Skip navigation
Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy

Marsico Institute

Who We Are


Douglas Clements, Ph.D.

Dr. Clements (Executive Director of Marsico Institute)

Douglas Clements, Ph.D., is a Distinguished University Professor, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, and Executive Director of the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver. Previously a kindergarten teacher for five years and a preschool teacher for one year, he has conducted research and published widely in the areas of the learning and teaching of early mathematics and computer applications in mathematics education. His most recent interests are in creating, using, and evaluating a research-based curriculum and in taking successful curricula to scale using technologies and learning trajectories. He has published over 166 refereed research studies, 27 books, 100 chapters, and 300 additional works. 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 over 38 funded projects, including those funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Dept. of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Currently, Dr. Clements is Principal Investigator on two large-scale randomized cluster trial projects in early mathematics (IES). Two recent research projects funded by the NSF include Using Rule Space and Poset-based Adaptive Testing Methodologies to Identify Ability Patterns in Early Mathematics and Create a Comprehensive Mathematics Ability Test, which will develop a computer-adaptive assessment for early mathematics and Early Childhood Education in the Context of Mathematics, Science, and Literacy, developing an interdisciplinary preschool curriculum. Another recent project, just funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Gates Foundation, Scalable Professional Development in Early Mathematics: The Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories Tool, is updating and disseminate a professional development software application empirically supported in previous projects.

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 presently serving on the Common Core State Standards committee of the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, helping to write national academic standards and the learning trajectories that underlie them. He is one of the authors of NCTM's Principles and Standards in School Mathematics and Curriculum Focal Points. Additional information can be found at, the "Research Projects" tab of Dr. Clement's Portfolio for more detail.

Doug's CV

Julie Sarama, Ph.D.

Julie SaramaJulie Sarama is a Distinguished University Professor, the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Innovative Learning Technologies, co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver. 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 software environments (including those she has created) in mathematics classrooms. These studies have been published in more than 80 refereed articles, 7 books, 60 chapters, and over 100 additional publications.

Dr. Sarama has directed over 30 projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). For example, she is Principal or Co-Principal Investigator on Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics; on a new center, Special Education Educational Technology Media, and Materials for Individuals with Disabilities (with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); and on Professional Development in Early Mathematics: The Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories Tool, updating and disseminate a professional development software application ( that she developed and verified empirically in previous projects.

Previously she directed seven projects funded by the NSF, three large-scale studies funded by the U.S. Education Department's Institute of Educational Studies (IES), and one funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Gates Foundation, Scalable Professional Development in Early Mathematics: The Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories Tool, updating and disseminate a professional development software application empirically supported in previous projects:

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. In addition, she was the Director of the Gifted Mathematics Program (GMP) at the University of Buffalo, SUNY. She designed and programmed over 50 published computer programs, including Building Blocks software and 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"). See Dr. Sarama's portfolio here. 

Julie's CV

Crystal Day-Hess, Ph.D.

crystal picture

Crystal Day-Hess, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor and Assistant Director at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, conducts early childhood research and professional development trainings across the country. She has extensive experience developing, coordinating, and conducting research in the early childhood field focusing on young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional school readiness skills (e.g., self-regulation/executive function, play, achievement motivation, caregiver sensitivity). Day-Hess has conducted research in coordination with administrators, teachers, parents, and students in multiple settings, including public and private preschools, Early Head Start and Head Start programs, and social service agencies. As part of this research, she has had in-depth experience administering a variety of early childhood assessments, including the following: K-BIT, DAS-II, PPVT, TERA, TEMA, BASC, CBQ, Self-Evaluative Emotions Coding System, Carol Dweck’s motivation paradigm, and a variety of caregiver sensitivity and attachment measures. Day-Hess also has experience developing, coordinating, and conducting professional development workshops for early childhood educators and administrators in multiple contexts and settings. She worked on several Early Reading First projects and has served as a training manager for the Scaffolding Early Learning and Tools of the Mind early childhood programs. Her work has been published in such journals as Early Education and Development and NHSA Dialog: A Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Intervention Field, and in conjunction with ASCD. 

Crystal's CV


Pam Hoberman

Pam directs the Institute's resources. She oversees budgeting, payroll, billing, procurement, payments, & human resources. The Institute's main point of contact for hiring and personnel matters, Pam recruits, hires, onboards, and helps develop research staff in collaboration with the Institute's executive leadership. She manages the Institute's technologies, space, & supplies. She serves as the main point of contact for administering the Institute's grants and contracts with active involvement throughout the entire award lifecycle. Pam manages select projects, both research and operational, and works closely with research teams to monitor progress on project milestones. She develops and implements initiatives that advance the Institute's strategic plan.

Pam brings to Marsico more than a decade of experience in public service and nonprofits, with over five years of direct experience in this role alone. The former Director of New York City Labor Market Information Service, a nonprofit research consultancy operating out of the City University of New York, Pam ran the organization's day-to-day operations while also providing leadership to secure it a thriving future.

Pam received her Master of Public Administration degree from NYU Wagner and her undergraduate degree in Government and Politics and a Certificate in Women's Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. Email her at

Renee Lizcano, Ph.D.

LizcanoRenee Lizcano, Ph.D., is a Research Associate at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy. She earned her undergraduate degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and her Ph.D. in Developmental and Psychological Sciences at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education. Lizcano has worked as a lecturer teaching cognitive development and as an Associate Professor teaching elementary math methods and culturally responsive pedagogy. She has extensive experience in project management, data collection, and data analysis. Lizcano's research interests center on STEM teacher preparation and professional development and supporting early learning in STEM, particularly for students and families from underprivileged backgrounds.

Kim Munnerley

Kim Freda

Kim is the Business Coordinator at the Marsico Institute, in this role, she provides administrative support to the directors, staff, and students. Kim is responsible for coordinating the day-to-day operations of the office, which include but are not limited to the following: managing payroll, updating manuals, processing direct pays, managing p-cards, ordering technology, and coordinating team schedules. Prior to working at the Marsico Institute, Kim worked as an Executive Assistant and Project Coordinator for the global human resources team at Liberty Global where she was responsible for corporate team coordination of various international initiatives including executive compensation programs, training and development, and talent management across three countries. Kim graduated with her bachelors in psychology from Moravian College where she focused her studies on organizational psychology and human resource management.


Postdoctoral Fellows

Christina Mulcahy, Ph.D.

Christina MulcahyChristina Mulcahy studied Educational Psychology – Applied Developmental Science, as an IES predoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia. Prior to joining the Marsico Institute, she worked in early childhood research at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) and WestEd and taught seventh grade language and literature in the Dominican Republic. She has extensive experiences conducting educational research and professional development including: administering assessments to children; conducting classroom observations; managing and training data collectors and coordinating large scale data collection; participant recruitment; developing and delivering curricula and interventions; data analysis; and developing and delivering online and in-person professional development workshops and courses for early childhood teachers. Her research interests focus on early childhood education practice and policy, self-regulation and executive function in the educational context, early math instruction and intervention, teacher-child interactions and relationships, and professional development for early childhood teachers. She has published work in education and early childhood focused journals including, AERA Open, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, and Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Natalie sChock, PH.D.

natalie schockNatalie Schock is a Postdoctoral Fellow. She earned her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, where she studied family engagement in early care and education (ECE) settings. Natalie has conducted qualitative and quantitative research on ECE teacher well-being, family engagement, and interventions supporting school readiness and child development. Previously, Natalie worked as a third-grade teacher through Teach For America in New York City, a preschool media writer/producer at Sockeye Media in New York City, a teaching assistant at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, a youth mentor through AmeriCorps in San Diego, and a newspaper copy editor. Her research interests focus on ECE teacher practice and supports at the policy and center levels as well as supporting learning for young children in the home and school spheres. Natalie holds bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Italian from the University of Kansas.

Elica Sharifnia, PH.D.

ElicaElica Sharifnia is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning. She studied Developmental Psychology at the University of Miami. Prior to joining the Marsico Institute, she worked in early childhood education research in the School Readiness Lab at the University of Miami and in the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International and was a student teaching assistant at The Children’s School at Claremont McKenna College. Through her research experiences, she has contributed to a variety of early childhood STEM development, evaluation, and assessment projects and has extensive experience in project management, instrument development, data collection and analysis, and developing and delivering professional development workshops to early childhood teachers. Her research interests broadly center around better understanding how to best promote high-quality STEM teaching and learning for young children with the goal of informing educational practices in both the school and home context.

Shannon Stark Guss, PH.D.

shannonShannon Stark Guss studied Educational Psychology, with a specialization in Research, Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics at Oklahoma State University. She worked at the Early Childhood Education Institute at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa for over 10 years before joining the University of Denver. Her previous work included data collection, data management, data analysis, and data sharing with teachers and early childhood leaders. She has published in early childhood journals with a focus on children and families experiencing adversity. Her research interests include interventions that support the learning and development of young children. She is also interested in application of modern psychometric theory to develop research measures. She has three daughters at home and is happily married to an elementary educator.