October 2011 e-Newsletter

What is the Buffett Early Childhood Institute?

Father and son reading book, smiling. Photo credit Steven Dahl.

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute was announced on January 31, 2011. Because of a generous gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett – a gift that the University has committed to more than match – the University of Nebraska has the opportunity to be a national leader and model for the engagement of public higher education in addressing early childhood.

The Buffett Institute is a university-wide, multidisciplinary research, education, outreach and policy center that will help transform the approach to early childhood development and education in Nebraska and across the nation. The Buffett Institute will be dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of children from birth to age 8, focused especially on those who are vulnerable because of poverty, abuse, or developmental, learning, or behavioral challenges.

The Institute will integrate teaching and professional development; research and scholarship; and outreach from disciplines spanning all four campuses of the university, with a particular emphasis on using research to inform public policy and early childhood practice in immediate, practical ways. The institute will include three interrelated divisions, each with its own associate director: research; teaching and professional development; and outreach and policy. There will be steering or advisory committees aligned with these functions, composed of Nebraska stakeholders, university representatives, and content experts.

Faculty and students from many fields and disciplines will be involved; for example, child and family studies, educational psychology, teacher education, educational administration, pediatrics, public health, special education, environmental education, communications, speech pathology, psychology, nutrition, sociology, economics, architecture and landscape design. University centers that will be involved include the Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools at UNL; the Munroe-Meyer Institute at UNMC; Center for Children, Families and the Law at UNL; Colleges of Medicine and Public Health at UNMC; and the colleges of education at UNO, UNK, and UNL; and others.

Photo credit: Steven Dahl

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Educare of Lincoln

Outside view of Educare building

A key goal of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute is to be a core partner in building several new Educare Centers in Nebraska modelled after the successful centers around the country, including two Educares of Omaha at Kellom and Indian Hill. An Educare of Lincoln is currently underway, with plans to break ground Oct. 18, 2011, and open about one year later!

It is being designed by RDG Planning & Design of Omaha, working closely with an architectural team representing the Lincoln partners that have been providing input based on the programmatic needs of the Lincoln community. Partners in this venture are: Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders County; Lincoln Public Schools; the University of Nebraska; and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

The Educare of Lincoln will be located next to Belmont Elementary School, 3425 North 14th Street. One especially exciting aspect of the project is that the Educare of Lincoln will be situated next to the soon-to-be-built Belmont Park Natural Play Space, the first of its kind in Nebraska, opening up new possibilities for nature and science education, exploration, and physical activity for children and families of every age and background.

The Educares of Nebraska will be sites of service, study and professional development for University of Nebraska faculty and students. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute will provide assessment resources to the Educare Centers and coordinate closely with many other partners to make sure that early childhood teachers and providers in Nebraska and elsewhere receive strengthened pre-service and in-service learning opportunities.

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute will always seek to increase public access to research-based information and support in implementation so that best practices are put to work for children birth through age eight. Each Educare is a catalyst for change – serving the children and families who cross its threshold while also helping to boost quality among other early childhood providers community-wide. Each Educare also functions as a “showroom” in which lawmakers, policymakers, business leaders and others learn about the wisdom of investing in the early years. The Educare of Lincoln will have wonderful observational and meeting spaces open to the community and is intended to promote public awareness and knowledge about early childhood development and education.

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A Message from President Milliken

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute will be one of the most important initiatives undertaken by the University of Nebraska. It has the potential to change the landscape of how public universities foster collaboration, engagement and action on behalf of children. The University is grateful to Susie Buffett for her generous gift establishing the Institute, and we have pledged to more than match it to create an endowment of over $100 million.

Early childhood education, health and development have been research strengths of the University of Nebraska for many years. Our Centers focusing on policy, early intervention, literacy, developmental disabilities and other areas affecting children are well-established and highly regarded. The Buffett Institute will bring together faculty from many disciplines ̶ from the University of Nebraska and other institutions ̶ as well as engaging policy makers, social service providers and others.

Our strategy in this and in other areas such as water, agriculture and alternative energy is to leverage those strengths to benefit Nebraska, and to be a valued partner in finding new solutions to global challenges.

Early childhood development is an area of significant interest internationally. As I have met with leaders of education, government and the private sector in China, India and Brazil, their desire to partner with the University of Nebraska is clear. The Buffett Institute holds great promise for improving the lives of children throughout the world. I appreciate the work of the steering committee, chaired by Carolyn Pope Edwards, Dr. Linda Pratt, the search committee and others who are dedicated to its success.

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About the Logo

The logo for the Institute is intended to express in visual terms a focus on our commitment to research, balanced with appreciation for the innocence and playfulness of childhood. The several colors and shapes suggest the bringing together of many different entities in support of children, and the diversity of children and families. Blocks are symbolic because they are a favorite instrument in children’s purposeful play, and they are also used in assessment. The logo itself has the advantage that it works well whether printed in color or black and white, and it is flexible long-term as a visual for promotional or specialized applications. It was designed by the firm of Bailey Lauerman.

News and Updates

Two important steps in the formation of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute took place this summer. In June, the Board of Regents approved a proposal from NU President J.B. Milliken to establish the Institute. In July, the Institute was formally approved as an academic unit by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission on Post-Secondary Education.

The next step is to find a visionary founding executive director. Such a director, who is a recognized leader in the field, will be appointed following a national search. The search firm of Diversified Search has been identified to assist in the process, which is full underway. The Search Committee is chaired by Dr. Marjorie Kostelnik, Dean of the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences, and includes representatives of all four NU campuses as well as the wider community. More information about the search process can be found at www.nebraska.edu/Buffettdirector.

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