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Profiles in a DU Pioneer Education

Morgridge College of Education

Q&A with Dean Karen Riley, Morgridge College of Education (MCE), part one

Dean Karen Riley, Morgridge College of Education (MCE)

In this ongoing series, we sat down with newly appointed dean of the Morgridge College of Education, Karen Riley.

Q: Give us a brief overview of your college – a general snapshot of the education you provide to students.

A: Morgridge College of Education (MCE) consists of three entities: the college, the Ricks Center for Gifted Children and the Fisher Early Learning Center.

A common misconception about Morgridge is that we’re simply a teacher’s college, but that is not the case. We are engaged in research that’s changing the face of what’s going on in education. Oftentimes education schools don’t have the level of sponsored research that we have, especially compared to those of our size.

Within the college are three departments and seven programs. The Department of Educational Research Policy and Practice consists of our more traditional programs. Curriculum Studies and Teaching includes teacher preparation programs with both a traditional teacher education model and a residency option that is provided in collaboration with Denver Public Schools. The department also includes programs in Education Leadership and Policy Studies and Higher Education, and makes up about 62 percent of our school’s population and serves the majority of our students.

Our Department of Research Methods and Information Science is home to the Library and Information Science, and Research Methods and Statistics programs.

Finally, the Department of School and Counseling Psychology includes programs in Child, Family and School Psychology and Counseling Psychology.

Q: Tell us about how the Ricks Center for Gifted Children and Fisher Early Learning Center provide experiential learning opportunities for MCE students.

A: The value-add for both MCE and these centers is tremendous. While our graduate students benefit, the kids do as well. Having our students involved in these centers decreases the student-teacher ratio, and we’re really able to support the kids and their families. We also strive to support the teachers and staff.

In addition to conducting many of their research projects at the Fisher Early Learning Center, our early childhood special education and psychology students are able to do their practica there. The Fisher facility is designed for our students to be able to observe the Fisher students. 

Prior to last year we hadn’t engaged in as much integration with the Ricks Center for Gifted Children. Now we have student teachers placed there. At the college level we have a gifted education program, and now we’re able to expand the services offered through Ricks via this program at MCE. We’re also utilizing a research group at MCE to evaluate the Ricks curriculum.

Additionally, we can offer professional development opportunities to both Fisher and Ricks staff; many are enrolled in our programs! This creates a rich synergy that benefits both groups.

Q: What does it mean to you to be appointed dean after serving as interim dean for more than a year? With your experience and knowledge of the college, what are you hoping to bring to the programs?

A: I feel really honored. I’m an alumna, so I really have a passion for the college and the programs that are in it. I’ve been all over the college in many different roles, and I’ve received a lot of support. I’m very humbled.

We’re positioned well right now, and I feel like we’re really ready to move. The previous deans did a great deal of work regarding the foundations of the college and we’re ready to build on their success. Last year we moved up quite a bit in the rankings. We’ve been very strong locally, and now we’re poised to be a national player.

The whole college is ready to take bigger steps. We’re seeking more accreditations and working on a new strategic plan. The strategic plan is focusing on four areas: operational efficiency, professional climate, scholarly excellence and financial diversification. There’s a lot of excitement across the college right now!

By Katie Watt
Posted Nov. 4, 2014


Q: How do you describe the value of collaborating and offering cross-disciplinary programs with other University schools and departments? Specifically, how are you looking to collaborate in regards to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education?

A: We are beginning collaboration with three other deans across campus to create a professional development/continuing education arm. Currently, at MCE we do a good job of preparing our students to go out into the field, but we’re lacking the support for them once they’re out there. I’ve been working with Shelly Smith-Acuna (dean, Graduate School of Professional Psychology), James Herbert Williams (dean, Graduate School of Social Work) and Michael McGuire (dean, University College) to create what we’re calling a “professional development consortium.” Our goals are to collaborate across the University, serve the public good, create a revenue stream and bring community members who aren’t alumni into the University to experience what we have to offer.

In regards to STEM – we are developing a mathematics education program. We also hope to work with Natural Sciences and Mathematics and enhance the “4+1” degree where science and math majors can become teachers of those fields.

It also goes beyond that; we’re looking at how education is evolving by understanding how the brain works at a cellular level. We’re thinking about collaboration around research projects, for example, marrying neuro-biology with education. Last year, we worked with kids with Fragile X syndrome, which is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability. This research looked to pair a targeted treatment with a learning intervention.  This effort was truly multidisciplinary. That type of research really is the future of education for individuals with learning challenges; it’s about the differences in the way people learn.

Q: Given the challenges facing higher education today, what are some things MCE is doing to stay successful? What differentiates you from your competition?

A: Simply being aware of the challenges is important. The struggles are in our face all the time being in an education school within a higher education institution. We’re teaching the teachers! We need to make sure what we’re providing to students is of high quality. We’ve spent a lot of time examining the content of our curriculum to ensure we’re preparing our students well. There’s a lot of innovative pedagogy; we utilize hybrid classes where it makes sense. For programs that enroll a lot of working adults, having hybrid and online options is important, and it’s been exceptionally successful.

Additionally, we try to provide alternatives. For example, there are two versions of a teacher education program, one traditional and one more residency-focused. Looking at options is really important.

Technology is well-used here. We continue to try to enhance learning through technology, again where it makes sense.

We have to be conscious of the costs of higher education, particularly in MCE! Teachers are traditionally low-paid, and we strive to make sure our programs don’t become professions of privilege. We can’t change what the school districts pay, but we can try to decrease costs on our end. We are very intentional about financial aid, and we are continually seeking out scholarships and endowments to support our students.

Q: Give us an update; is the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) model being embraced and used?

A: The idea continues to be great, and it’s something I’m in support of. It can really provide an understanding of how college campuses can create conditions for all students to thrive, and access and equity are really important to us at DU. What we’re struggling with are resources. The group is writing grant proposals, developing the tool and seeking resources to take it to the next level, yet we need more financial support in order to make it thrive. Researchers and policymakers are talking about how important it is to help more students thrive in college.

Learn more about the CECE project

Q: What do you want people to know about MCE?

A: We are a multifaceted organization.  We have many exciting programs that are linked to education. We teach, but we also conduct research.  Many people do not think of a college of education doing research, yet the amount of research dollars generated through MCE is significant. Since 2005, we’ve received more than $23 million in gifts and grants for research. We’re not simply creating professionals (which is certainly important); we’re also studying and changing the face of education.

Learn more about research at MCE

By Katie Watt
Posted Nov. 11, 2014