approach.

Smith, Amanda Moen and Zach Myers also took third for "A Quantitative Synthesis of Family Engagement Interventions: A Preliminary Examination in Rural Context," which explored the prevalence and specific types of intervention strategies used to engage rural families in their children's education.

Two student affiliate posters earned honorable mention at the conference. Mary Hellwege and Maureen O'Connor were recognized for "Advancing Rural Education Research: Importance of Interdisciplinary Research Partnerships." The poster featured a qualitative analysis that identified the primary themes of roundtable discussions held at Connect-Inform-Advance, the 2013 National Conference on Rural Education Research.

Moen, Holmes and Sonya Bhatia also received mention for presenting "Mental Health Challenges and Parenting Attributes in a Rural Early Head Start Sample," which examined the connections among maternal health, parental competence, and relationships with supporting caregivers in the context of highly impoverished rural communities.

CYFS director Sheridan, research associate professor Gina Kunz and research professor Gwen Nugent also contributed to several of the award-winning posters. The first-, second- and third-place finishers won $750, $500 and $250, respectively. Those receiving honorable mention earned $100.

The conference was hosted by the Rural Futures Institute, a University of Nebraska collective that aims to assist rural Nebraska and the Great Plains in creating a resilient and sustainable future built upon a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Engen-Wedin recognized by Nebraska Department of Education

Posted November 4, 2013

Nancy Engen-Wedin
Nancy Engen-Wedin

CYFS faculty affiliate Nancy Engen-Wedin has received the Friend of American Indian Education Award from the Nebraska Department of Education.

Engen-Wedin, coordinator of the Indigenous Roots Teacher Education Program (ROOTS) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was honored at the NDE's Native American Student Achievement Symposium in October.

The award recognizes Engen-Wedin's commitment to promoting the use of tribal language and culture in the education of Nebraska's American Indian students. Established in 2008, the award also honors her efforts to bolster the number of American Indian educators and foster community engagement programs for American Indian students.

Click here to learn more about the ROOTS program.

Researchers author chapter on parenting chess prodigies

Posted October 21, 2013

Chess Illustration

Laser-like focus? Check. Keen memory? Check. Intrinsic motivation? Check.

Parental support? Checkmate.

The development of chess prodigies owes much to the parents who foster their innate talent, according to a book chapter recently co-authored by two CYFS researchers – one of whom can speak from personal experience.

Written by faculty affiliate Kenneth Kiewra and CYFS project manager Amanda Witte, the chapter examines contemporary and classic case studies that detail the investments parents made to help their children reach the highest echelons of chess.

The researchers found that these parents assumed many unfamiliar responsibilities, often adopting roles that ranged from manager and coach to financier and psychologist.

"Parents had to get out front and handle all aspects of their children's chess careers," said Kiewra, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The degree to which they did that, I think, played a large role in how successful the child was."

Kiewra and Witte interviewed the parents of several young chess players, each of whom ranked first nationally in their age group. The children included America's youngest-ever grandmaster – the game's highest rank – and another who authored a book on chess at the age of 14.

The authors also studied the narratives of Bobby Fischer, the only American to win the World Chess Championship, and Josh Waitzkin, subject of the book and subsequent film "Searching for Bobby Fischer."

The chapter, published in "The Nurturing of Talent, Skills and Abilities," identifies numerous themes that unite the accounts of how prodigies develop. According to Kiewra, nearly all were introduced to the game at a young age by parents who had at least a basic understanding of chess.

Most parents had relatively little playing experience, however, and learned the game in tandem with their children, he said. This often involved hundreds of hours studying chess strategies, developing lessons, and conducting regular training sessions.

"Several of [the parents] said that this is akin to a second job, if not a first job," Kiewra noted. "It's an incredible investment of time, not only for the child but for the family."

When their children's progress demanded more advanced instruction, Kiewra said, parents identified and hired world-class coaches capable of providing it. They also accompanied their children on cross-country trips to chess tournaments and camps that often required lengthy absences from work and home.

These demands often prompted families to make extreme professional and personal sacrifices for their children, according to Kiewra. In many households, one parent either quit working or took less prestigious but more flexible jobs to free up time.

Others took on extra work or moved into smaller homes to help afford the expenses associated with coaching and travel – expenses that Kiewra said often ran between $20,000 and $50,000 annually.

Kiewra emphasized that parents and children invested so much because they considered the process its own reward. He called that process a "labor of love," citing the parents' love for their children and their children's love of the game.

"Win or lose, the parents don't regret any of this, because the process is so gratifying and enjoyable," said Kiewra. "The joy is in the journey more than the destination; it brings them closer to their child. They're involved on the front lines with their child, and it's an amazing experience both for the child and the parent. They're not doing it for championships or trophies or money."

Research from Practice

Many of the anecdotes relayed by parents resonated with Kiewra, who said his interest in studying the development of chess prodigies stems from the years he spent raising one.

After noticing his son excel in games such as tic-tac-toe and Connect Four, Kiewra taught him a few basics of chess at the age of 4. When his son entered second grade, Kiewra reintroduced him to the game – and watched his appetite for chess grow with each passing day.

"Within that same week, he wouldn't stop playing and was really hungry for more knowledge," Kiewra said. "So I got some chess books and started teaching him from those. Within a couple of months, I found a real teacher, and it just kind of exploded from there."

Kiewra began traveling with his son to chess camps in New York and Chicago. He sought sponsorships and donations to help pay for $50-an-hour lessons taught by grandmasters. He even convinced his son's school to make chess a credit-bearing subject of study in its mentoring program.

Throughout the process, Kiewra's son devoted thousands of hours to his passion, eventually finding success that matched his commitment. He won numerous national titles and earned a full college scholarship in chess. Now 26, he has become an international master – on the brink of becoming a grandmaster – and earns his living as a chess instructor while continuing to play competitively.

Having both researched and provided the support necessary to cultivate a chess champion, Kiewra said he believes such achievement is ultimately shaped even more by nurture than nature.

"Even people with the best minds aren't going to get [to that level] without the right environmental support," Kiewra said. "I think talent is partly born, but that, in the end, it is largely made."

CYFS releases 2012-2013 Annual Report

Posted September 18, 2013

The Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools has released its annual report for the 2012 fiscal year, which ran from July 2012 through June 2013.

Titled "Together We Can...," the report presents a cross-section of CYFS research and outreach from the center's thematic foci of early education and development; academic intervention and learning; social-emotional learning and development; rural education; and research and evaluation methods.

View Annual Report: Interactive Version / PDF

CYFS doctoral affiliates receive APA awards

Posted August 20, 2013

APA Photo
Left to right: James DiPerna, APA Division 16 vice president for convention affairs and public relations; Amanda Moen, CYFS doctoral affiliate; Susan Sheridan, CYFS director

The American Psychological Association recently recognized CYFS doctoral affiliates Amanda Moen and Shannon Holmes with Outstanding Student Presentation awards during the 121st APA Annual Convention.

Moen and Holmes, doctoral candidates in educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, were among just four students to receive the award from the school psychology division of the APA. The $500 award identified the top student-authored research proposals accepted for presentation at the convention, held July 31 through Aug. 4 in Honolulu.

Moen's presentation centered on her study of Getting Ready, a CYFS-developed intervention approach designed to encourage parental engagement and improve the prospects of young children at risk for developmental delays.

Citing established links between early language and social skills, Moen's research hypothesized that children's language abilities would magnify Getting Ready's impact on social-emotional development. Her study found support for this hypothesis, showing that children with stronger pre-intervention language skills showed greater gains in social attachment and larger reductions in anxiety and troublesome behavior.

Holmes presented research on Conjoint Behavioral Consultation, a family-school partnership intervention in which trained consultants collaborate with teachers and parents to address children's behavioral issues in both the classroom and the home.

Holmes outlined the development of an approach that measures multiple dimensions of CBC fidelity, which has traditionally focused solely on how closely consultants adhere to the intervention's objectives. In addition to adherence, the newly developed approach accounts for the quality and frequency of the intervention's delivery, along with participants' responsiveness to it. Holmes' presentation also summarized conclusions drawn from the approach, which found that CBC met or exceeded each of the fidelity standards being measured.

CYFS director Susan Sheridan, co-developer of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation and Getting Ready, serves as a faculty advisor to Moen and Holmes.

Sheridan moderates NET panel on parent engagement in education

Posted August 16, 2013

Susan Sheridan, director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, moderated a panel on parent engagement in children's education that aired Aug. 15 on NET2 World.

"The Challenge of Parent Engagement," an hour-long episode of Nebraska Educational Telecommunications' "The State of Education in Nebraska" series, featured a discussion among educators and administrators from Lincoln, Crete, Grand Island and Omaha. In addition to addressing the many forms and benefits of parent engagement, the panel examined how best to foster connections among parents, schools and community organizations.

The program also included an interview with Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and First Lady Sally Ganem, who proclaimed August as Parental Involvement Month in the state.

"The Challenge of Parent Engagement" will re-air Aug. 18 at 2 p.m., Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 25 at 1 p.m.

Sheridan, a George Holmes University Professor of educational psychology, has spent much of her career researching the relationships between parents and teachers for the sake of identifying meaningful ways to establish home-school partnerships. She has focused especially on a model of service delivery known as Conjoint Behavioral Consultation, an approach that coordinates collaboration among parents, teachers and other caregivers interested in addressing the concerns they share for children.

Visit the NET Website

Coutts researching long-distance CBC delivery to rural communities

Posted August 6, 2013

Michael Coutts
Michael Coutts

Miles or megabytes? Speed limits or bandwidth? Country roads or fiber optics?

For years, reaching out to families and schools in rural communities has meant long hours of costly travel. This reality has made distance technology an appealing alternative – and the dissertation focus of Michael Coutts, a CYFS doctoral student affiliate.

Coutts grasped the significant investments involved in supporting rural communities while contributing to several studies of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation, a family-school partnership approach co-developed by CYFS director Susan Sheridan.

With grant support from the Society for the Study of School Psychology, he's now investigating whether delivering CBC via distance technology yields the same success and acceptance as the model's traditional face-to-face structure – in a fraction of the time and for pennies on the dollar.

The CBC approach typically calls for trained consultants to visit homes and schools, where they coordinate the efforts of parents and teachers to address children's troublesome behavior across both environments. Though ongoing research has suggested promise for CBC's effectiveness in rural settings, Coutts' study represents the first look into whether technology serves as a viable delivery method, he said.

If it does, Coutts said the technology could help overcome the prohibitive time and monetary costs associated with making regular on-site visits.

"If you're a consultant, technology opens up your flexibility to reach a wider number of children," Coutts noted. "For one child, you might traditionally be traveling four hours there and four hours back from O'Neill, Nebraska. With technology, you can have that one-hour meeting from Lincoln – and then use those other seven hours to meet with seven other families and teachers. So it has the potential to really serve a greater number, and reach a wider array, of rural students."

To test this potential, Coutts is recruiting the parents and teachers of disruptive K-3 students from rural Nebraska schools. In addition to collaborating with a CBC consultant via WebEx videoconferencing software, the caregivers and educators will monitor children's uncooperative behavior on a daily basis, Coutts said. Trained observers will confirm the reliability of these ratings by making weekly visits to homes and classrooms.

Coutts and Sheridan, who's serving as project mentor, will also gauge the extent to which parents and teachers find the technology-delivered approach acceptable. This measure, Coutts said, often indicates the likelihood that communities and schools will actually adopt and implement an intervention.

"It's not enough just to focus on whether the intervention works," Coutts emphasized. "The parents and teachers may say, 'Our child's behavior is better, but I wasn't comfortable in front of a camera. It was too impersonal; I didn't feel a connection.' I want to know, if the consultant's not physically there, whether they are able to foster that. I'm hoping it's still there, but we need to find out. It's really important in the sense of whether it's going to be used."

The track record of CBC has Coutts especially excited to learn more about distance technology's capacity for expanding family-school partnerships in rural communities, he said.

"In CBC, the parents and teachers – those who are most responsible for supporting a child – are really working together," said Coutts. "CBC helps them coordinate their efforts toward supporting children in a meaningful way."

Postdoc Hawley recognized for research on teacher assessment

Posted July 17, 2013

Leslie Hawley
Leslie Hawley, PhD

Leslie Hawley, a postdoctoral trainee with the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology Unit, will receive a University of Nebraska-Lincoln research award that recognizes her dissertation's potential to improve the evaluation of K-12 teachers.

UNL's Phi Delta Kappa Chapter recently announced Hawley as the recipient of its Dr. Ron Joekel Research Award, which honors outstanding education-focused research conducted by a UNL graduate student. Hawley, who completed her doctorate from UNL's Qualitative, Quantitative and Psychometric Methods program in December 2012, will receive the $1,500 award at a fall meeting of the PDK Chapter.

Testing Ground

Hawley's dissertation outlines a methodology that could more precisely measure the performance of teachers, whose job security increasingly rests on student assessments, she said.

According to Hawley, many states evaluate teachers using "value-added" performance measures that place great weight on students' standardized test scores, which often account for up to 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

Combining this information with other factors to construct a single evaluation score, however, requires making decisions and assumptions about data that can diminish the stability of the outcomes, Hawley said. Her dissertation subsequently found that different methods of merging information can lead to significant fluctuations in where teachers rank among their peers.

Given this, Hawley explored the potential of "latent variable" methods – which incorporate multiple test scores – to reduce measurement error and produce more consistent estimates of teacher effectiveness.

"No method is perfect," said Hawley, "but I would hope that, if we had 300 teachers, it would be the difference between ranking a teacher 255th or 250th. But if a teacher is ranked 250th under one set of assumptions and ranked second under another set, that's a problem – one that was sometimes present in the results.

"When you use latent variable methods … you are making fewer assumptions about how the information is combined. You're essentially letting the data do a little bit more of the talking."

Hawley said her results provided support for this hypothesis, with the latent variable methods yielding more stable teacher rankings across conditions examined in her study. This indicates that the latent variable approach could reduce the chances of undervaluing quality teachers and overrating substandard educators, she said.

Teaching Experience

Hawley noted that growing up with a mother who served as a teacher – and working as a social studies teacher herself – has provided plenty of incentive to ensure that educators are evaluated as fairly and accurately as possible.

"We're making very high-stakes decisions. I feel very strongly that if we're going to make these decisions – and states are going to use these methods – that they need to be done very carefully and cautiously," said Hawley, who emphasized that student test scores are influenced by many factors beyond classroom instruction. "The methods need to be fleshed out and rigorously evaluated for all kinds of potential scenarios."

She also credited the evolution of her dissertation to James Bovaird, who chaired her dissertation committee and directs the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology Unit.

"I would not have gotten here without Jim's guidance; he showed me how to think about these issues from a broader perspective," Hawley said. "He doesn't carve out the path for you, but he leads you in a direction and lets you explore."

View Hawley's Dissertation

Rudasill studying effects of temperament on early childhood achievement

Posted June 28, 2013

Kathleen Rudasill
Kathleen Rudasill, PhD

Some preschoolers listen to the teacher as others tune her out. While some stay within the lines, others color outside them. Some play by themselves; others share toys. And though some sit still, others fidget endlessly.

Collectively, Kathleen Rudasill sees these routine activities as a window into the emerging personalities of young children – one that potentially offers new perspectives on helping those from difficult backgrounds reach their potential.

Rudasill, an associate professor of educational psychology and CYFS faculty affiliate, has launched a study to determine how the temperaments of disadvantaged children influence their early academic performance. She's also exploring whether positive classroom environments can lower the risk of academic hardship that often hounds these children, many of whom come from low-income, single-parent households.

Rudasill noted that the inherent challenges of growing up in poverty often mean that children enter preschool lacking the skills of their more privileged peers. Temperaments that require more attention from teachers and caregivers, she said, only multiply the already significant developmental risk facing impoverished children.

"There are many resources in places like the [preschool] Head Start program and regular K-12 environments to support children from low-resource homes, but these kids may also be temperamentally more demanding because things are more difficult at home," said Rudasill, whose study received funding from the American Educational Research Association and National Science Foundation. "Their parents may have less time to spend with them and don't have many resources, so these children don't have as many support systems [as their peers]. Yet we really don't understand much about temperament in impoverished populations."

Using data that followed more than 1,200 4-year-olds from Head Start through kindergarten, Rudasill will examine how the children's literacy and math outcomes correlate with four temperament traits: attention, impulse control, sociability and activity.

Rudasill said she anticipates that greater attention, impulse control and sociability could predict better academic scores, as these traits may contribute to children focusing on classroom activities, persisting in the face of difficult tasks, and handling potential distractions. In contrast, preschoolers who rate lower on measures of activity might adjust more easily to the rigors of the classroom and feel less overwhelmed than their higher-activity classmates, she said.

Chalk Board

After analyzing the impact of preschool temperament on kindergarten literacy and math skills, Rudasill will turn her attention to the influence of "classroom processes" – namely, the levels of instructional and emotional support provided by Head Start teachers. Though she will examine the standalone impacts of this support, Rudasill said she's especially interested in whether higher-quality classrooms can help overcome the potentially detrimental influences of traits such as shyness or hyperactivity.

"There is very little research looking at temperament as it plays out in the classroom," said Rudasill, who's conducting the one-year study with James Bovaird, director of the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology Unit. "We know that kids' temperament characteristics play a role in their academic achievement and their social outcomes, but we really don't know how the classroom may buffer or explain that mechanism."

Learning more about these factors, Rudasill said, could serve as an important step in raising their prominence among educators.

"We're different from the second we're born, but we often don't teach individuals about how this may play out in their interactions with others or their way of handling classroom situations," said Rudasill. "My argument has been that we need to teach teachers that this is a real source of diversity in children. And we cannot simply generalize children based on characteristics such as gender or socio-economic status."

According to Rudasill, fostering communication between parents and teachers could help both better understand – and accommodate – the role of temperament in each child's education and development.

"A teacher isn't going to necessarily pick up on the same things parents do, because parents see their kids in different environments," Rudasill said. "Similarly, a teacher's going to see a child in situations that parents never do. Opening up a dialogue could be very useful, and hopefully our research can help encourage that."

Faculty affiliate Swearer launches Empowerment Initiative

Posted May 13, 2013

Empowerment Initiative

UNL professor Susan Swearer, whose research on bullying has yielded collaborations with the White House and Lady Gaga, has launched a new initiative to support personal, social and cultural acceptance from childhood through adulthood.

Swearer's Empowerment Initiative will facilitate translational research and outreach efforts designed to foster healthy communities, schools and families free from bullying and other negative behaviors.

"In my recent work, I've talked a lot about empowerment – how to empower people to live kinder, braver lives and successfully create opportunities for themselves, their families and their communities," Swearer said. "If we can empower individuals to stand up to the inequities they see and experience, then we can end negative behaviors such as bullying."

Housed within the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, the Empowerment Initiative will both encompass and expand on Swearer's previous research, including that conducted through her Target Bullying Research Lab. The initiative consists of Swearer and a cadre of UNL doctoral candidates who are studying various facets of empowerment and bullying, from social anxiety, body image and family dynamics to college hazing, intimate partner violence and bystander behavior.

The initiative has gained early momentum by establishing two outreach partnerships – one with Paul Mitchell Schools, the other with the National Guard – aimed at promoting positive school environments and cultivating student role models across the country.

N-Lightening Curriculum

Swearer's partnership with the nationwide network of more than 100 Paul Mitchell cosmetology schools has spurred the creation of N-Lighten, a self-empowerment and anti-bullying curriculum focused on supporting healthy social and emotional functioning.

Susan Swearer
Susan Swearer, PhD

The N-Lighten curriculum combines evidence-based approaches derived from Swearer's and others' research with messages taken from "Be Nice (Or Else!)," a book authored by Winn Claybaugh, dean and co-founder of the Paul Mitchell Schools. Swearer recently helped unveil the curriculum by presenting at the Paul Mitchell Schools Summit in Los Angeles, where she met with supporters that included L.A. Lakers legend Magic Johnson and actress Betty White.

"I love the Paul Mitchell School model of philanthropy and giving back to local communities," Swearer said, "and it's exciting to create an empowerment curriculum for their schools and the outreach work in their communities."

As part of the collaboration, Paul Mitchell School owners and instructors will attend N-Lighten training workshops at UNL. These leaders will then disseminate the curriculum to their network of Paul Mitchell Schools, which collectively enrolls more than 16,000 cosmetology students.

The Paul Mitchell network will also distribute the N-Lighten lessons to high schools across the United States, offering service-learning opportunities to potentially hundreds of thousands of high school students. Swearer and fellow UNL researchers will subsequently study the N-Lighten curriculum's impact on students' self-concept, self-esteem and problem behaviors such as bullying, substance abuse and risky behavior.

"Every parent wants the absolute best for his or her children," said Paul Mitchell's Claybaugh. "When prospective students step into a Paul Mitchell School, their parents are entrusting us with the safety and security of their son or daughter. Our partnership with Susan Swearer, who has spent her professional career studying these behaviors, puts the world on notice that Paul Mitchell Schools are committed to not just teaching the skills of cosmetology but also the skills of life, leadership, and happiness."

Guarding Against Bullying

In collaboration with the National Guard, Career Training Concepts and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Empowerment Initiative has also guided the development of Helping Everyone Achieve Respect, a new anti-bullying presentation designed for high school students.

Delivered by National Guard personnel, the 50-minute presentation revolves around the Guard's core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. H.E.A.R. engages students by asking them to consider what they can do not only to minimize bullying but enhance the level of respect shown throughout their schools, Swearer said.

The presentation also features multiple case studies of disrespectful behavior in high school settings, giving students opportunities to identity instances of bullying and the potential consequences for those who perpetrate, suffer from and witness such behaviors.

In addition to advising students on how to react safely and responsibly when encountering bullying behavior, Swearer noted that the presentation offers a list of questions that students can ask to facilitate communication, raise awareness and encourage meaningful action among teachers and school administrators.

"Leaders in any organization set the tone for acceptable behaviors," said Swearer, who noted that H.E.A.R. has received positive feedback from educators and students at 11 schools that have piloted it. "We want to engage youth and adults in dialogue about how to really change the culture so that bullying behaviors no longer exist. The goal is to prevent bullying behaviors before they start."

For more information on the Empowerment Initiative, visit http://empowerment.unl.edu and the accompanying Facebook page. Susan Swearer can be followed on Twitter via @DrSueSwearer.

Institute of Education Sciences releases 2014 request for applications

Posted April 30, 2013

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The U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Services has released its 2014 request for applications related to multiple research and research training programs.

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Howell Smith receives AERA dissertation award

Posted April 26, 2013

Michelle Howell Smith
Michelle Howell Smith, PhD

Michelle Howell Smith once found the notion of writing a dissertation daunting enough to deter her from pursuing a doctoral degree.

Now, having successfully faced that challenge, she's receiving recognition for discovering why many undergraduate engineering students choose not to pursue a Ph.D. of their own.

Howell Smith, a CYFS project manager, will accept the Outstanding Mixed Methods Dissertation Award from the American Educational Research Association during an April 29 presentation at the AERA's 2013 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

A five-member AERA panel selected Howell Smith's dissertation after reviewing submissions on criteria ranging from their integration of quantitative and qualitative methods to the significance of their contributions to mixed-methods inquiry and the field of education.

Howell Smith's dissertation, titled "Factors that Facilitate or Inhibit Interest of Domestic Students in the Engineering PhD: A Mixed Methods Study," originated from a grant proposal that received $150,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Reverse-Engineering Misconceptions

Howell Smith said her dissertation has helped refute the prevailing notion that engineering undergraduates often decline the chance to pursue a doctorate because they don't perceive any financial benefit to earning the degree.

Though the study did confirm that an engineering doctorate confers little financial advantage, Howell Smith learned that most undergraduates actually believe doctorates lead to higher incomes. The real culprit? According to Howell Smith, many undergraduates think that a Ph.D. inevitably leads to writing syllabi, chasing tenure and wearing tweed.

"What I really found was that undergraduate students don't understand the nature of Ph.D.-level work," said Howell Smith, who decided to pursue a doctorate herself only after Ellen Weissinger, her then-boss and current senior vice chancellor of academic affairs at UNL, promised to serve as her advisor.

"Only about 20 percent of engineering Ph.D.s go into academia, so that means 80 percent of them are out there working in the 'real world,'" Howell Smith said. "But they're usually working in positions that are not necessarily visible to an undergraduate who is going on internship at an engineering firm, so [students] don't see that. Ph.D.s are largely invisible to them, other than faculty at the front of the classroom. And many undergraduate students may say, 'I don't want to be a professor, so I don't need a Ph.D.'"

While Howell Smith said dismissing a doctorate is currently the "default pathway" for engineering students, she also noted that knowing someone who has earned the degree often encourages those students to more seriously consider the possibility.

"If they don't know someone with a Ph.D. or never had a mentor say, 'Hey, you might want to think about getting one,' they may continue on and, in some cases, simply not be happy with their career – making lots of money, but not really fulfilled," said Howell Smith. "But when someone in their lives says, 'You know, you really ought to get your Ph.D. – you might really enjoy this kind of work,' that's kind of what changes their trajectory.

"That's where we need to work on filling some gaps to get the right people into Ph.D. programs. It's not really at all about the money; it's about quality of life and fulfillment with the work they're doing that drives the people who get their Ph.D.s."

Mixing It Up

Howell Smith arrived at her conclusions through a mixed-methods approach called an instrument development design, carefully integrating qualitative and quantitative findings throughout each stage of the process. She began by coordinating focus groups with undergraduate engineering students and conducting interviews with doctoral students and faculty at seven institutions of higher learning across the country.

Using these qualitative results, Howell Smith developed the Exploring Engineering Interest Inventory. She employed this measurement instrument to test her preliminary hypotheses by collecting data from a sample of 1400 junior and senior engineering majors at five of the same institutions that participated in the study's first phase. Afterward, she used these findings to inform revisions of the theoretical model she established at the study's outset.

"I really tried to put a microscope on that connection between the qualitative data and quantitative data," Howell Smith said. "The distinction between qualitative and quantitative can sometimes be very arbitrary and is open to interpretation. It really gets at how you, as an individual researcher, see the world and the work that you do. What I wanted to show through my work was that you can conduct a study where both forms of methodology really do make an equal contribution to the inquiry that you're conducting."

Though she acknowledged that not every study would benefit from mixed methodology, Howell Smith said she hopes her dissertation will remind researchers about the value – and possibilities – that such approaches can offer.

"I think people are inherently doing qualitative and quantitative work in every research study," she said. "I think I just talked about it and framed it in a way that people hadn't been explicit about before. I think that's my contribution."

CYFS-housed Rural Center hosts national research conference

Posted April 17, 2013

Brent McBride (center), director of the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, participates in a panel discussion during the first day of Connect-Inform-Advance, the 2013 National Conference on Rural Education Research.

View Photo Gallery / Visit Conference Website to View Videos & Slideshows

The CYFS-housed National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed) generated discussion and disseminated findings about factors influencing the academic success of rural K-12 students when it hosted 150 researchers, practitioners and policymakers at a conference held April 3-4 in Omaha, Neb.

Titled Connect-Inform-Advance, the national conference fostered research-based dialogue about the interrelated impacts of teaching, family engagement, school environment and contextual factors on rural student performance.

The event, which drew participants from 18 states, featured nine research presentations that covered issues ranging from teacher professional development and family-school partnership approaches to American Indian education initiatives and rural school reform standards.

Roundtable discussions and moderated panels followed each series of presentations, offering participants the opportunity to engage in dialogue while providing and receiving real-time reactions through a conference-specific Twitter feed.

Multiple presenters and panelists emphasized the value in establishing partnerships among researchers, teachers and families that can lead to practical, effectual and sustainable solutions to long-standing problems such as resource limitations and relative isolation.

"All of the conference participants attended because of a personal and vested interest not only in rural education, but also in the connections among research, practice and policy," said R2Ed Director Susan Sheridan. "It is a shared interest in determining how these sectors inform, and are informed by, each other – and how they together can promote the academic experiences and achievement of students in rural communities."

John White, deputy secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, gave a special address on increasing interest in teaching careers and attracting talented educators to rural schools. Keynote speaker Roger Breed, Nebraska's commissioner of education, discussed the challenges and opportunities inherent to rural schools in the Cornhusker State and nationwide.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development, and Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of UNL's College of Education and Human Sciences, also shared their insights on the status and outlook of rural education research.

"The primary goal of the rural center is to uncover methods for enhancing educational experiences for the 9.6 million of our nation's children who attend rural schools," Sheridan said. "We're honored and excited that leaders and innovators from across the rural education spectrum contributed their collective experience and shared in our collective purpose."

Connect-Inform-Advance was sponsored by Metropolitan Community College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Education and Human Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, and Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The National Center for Research on Rural Education is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

Visit the Connect-Inform-Advance Website

Sociologist Crosnoe addresses challenges of high school

Posted April 11, 2013

Robert Crosnoe
Robert Crosnoe, PhD

The University of Texas at Austin's Robert Crosnoe addressed how social marginalization affects teenage development during a recent Distinguished Lecture hosted by the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.

Crosnoe, a professor of sociology at UT Austin, presented "Adolescence, Peers and the Challenges of High School" April 10 in the Nebraska Union's Colonial Room.

The presentation was adapted from Crosnoe's 2011 book "Fitting In, Standing Out: Navigating the Social Challenges of High School to Get an Education."

As the Elsie and Stanley E. (Skinny) Adams, Sr. Centennial Professor in Liberal Arts at UT Austin, Crosnoe holds faculty positions in the university's Department of Sociology, Department of Psychology, and Population Research Center. He received a doctorate in sociology from Stanford University.

The Distinguished Lecture was presented in partnership with the UNL Minority Health Disparities Initiative; the UNL Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative; and the Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Initiative. Funding was provided through a UNL Research Council Award from the Office of Research and Economic Development.

Watch Crosnoe's Presentation

Faculty affiliate McQuillan receives chancellor's award

Posted March 12, 2013

CYFS faculty affiliate Julia McQuillan received the Chancellor's Outstanding Contribution to Women award during a March 12 ceremony at the Nebraska Union.

McQuillan, a professor and chair of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was honored for her efforts to create a climate that encourages women to succeed at the university.

For more information on the award and ceremony, see the University Communications announcement.

Faculty affiliate Molfese joins national panel on brain injury

Posted March 4, 2013

Dennis Molfese
Dennis Molfese, PhD

CYFS faculty affiliate Dennis Molfese will join the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine Committee on Sports-Related Concussions in Youth, a panel tasked with reporting to Congress and President Barack Obama on brain injuries in children and young adults.

Molfese, a Chancellor's Professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was appointed to the 14-member committee through a nationwide nomination process.

In addition to directing UNL's Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, Molfese also oversees a cross-institutional research initiative that has assembled experts from the Big Ten Conference, the Ivy League and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation to examine the effects of head injuries in sports.

For more details on Molfese's appointment, see the UNL news release.

CYFS-housed center spurs governor's proclamation of rural education week

Posted February 27, 2013


With support from the University of Nebraska's Center for Great Plains Studies and the CYFS-housed National Center for Research on Rural Education (R2Ed), Gov. Dave Heineman has proclaimed April 1-6 as Rural Education Week in the state.

Great Plains director Richard Edwards and R2Ed director Susan Sheridan joined Peter Longo, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, in requesting the proclamation. Its signing sets the stage for two events that will address education in rural communities throughout the Cornhusker State and beyond.

From April 3-4, R2Ed will assemble researchers, practitioners and policymakers from across the country to discuss factors influencing the academic success of rural K-12 students at a conference to be held in Omaha, Neb. Titled Connect-Inform-Advance, the conference will foster research-based dialogue about the interrelated impacts of teaching, family engagement, community involvement, school environment and contextual factors on rural student performance.

The Center for Great Plains Studies will host its 39th interdisciplinary symposium, Gains and Losses from School Consolidation in the Great Plains, April 5-6 in Kearney, Neb. The symposium will explore the causes, consequences, opportunities and challenges of school consolidation, with presenters and panelists examining issues ranging from classroom instruction and student learning to district demographics and economic realities.

"We are very excited about the governor's proclamation," Sheridan said. "The week will represent an unprecedented recognition of the essential role that strong schools play in rural Nebraska. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Rural Education Week in Nebraska than by welcoming nationally renowned researchers, policymakers and practitioners to our great state!"

For more information on Connect-Inform-Advance, visit r2ed.unl.edu/2013. Details on Gains and Losses from School Consolidation in the Great Plains can be found at www.unl.edu/plains.

CYFS-authored journal article named best of 2012

Posted February 18, 2013

Susan Sheridan
Susan Sheridan, Ph.D.
James Bovaird
James Bovaird, Ph.D.
Todd Glover
Todd Glover, Ph.D.

A peer-reviewed article authored by researchers from the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools has been named 2012 Article of the Year by School Psychology Review, an academic journal published by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Lead author and CYFS director Susan Sheridan accepted the award Feb. 14 at NASP's 2013 Annual Convention in Seattle. The award recognizes an article's contribution to research and practice in school psychology, its interest to the journal's readership, and its overall impact on advancing the profession.

The article examines results from a large-scale experimental trial of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation, a family-school partnership model aimed at improving the behavior of students whom teachers have identified as disruptive in class.

The trial found that students who participated in Conjoint Behavioral Consultation showed greater gains in prosocial behaviors and social skills across the eight-week intervention period than did peers in the control group. The researchers also found that CBC teachers reported improvements in relating to the parents of their students – and that this relationship catalyzed CBC's impact on children's behavior.

"This award exemplifies the strength of collaboration and partnerships at many levels. The study was the first large-scale trial to demonstrate the benefits to struggling students when families and schools work together as partners, along with the strength of the parent-teacher relationship in producing such important results," said Sheridan, who co-developed the CBC model. "It also represents a truly collaborative effort among an incredible team of researchers, practitioners and families, highlighting the power of partnerships between CYFS and our school-based colleagues."

The article was co-authored by James Bovaird, director of the CYFS Statistics and Research Methodology Unit; CYFS research associate professor Todd Glover; CYFS project manager Amanda Witte; and former CYFS postdoctoral fellows S. Andrew Garbacz and Kyongboon Kwon, now assistant professors at the universities of Oregon and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively.

A second article published by Kwon, Sheridan and Elizabeth Moorman Kim, another of the center's former postdoctoral fellows, received honorable mention for the journal's Article of the Year Award. The article reported that young children's positive behaviors influenced their academic performance more than did externalizing problems such as hyperactivity, aggression and defiance. Kwon and her colleagues also found that positive behaviors appeared to buffer the negative impact of parents' limited education on children's reading achievement.

The most recent edition of Journal Citation Reports, a yearly ranking of peer-reviewed scholarly publications, listed School Psychology Review among the top 10 most impactful journals in educational psychology.

Faculty affiliate Allen co-develops app for autism

Posted January 24, 2013

Keith Allen
Keith Allen, PhD

Many scholars envision that their countless hours of research will ultimately yield practical applications. CYFS faculty affiliate Keith Allen recently went a step further by co-developing one – for smartphones and tablets.

Allen, a professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Munroe-Meyer Institute, has co-created the MySocius app to help parents foster communication and social interaction skills in children with autism.

According to Allen, MySocius encourages evidence-based "naturalistic teaching" that can complement the professional intervention and therapy programs frequently used to treat the symptoms of autism.

Allen designed MySocius in conjunction with BehaviorApp, a division of the Lincoln, Neb.-based app developer SectorNow. SectorNow is offering a limited number of the MySocius app, which retails for $24.99, free of charge to families of children with autism. Interested parents should contact BehaviorApp's Craig Lutz-Prefect at craig@sectornow.com or 402-423-2444 for more information.

Information from a University of Nebraska Medical Center news release was used in this report. To read a related story from the Lincoln Journal Star, click here.

Doctoral affiliate Davis examining implementation of literacy curriculum

Posted January 22, 2013

Dawn Davis
CYFS doctoral student affiliate Dawn Davis has received a Head Start Graduate Research Grant to study the implementation of early childhood literacy curriculum.

Getting children to follow directions has long proven a challenge for early childhood educators. Fittingly, a CYFS research team is examining how well those very teachers do the same.

Dawn Davis, a CYFS doctoral student affiliate, is leading a study to explore how closely the implementation of literacy curriculum in a Head Start program adheres to the curriculum's design. Davis is assessing this match between plan and practice – commonly called "fidelity" – to determine its influence on children's oral language, alphabet knowledge, print awareness and other literacy skills.

Measuring this fidelity should help Davis and her colleagues understand how much of the curriculum's impact – and room for growth – owes to its design versus its implementation, she said.

"We want to be able to understand more about what's actually happening," said Davis, who received a Head Start Graduate Research Grant from the Administration for Children, Youth and Families. "I think fidelity really gives us the confidence to say that we know all kids received the same experience – or, if the experience varied, that we can see what effect it had."

Davis, whose collaborators include CYFS faculty affiliates Helen Raikes, Tiffany Hogan and Lisa Knoche, also aims to establish whether teachers' perceptions of the curriculum influence how closely they follow it. She said the team expects to find that teachers with the highest opinion of the curriculum demonstrate the greatest fidelity to it – and that this fidelity correlates with children's greatest gains in literacy skills.

"It just makes sense that, if the curriculum matches how teachers feel children learn best," Davis said, "and they're seeing an impact in their children that they attribute, in part, to the curriculum, that they are much more likely to follow it."

To test her hypotheses, Davis is analyzing data from more than 200 children and 11 teachers who participated in the Early Reading First intervention at a rural Midwestern Head Start program. In addition to the standard battery of surveys, observations and child assessments, Davis emphasized that the team is reviewing teacher interviews for reflections on the literacy curriculum and their implementation of it.

"Asking questions and getting feedback to better understand how the intervention works is important," noted Davis, who said that logistics and differing interpretations of the curriculum act as common threats to its fidelity. "Sometimes they're simply not able to implement an intervention the way it's designed. Getting the teacher perspective is one way to say, 'Well, maybe this is what's really contributing to these differences in results that we see.'"

According to Davis, the ongoing study exemplifies a growing awareness of the realities involved in translating research into practice – and another step toward accounting for those realities. "Not every teacher is the same; not every family is the same; not every school is the same," she said. "Keeping track of all those differences is hard to do, but it's important. Hopefully, fidelity continues to become a standard component as these types of projects move forward."

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