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Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy

Who We Are


Laura Ascherl-Morris

Laura Ascherl-MorrisLaura Morris is a 3rd year PhD student in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on mathematics education.  Her research interests include finding patterns of teacher questioning strategies to increase mathematical discourse in the classroom. This passion comes from her previous job; an instructional coach for high school mathematics teachers in Houston Texas. Laura came to DU with a B.S. in Mathematics and a M.Ed. in Mathematics from Texas State University. During the first two years of her Graduate Research Assistantship for the University of Denver's Marsico Institute, she was a coach for pre-k teachers implementing the interdisciplinary Connect4Learning curriculum, collecting data and suggesting revisions to the curriculum. Currently, Laura is working on the DREME project; researching the relationship between mathematical learning and executive functioning.

Heather Blizzard

Heather BlizzardHeather Blizzard is a third year PhD student in the Research Methods and Statistics Program and has worked with the Kennedy Institute for the past 4 years in various capacities. Currently, Heather serves as a data analyst for the Comprehensive Research-Based Early Math Ability Test (CREMAT) project.





Courtney Collins

Courtney CollinsThis is Courtney's second year in the Ed.D. Curriculum and Instruction Program and she is continuing to work on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics project. She is interested in implementing and creating curriculum that honors students' passion and genius. She is currently researching the efficacy of Genius Hour in a range of classrooms across the globe. She is enthusiastic about developing classrooms into places for inquiry, discovery and creativity across every P-20 learning environment.


Bethdalie Cruz

Beth CruzMy name is Bethdalie Cruz and I am currently completing a doctoral degree in the field of School Psychology. I had worked as a licensed school psychologist for two years prior to making the decision to expand my knowledge from fieldwork to research. It was an important decision given policy and intervention-related obstacles that I encountered while working with students with emotional disabilities, who also happened to be from predominantly minority populations. I also noticed that assessment and identification practices for English Language Learners (ELL) could use some refinement so as not to over or under identify students with disabilities. My experiences with these students have led me to consider deconstructing resilience characteristics in light of experienced difficulties in order to determine which hold more control over behavior and academic achievement. Ultimately, I am determined to identify better ways in which these populations of students, with their unique cultural backgrounds and experiences, can grow and thrive.

Ron Dolgin

Ron DolginRon Dolgin is a fourth 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 measures of group development and cohesion. His other research and clinical interests include health psychology and body-centered psychotherapy. At the Kennedy Institute, Ron currently works on the Children's Measurement Project, where he is involved in thematic data analysis of students' length and area learning trajectories. Ron previously assisted on the CREMAT Project, where he was involved in field testing potential assessments with students from pre-K to 3rd grade. He also was a graduate assistant 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 presented their work, entitled "School Psychologists as Coaches/Consultants in Curriculum Implementation." at the 2014 Fall Conference for the Colorado Society of School Psychologists.

 John Ganzar

John Ganzar

John Ganzar is a third year Ed.D student. He also teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) to adult language learners and is a Fellow in the Housing Department. John's research is focused on Higher Education Policy and Law in addition to Language Acquisition theories and frameworks to aid his instructional strategies and learning outcomes. As a Denver native, he enjoys riding his bike to class and work. At the Marsico Institute, he is currently working on the Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories (LT2) project to update the Building Blocks Learning Trajectories (BBLT) and manages the library references as the Library GRA. 

Aaron hudyma

Aaron HudymaAaron Hudyma is adoctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program. His clinical experience includes private practice, college counseling centers, forensic settings, and neuropsychological assessment with children and adolescents. His main areas of scholarship are college student mental health and well-being, career decision making, and acceptance and mindfulness therapies for anxiety disorders. Aaron is currently working for the Kennedy Institute on Creating Better, Smarter
Assessments: The CREMAT Project, and he has previously worked on the Children's
Measurement Project.  

Kayanne Klipka

Kayanne KlipkaKayanne is a second-year Master's candidate in the Library and Information Science program. Before her tenure at DU, Kayanne received her B.A. in psychology from Seattle Pacific University. She is interested in increasing equitable access to technology, education, and literature as well as encouraging diversity within those fields.  As a graduate research assistant, she organizes data, troubleshoots technology issues, and plays math games with early education students for the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics (LT Studies) grant. When not at work, Kayanne can be found cooking or otherwise enjoying her hometown of Denver.  

Ksenia Kuskova-Burns

Ksenia Polson

Ksenia Polson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Research Methods and Statistics degree program at the University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education. She serves as a data analyst for Kennedy Institute working on projects that include LT Studies and the Jeffco Prosperity Project. She is currently applying her skills to collaborate on journal articles related to her research on mathematics learning. Previously, Ms. Polson 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.  She has experience in quantitative and qualitative methods that include hierarchical linear modeling, multiple regression, and field interviews.  Her interests include using advanced research methods in program evaluation, statistics, and survey design.  

Brooke Lamphere

Brooke Lamphere

Brooke is a second year doctoral student in Counseling Psychology, and is currently a member of the team working on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics project. Brooke has spent the past several years working with patients with eating disorders, and is currently a member of the Behavioral Health team at an integrated family medicine clinic. Her research interests focus on the integration of health, positive, and counseling psychology, specifically exploring the role of psychosocial factors in well-being for populations with chronic illness or injury. While completing her Master of Arts in Sport & Performance Psychology, Brooke worked with youth and adolescent athletes in a variety of contexts to develop life, interpersonal, and performance skills, and hopes to apply these experiences in support of the LT studies project. 

Tara Meister

Tara MeisterTara Meister, a third-year PhD candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program, works on the Kennedy Institute's collaboration in the Development and Research in Early Math Education (DREME) Network. She has previously supported Connect4Learning: Early Childhood Education in the Context of Mathematics, Science, and Literacy, an inquiry-based, integrated preschool curriculum, and she has participated in teacher training with New York City's Pre-K For All implementation of the Building Blocks curriculum. Tara obtained a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Urban Education through the Boettcher Teachers' Program. Tara taught secondary English in Denver-area schools for 7 years and focused on implementing culturally responsive pedagogies and curricula, as well as the role of her and her students' identities. She has taught courses in DU's Teacher Education Program on teaching English Language Learners and has worked on a research project for effective teacher evaluation and equitable teaching practices. She is passionate about coaching sports and seeks to connect this to teacher development. Tara's research interests include qualitative methods, educational equity, discourse, and the role of race and power in education at both the individual and system levels.

Brianna Mestas

Brianna MestasBrianna Mestas is a first-year PhD candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program.  Brianna received her BA in Ethnic Studies from CU Boulder and her MA in Instruction and Curriculum with a focus in Urban Education with the Boettcher Teacher Program at DU.  She taught ESL, Kindergarten, 1st, and 4th grade in Title I schools for five years in the Denver Metro area, and spent the last two years teaching 3rd grade overseas at the International School of Panama.  Brianna is passionate about working with linguistically and culturally diverse students and families.  As a GRA with the Marsico Institute, Brianna will be working on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics project. 

Bruce Miller

Bruce MillerBruce G. Miller is a first-year Doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Denver. He has his Colorado Teaching Certificate and is currently interested in teaching at
the University level. Bruce has a BA from University of Northern Colorado and a MA from Lesley University in Massachusetts. He has been a public school teacher for over thirty-one years with: Grand County in Utah, Adams County 50 in Denver, and Jefferson County also in Denver. Bruce's Assistantship is with the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics Project. He plans to learn the newest techniques and advancements in the Educational field so he can pass these on to current and future teachers.

Emma Mooso

Emma Mooso

Emma Mooso is a 2nd year MA student in the Higher Education program. She is interested in the retention and access efforts at higher education institutions and non-profit organizations that help to level the playing field for all students. Emma is continuing to work on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics research project by assessing the mathematic abilities of preschool students and instructing them.


Jessica Morganfield

Jessica MorganfieldJessica Morganfield is a first-year Research Methods and Statistics Master’s student.  She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Human Communication with a concentration in Rhetorical Theory from the University of Denver. She is working on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics project.  Working on the Kennedy Institute project is a valuable opportunity that will enable Jessica to put the theories and concepts from the RMS program into practice.



Becky Myrold

Becky MyroldBecky Myrold is a second year graduate student in the Library and Information Science program. Past focus areas have included youth physical activity and the sustainability of that activity, bike safety programs, and the prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral challenges within the population. To this end she completed her first masters degree in prevention science from Washington State University with a thesis evaluating a local bike safety program for young children. Her current focus is to explore the information industry to better allow access to all populations in a variety of settings. Furthermore, Becky has also found a passion within the fire service and is trying to get hired onto a department. This fall she will be working on the CREMAT project at the Kennedy Institute as a graduate research assistant. 

Sarah o'neil

Sarah O'Neil

Sarah O'Neil is a first-year Master's student in the Research Methods and Statistics program. She is currently working on the Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics project. Sarah moved to Denver after spending three years on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota working for Saint Francis Indian School and the Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud. She is interested in program evaluation and data driven education.



Aleis Pugia

Aleis Pugia
Aleis Pugia is a first year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program. She is interested in working with underserved clients and providing greater access to multicultural therapy for diverse, low income families. Aleis worked in education for five years prior to coming to DU, teaching middle school and coaching first and second year teachers. She also has her M.Ed. in Secondary Education and her MA in Counseling Psychology. At the Marsico Institute, she is currently working on the Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories (LT2) project to create an interactive website for teachers, parents, and children. The website focuses on providing a research-based teacher preparation and professional development tool for educators who teach mathematics to young children. 

Dan Riordan

Dan RiordanDan is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction program. Before enrolling at DU, he taught middle school and high school English in Minnesota and Wisconsin. During his teaching career, he has also been a boys' and girls' high school basketball coach. He has a BA in English from Saint Mary's University and an MST from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His research interests include studying how teachers cope with stress as well as the effectiveness of novice teacher support and induction programs. At the Marsico Institute, he is currently working on the Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories (LT2) project to update the Building Blocks Learning Trajectories (BBLT) website.

Marisa Simoni

Marisa SimoniMarisa Simoni is a second year Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) candidate in the Child, Family, and School Psychology program with a concentration in Early Childhood. Marisa has previously worked with school psychologists in the Wyoming School District, where her work in assessment and data analysis focused on early childhood and middle school students. Marisa is currently working in Denver Public Schools with high needs populations that include social/emotional needs along with learning and developmental disabilities. Her interests involve working with students who have autism spectrum disorder, students with behavior/emotional impairments, and underprivileged populations, specifically in early education. Marisa is currently working on the Development and Research in Early Mathematics and Education (DREME) Network grant. She works on the mathematics and executive function project, paying critical attention to executive functions role in mathematics and how executive function and math are linked to a wide range of important long-term academic outcomes.

jared Utley

Jared Utley

Jared Utley is a third year PhD. student in counseling psychology.  Prior to moving to Denver, Jared earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  Jared's research interests include: understanding the experiences of people who identify with multiple minority identities, members of at-risk and underserved populations, and the adoptee constellation.  Jared has had clinical experiences as a practicum student working with adults in addictions, undergraduate and graduate college students, and in adult outpatient settings.  Jared is currently a member of the learning trajectories team.  Jared enjoys playing sports, singing, hiking, camping, and indulging in the occasional Korean all you can eat buffet.

Krystine Zytka

Krisrine Zytka

Kristine is a doctoral student in the Child, Family, & School Psychology program. Before coming to DU Kristine received an Ed.S. degree in school psychology from the University of Massachusetts. Her experience in education primarily includes working in preschool and elementary school settings. Kristine's current research interest involves behavior in preschool and elementary students identified as gifted and talented. As a graduate research assistant at the Marsico Institute, Kristine is working on the project, "Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics". This project involves math assessment and instruction with preschool students.