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About the Researchers

Kennedy Institute

About the Researchers

Douglas H. Clements, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning

Doug ClementsDouglas H. Clements is a Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning; Executive Director, Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy; and Professor at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. He was previously a SUNY Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Buffalo, SUNY. Previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, his present research interests are in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications. He has published over 100 research studies, 8 books, 50 chapters, and 250 additional publications. His latest books detail research-based learning trajectories in early mathematics education: Early childhood mathematics education research: Learning trajectories for young children and a companion book, Learning and teaching early math: The learning trajectories approach (Routledge). Dr. Clements has directed 20 projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Dept. of Educations, Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Currently, Dr. Clements is Principal Investigator on two large-scale randomized cluster trial projects (IES). He is also working with colleagues to study and refine learning trajectories in measurement (NSF). Dr. Clements was a member of President Bush's National Math Advisory Panel, convened to advise the administration on the best use of scientifically based research to advance the teaching and learning of mathematics and coauthor of the panel's report. He was also a member of the National Research Council's Committee on Early Mathematics and co-author of their report. He is one of the authors of NCTM's Principles and Standards in School Mathematics and Curriculum Focal Points. Dr. Clements teaches courses on early childhood mathematics, early childhood educational technology, and the cognitive foundations of early childhood education. In addition, he works with over 350 teachers in three current projects that include professional development and collaborative research.


Julie Sarama, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Innovative Technology

sarama and clements Julie Sarama is the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Innovative Technology and Professor at the University of Denver. She was previously a Professor of Mathematics Education at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). She conducts research on young children's development of mathematical concepts and competencies, implementation and scale-up of educational reform, professional development models and their influence on student learning, and implementation and effects of her own software environments in mathematics classrooms, published in more than 50 refereed articles, 4 books, 30 chapters, and 60 additional publications. She has been Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on five projects funded by the National Science Foundation, including Building Blocks—Foundations for Mathematical Thinking, Pre-kindergarten to Grade 2: Research-based Materials Development and Planning for Professional Development in Pre-School Mathematics: Meeting the Challenge of Standards 2000. She is co-directing two large-scale studies funded by the U.S. Education Department's Institute of Educational Studies (IES). The first is a Phase II project, Scaling Up TRIAD: Teaching Early Mathematics for Understanding with Trajectories and Technologies was just awarded by the IES. The second is Increasing the Efficacy of an Early Mathematics Curriculum with Scaffolding Designed to Promote Self-Regulation. Sarama was previously the lead co-PI at the Buffalo site on another IES-funded project, A Longitudinal study of the Effects of a Pre-Kindergarten Mathematics Curriculum on Low-Income Children's Mathematical Knowledge (IES). This is one of seven national projects conducted simultaneously at the local and national levels (combined data) as part of the IES's Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research project. Dr. Sarama has taught secondary mathematics and computer science, gifted math at the middle school level, preschool and kindergarten mathematics enrichment classes, and mathematics methods and content courses for elementary to secondary teachers. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including her version of Logo and Logo-based software activities (Turtle Math, which was awarded Technology & Learning Software of the Year award, 1995, in the category "Math").


Richard Kitchen, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Urban Education

Image of RickPrior to joining the MCE faculty in the fall of 2012, Dr. Kitchen was a professor of leadership in mathematics education at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where he held a dual position in the Educational Leadership degree program and the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. At UNM, Dr. Kitchen was the co-Principal Investigator of the Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as (CEMELA) that was funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF), Center for Learning and Teaching. He was also the co-Principal Investigator of the Hewlett-Packard Company funded High-Achieving Schools Initiative. He is the co-editor of three books, initiated and served as a co-editor of the TODOS: Mathematics for All Research Monograph, and has worked nationally and internationally with numerous schools. Dr. Kitchen graduated from Denver East High School, started his teaching career in the Denver Public Schools, and B.F. Kitchen Elementary in Loveland, Colorado is named after his grandfather.

Research interests: Diversity and Equity in Mathematics Education, School Reform at Urban Schools that Serve the Poor, Formative Assessment of English Language Learners, History of Education in the U.S.


Douglas W. Van Dine, Project Director

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Douglas W. Van Dine has worked for 18 years in public education, 15 as a middle and high school mathematics teacher and 3 as a building administrator. He recently completed his dissertation on the development and evaluation of a learning trajectory for volume measurement in young children. Dr. Van Dine is currently on staff at the University of Denver in the role of Project Director for two, NSF-funded projects and oversees the work of approximately 20 Graduate Research Assistants. Previously, he served three years as project director at the University at Buffalo, SUNY for an NSF-funded longitudinal study of learning trajectories for length, area, and volume measurement. He has presented at numerous national conferences on learning trajectories for geometric measurement and has provided professional development for teachers on mathematics learning trajectories to primary and elementary teachers and administrators across the country, including Portland (ME), Des Moines (IA), Diboll (TX), Denver (CO), Buffalo (NY), and New York (NY).




Sandy Burke, Office Administrator

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Sandy Burke graduated from the University of Denver in 2001 and received a Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in Literacy.  She is endorsed in Elementary Education K-6, and during the last 11 years taught, co-taught, and worked as a para-professional in a variety of learning environments--ranging from a Head Start, Play-Based Pre-School to a private International Baccalaureate (IB) school for gifted children.  Her experiences, in both public and private education, have been amazing; however, at this point in her career she transitioned out of the classroom to enter into a more administrative role, while still being actively involved in the educational community.  Sandy is the Office Administrator for the Kennedy Institute.  In this role, she provides administrative support to the directors, staff, and students.  Sandy is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the office, which include but are not limited to the following: updating manuals, processing direct pays, managing multiple p-cards, ordering technology, print purchases, and troubleshooting issues surrounding technology.  Her passion for education makes this an ideal working environment, as she is a part of supporting the research that identifies a cost-effective approach for promoting and sustaining the educational success of vulnerable children from early childhood through post-secondary education.

Graduate Research Assistants

Lilian Chimuma

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Lilian Chimuma received a B.S. in Statistics from the University of Nairobi, Kenya and a M.A in Mathematics Education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  As a first year PhD student in Research Methods and Statistics, Lilian hopes to utilize her expertise and training by contributing to research and evaluation methods in education, especially in Kenya and other developing countries targeted at policies to improve the learning environment. Besides working with students from diverse backgrounds, both in Kenya and the U.S., Lilian student taught both High School and Middle School Mathematics in two Urban School Districts in Cincinnati, and Hamilton, Ohio.  She further tutored student athletes from diverse backgrounds in various mathematics subjects at the University of Nebraska. At the Marsico Institute, she is currently working on a video coding project aimed at revising the Building Blocks Learning Trajectories Website on the Heising-Simons project.

Arthur Cunningham 

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Arthur Cunningham is a second year M.A. candidate in the Research, Methods, and Statistics program. He is especially interested in large scale assessment and scale development. Arthur has worked in Denver Public Schools as a teaching fellow and guest teacher. He is a research assistant on the CREMAT project, gathering data to help identify math ability patterns through one on one interviews with pre-K through third grade students.





Casey Crear


Casey Crear is in his third year of the Curriculum & Instruction PhD Program at the University of Denver. His particular research focus is Micro/Macro-Organizational Assessment, Development, and Management for professional working organizations in private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Casey obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance and Master of Public Administration in Decision Management & Research. Casey aims to merge his business and public administration education degree, with his private, nonprofit, and public sector work experience. He currently serves as a performance management and organizational development consultant for several organizations across the United States. Casey uses his assessment knowledge and experience to evaluate quantitative literacy performance, for the CREMAT project: Using rule space and poset-based adaptive testing methodologies to identify ability patterns in early mathematics and create a comprehensive mathematics ability test.


 Laura Dietert

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Laura Dietert is a Graduate Research Assistant for the Kennedy Institute, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver, Morgridge College of Education. She is focusing on the learning, teaching, and assessment of mathematics curriculum in her studies. Laura came to DU with a bachelor's degree in Mathematics and a M.Ed. in Mathematics from Texas State University. Laura taught middle and high school mathematics in a large urban school for several years before becoming an instructional coach for math and science teachers. At the Kennedy Institute, she is a coach for pre-k teachers implementing the interdisciplinary Connect4Learning curriculum, collects data and from these actions, and suggests revisions to the curriculum.


Ron Dolgin

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Ron Dolgin is a second year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Denver. His research focuses on group psychotherapy, training of group therapy facilitators, and physiological measures of group development and cohesion. His other interests include health psychology and body-centered psychotherapy. At the Kennedy Institute, Ron currently works on the CREMAT Project. Specifically, Ron is involved in field testing potential assessments with students from pre-K to third grade. Ron previously assisted on the EMERGE grant, through the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, which evaluated behaviors of professional development coaches for teachers recruited for the study. His research group recently presented their work, entitled: “School Psychologists as Coaches/Consultants in Curriculum Implementation,” at the 2014 Fall Conference for the Colorado Society of School Psychologists.

Heather Blizzard

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Heather Ellis is a first year PhD student in the Research Methods and Statistics program. She is interested in College Access, First Generation College Students, Assessment, and Data Analysis. At the Kennedy Institute, Heather analyzes data and assesses preschool children. Currently, Heather is working on the Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development (TRIAD) project.





John Garrigan

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John Garrigan is a second year Masters of Library and Information Science student, with a focus on youth/teen services, and digital libraries. At the Kennedy Institute, John is assisting with Creating Better, Smarter Assessment: The CREMAT Project. On this project, he is collecting student assessment data in the field, and is helping prepare that information to be analyzed. In addition, he is the video manager, ensuring that all of the filmed assessments are correctly filmed, labeled, and stored, and keeping track of filming equipment to make sure it is properly maintained.




Paul Grimsley

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Paul Grimsley is a second-year doctoral candidate in the DU Counseling Psychology program.  He has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and is a Licensed Addictions Counselor. Paul is interested in working with veterans, at-risk youth, and children with neurodevelopment disorders.  At the Kennedy Institute, Paul is assisting with the Creating Better, Smarter Assessments: The CREMAT Project. His experience with psychological and cognitive assessments supports his work doing field testing with elementary school students.




Aaron Hudyma


Aaron Hudyma is a fourth year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program. His clinical experience includes college counseling centers, forensic populations, and neuropsychological assessment with children and adolescents. His main areas of research are college student mental health and well-being, career decision making, and mindfulness and acceptance based therapies. Aaron is currently working for the Kennedy Institute on Creating Better, Smarter Assessments: The CREMAT Project. To support this work he conducts field interviews in elementary schools and prepares data for analysis.




Elyse Juran


Elyse Juran is a second-year Early Childhood Special Education MA student. She has a particular interest in autism and early intervention and hopes to provide guidance and support for families and children of special needs. As a Graduate Research Assistant on the Children’s Measurement Project, Elyse has been involved in working with students from pre-K to Grade 3 implementing various measurement interventions, conducting data analysis, and has been instrumental in the development of grant research publications. 




Ksenia Kuskova-Burns


Ksenia Kuskova-Burns is a Ph.D. student in the Research Methods and Statistics degree program at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education. She is currently a data manager for the Connect 4 Learning (C4L) project and a co-data manager for the Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development (TRIAD) project. Previously, Ksenia has worked on a grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation conducting statistical analyses to inform student math outcomes in middle schools and high schools.  Ksenia has experience in quantitative and qualitative methods that include hierarchical linear modeling, multiple regression, and field interviews.  Ksenia’s interests include using advanced research methods in program evaluation, statistics, and survey design. 


Maureen Langdon

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Maureen Langdon is continuing her second year as a master’s student in the Early Childhood Special Education program. Maureen’s interests involve research in social-emotional growth and development in early childhood alongside assisting families and students with early intervention services. As a second year research assistant for the Connect-4-Learning Project, Maureen has been involved with preschool assessments, data entry and analysis, and is currently working as the Connect-4-Learning project coordinator.




Zhengqing Li

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Zhengqing Li is a first year student pursuing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver, Morgridge College of Education. He is focusing on children with mathematical learning difficulties and their mathematic growth trajectories with and without efficient intervention. Zhengqing came to DU with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Nanjing Normal University and East China Normal University, where he gained practical experience with kindergarteners during his seven-year study. At the Kennedy Institute, Zhengqing works on Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development the TRIAD Project, processing longitudinal data to examine the effect of the scale-up model of intervention program.


Kim Mahovsky

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Kim Mahovsky is currently pursuing her educational doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on mathematics education. She is also the director of the Comprehensive Research-Based Early Math Ability Test (CREMAT) project. Previously, a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, for 10 years in Georgia and Virginia, she has always had a passion for math education for those students pursuing a degree in elementary education.  The research conducted under the CREMAT project allows Kim to profile children’s understanding of early mathematical ideas, including counting, arithmetic, measurement, geometry, and algebraic thinking. As project director, Kim is in charge of collaboration, revision, and integration of the work and results of the three main groups working on the project.  She has submitted publications to AACT and looks forward to presenting at several conferences in the future around her research with CREMAT.


Tara Meister

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Tara Meister is a coach supporting the implementation of a pilot pre-K curriculum called Connect-4-Learning, Early Childhood Education in the Context of Mathematics, Science, and Literacy. Tara taught secondary English in Denver schools for 7 years and obtained a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction through the Boettcher Teachers’ Program. She is presently a PhD candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program, focusing on educational equity.  During her time as a teacher, Tara worked to implement culturally responsive pedagogy, develop curricula, and reflect on her practice and the role of her and her students’ identities. She previously coached high school sports, and seeks to research and utilize lessons from coaching in education. Within the Kennedy Institute’s Connect4Learning project, Tara facilitates the implementation of the inquiry-based, integrated curriculum by coaching the teachers and provides feedback for the clarity of the curriculum when put into practice.


Kate Newburgh

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Kate Newburgh is a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver. Her primary research interest is in studying early teacher attrition. She has presented at several national conferences on this topic, including the American Association for Curriculum and Teaching, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.  Kate currently works on Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development: the TRIAD project.





Erin Richter-Weikum

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Erin Richter-Weikum is in her first year in the Research Methods and Statistics PhD program.  Erin has her Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Denver and previously worked in academic libraries at both the University of Denver and the University of Northern Colorado. In addition to working at the Kennedy Institute, she also works at the Auraria Library as a research and reference librarian.  At the Kennedy Institute, she works on the CREMAT project where she is learning invaluable skills in data collection and organization.  Erin is very interested in continuing her research on environmental sustainability, and the ways in which sustainability can be integrated into libraries and businesses.



Jake Schaner

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Jake Schaner is a second year Educational Specialist (Ed.S) Candidate in Child, Family and School Psychology program in the Morgridge College of Education.  He is passionate about addressing educational inequity of underserved populations in public schools. His other professional interests include dyslexia intervention, non-suicidal self-injury assessment, and positive psychology.  At the Kennedy Institute, Jake works on the Comprehensive Research-based Early Math Ability Test: The CREMAT project, and uses his knowledge of early childhood development and classroom management to conduct interviews for several domains of early math development.



Brittany Sovran

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Brittany Sovran is a third year PhD candidate in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program. She received her Master of Arts in Psychology from Pepperdine University. Her primary areas of interest include sexuality education for students with disabilities, professional advocacy, crisis intervention, and the role of mental health in schools. She also works as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for school psychology graduate students in the University of Denver Counseling Clinic. Brittany is CLASS pre-K certified, a trained crisis intervention counselor, and a trained sexual assault survivor advocate. At the Kennedy lab, Brittany has been involved in preschool assessment; data analysis and interpretation; and presentations at local and national early childhood conferences.  Currently, Brittany works on the Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development (TRIAD) project.

 Maria Vukovich

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Maria Vukovich is a third-year PhD candidate in Research Methods and Statistics with a concentration in International Studies. Maria holds a Master’s degree in International Disaster Psychology from DU, and has worked extensively in Latin America, Africa, and the United States with refugee and marginalized populations. She hopes to utilize her expertise and training to improve research and evaluation methods in conflict-affected areas, refugee integration, and community health settings. At the Kennedy Institute, Maria has helped to design, implement, and analyze micro-genetic studies focusing on early childhood learning of geometric measurement. She is currently working on helping to complete several journal articles related to her research on the Children’s Measurement Project grant.


Christiana Williams


Christiana Williams is a first year Ed.D. Candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program here at the University of Denver.  She is a veteran teacher with 17 years of experience teaching in low SES urban schools.  She runs her own non-profit mentoring organization for urban middle school girls of color; The YES Circle (The Young Empowered Sisters Circle).  Chris is interested in instructing pre-service educators on how to be culturally responsive teachers of African American children.  One of her goals is to develop a dynamic and effective professional development for educators centered around culturally responsive pedagogy.  She would also like to consult in various districts throughout the country.  At the Kennedy Institute, Chris is currently working on the Connect 4 Learning (C4L) grant, as a teaching coach. She helps implement the C4L curriculum within various schools around the Denver metro area.  


Gabriella Witherill

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Gabrielle Witherill is a first year Educational Specialist candidate in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program with a concentration in Early Childhood. Gabrielle is interested in working with students and families of diverse cultural backgrounds within the early childhood setting, specifically about the importance of mental health. Her other interest include working and supporting students and families of those who have experienced trauma. As a Graduate Research Assistant, Gabrielle has been involved in preschool assessment, materials management, and data analysis. 




Nanxi Xu


Nanxi Xu is a second year M.A. student in the Counseling Psychology program. Currently, Nanxi is working for the Kennedy Institute on the Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development (TRIAD) project.  This project works to better understand children’s mathematical learning mechanism and developmental intervention.  Specifically, Nanxi is in charge of developing the coding protocol to study children’s pride and shame behaviors. 





Keaton Zucker

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Keaton Zucker is a Graduate Research Assistant for the Kennedy Institute. She holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver.  Before coming to the University of Denver she was a mental health clinician and clinical supervisor at a school based health center in New York City. She has extensive clinical experience working with diverse adolescent and adult populations and their families. She has experience administering, and interpreting neuropsychological assessments for children with attention deficit disorders, interpersonal difficulties and learning disorders. The focus of her research is on the impact of social class on psychological processes, career development, college-to-career transition, athletic commitment and relationships, community suicide prevention, and diversity issues. At the Kennedy Institute, she administers brief math assessments to elementary school students and assists with data entry and data video verification.