Category Archives: Alumni news

Wackerle-Hollman, McConnell partner with SPPS on $400,000 grant to develop language measures for Hmong preschool students

Two researchers in the Department of Educational Psychology, Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, senior research associate in school psychology, and Scott McConnell, professor of special educationalong with Lori Erickson, assistant director in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Office of Early Learning, and colleagues—recently received a $400,000, two-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences (IES). Their grant, “Addressing the Growing Diversity of Preschool Populations through Low Incidence Language Barriers: Hmong Language Development to Improve Assessment Approaches,” aims to explore, understand, and document Hmong language development.

“Our IGDILab team is pleased to partner with SPPS on such an important venture. We jointly recognize the importance of Hmong language development to the local community and look forward to learning how early language development affects young Hmong-English bilingual students’ language and literacy development,” said McConnell.

Wackerle-Hollman and Erickson will co-lead the project, focusing on the community’s expertise in Hmong language to understand how the language develops. St Paul is home to the largest urban Hmong population in the nation and nearly a quarter of enrolled SPPS students are Hmong. They’ll use these findings to develop a Hmong language version of the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs)brief, easy to use measures of early language and literacy designed for use with preschool children. The new measures will be used by educators to assess Hmong preschool children’s early language and literacy skills.

“IGDILab continues to pursue the development of  meaningful measures for communities that are underserved, including bilingual students,” said Wackerle-Hollman. “This began with early language and literacy measures for Spanish-speaking students and continues through our partnership with St. Paul public schools to develop high quality measures for Hmong students.”

IGDILab is a research lab at the University of Minnesota led by Wackerle-Hollman and McConnell. The lab researches, designs, and tests IGDI measures to support data-based decision making by teachers, early childhood professionals, parents, and others to help improve early childhood outcomes. IGDILab has secured over $5 million in funding in the past decade to pursue complementary research including the assessment of English and Spanish language and early literacy development for children three, four, and five years of age as well as supporting resources to facilitate data-based decisions using scores derived from IGDIs.

CEHD researchers use brain scans to predict autism in high-risk, 6-month-old infants

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

College of Education and Human Development researchers contributed to a new study that suggests that patterns of brain activity in high-risk, 6-month-old babies may accurately predict which of them will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2.

The new study was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, and Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, were study co-authors. The study was conducted by the IBIS Network and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Approximately one out of 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and their younger siblings are at a higher risk of developing the condition. “These findings need to be replicated, but that said, we are very excited about the potential to leverage cutting edge technology to advance the search for the earliest signs of autism,” Elison said.

For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brain’s functional connectivity – or how different brain regions work together – in high-risk, 6-month-old infants. The infants were considered high-risk because they have an older sibling with autism. Overall, 59 high-risk infants were included in the study. Eleven of the infants were diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old and 48 were not.

The researchers applied machine learning algorithms to the infants’ brain scans to identify patterns that separated them into the two groups. They then applied the algorithm to each of the infants to predict which infants would later be diagnosed with ASD. The algorithm correctly predicted nine of the 11 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD and all 48 of the infants who were not later diagnosed with the condition.

According to the researchers, if replicated, the results could provide a clinically valuable tool for detecting ASD in high-risk infants before symptoms set in. This in turn would allow researchers to test the effectiveness of interventions on a population of high-risk infants who have been identified as having a greater risk of ASD based on their brain scan at 6 months of age.

“The researchers will now try to confirm their findings in larger groups of children. But they already have provided proof of principle that it’s possible to detect ASD long before children show the first visible signs of the condition,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in a blog about the study. “The findings could pave the way for developing more cost-effective mobile neuroimaging tools, which might be used in early ASD screening.”

In February 2017, Elison and Wolff contributed to a separate study that used MRI scans of high-risk infants conducted at 6 and 12 months of age to accurately predict which infants would later meet criteria for ASD at age 2. The method used in the new study would only require one scan at 6 months of age.

“This is really interdisciplinary science at its very best, and I anticipate it will eventually lead to improved outcomes for children and families,” Wolff said. “The ability to predict autism in infancy opens the door for something that has long been improbable: pre-symptomatic intervention.”

Christenson, school psych colleagues recognized at annual reception

Dr. Sandy Christenson receives award from Annie Hansen-Burke and Jim Ysseldyke.

On May 23, 2017, students, staff, faculty, and alumni gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of the school psychology program at an annual recognition ceremony. Dr. Sandy Christenson, alumna and emeritus professor, was honored as the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.

Other school psychology students, faculty, and instructors awarded throughout the year:

CSPP hosts networking event for students, alumni, supervisors

On May 9th, CSPP held a networking event for students, alumni, and supervisors at Shamrocks in St. Paul. Over 70 people joined to meet one another and build relationships with fellow members of the CSPP program. Alumni from across the metro area, with careers in the counseling field as mental health therapists, school counselors, and higher education counselors, were in attendance. It presented students with the opportunity to make meaningful connections with supervisors and alumni. Dr. Marguerite Ohrtman hosted the event.

CSPP hosts annual picnic at Minnehaha Falls

On May 10th, CSPP held their annual end of the year picnic for students, graduates, families, and friends. Over 125 people were in attendance this year at Minneahaha Falls Park in Minneapolis. Families from Florida, Washington, and across the country gathered to show their support.

Deno honored in Learning Disability Quarterly

Stanley L. Deno
Stanley L. Deno

Stanley L. Deno—professor emeritus until his passing on October 12, 2016—recently was honored with a tribute in Learning Disability Quarterly entitled “An Uncommon Man’s Uncommon Achievement.”

Former students of Deno’s and alumni from the University of Minnesota wrote the article in recognition of his career, influence, and persona. The piece highlights Denos work developing curriculum-based measurement (CBM)—simple indicators index student strengths in reading, writing, and math that measure performance over time. Today, CBM is a set of federally-recognized procedures that teachers use nationwide to identify and help special education students with mild disabilities who are underperforming in the classroom.

Read the full tribute.

CSPP alum, Julie Koch, receives CEHD Rising Star award

Julie Koch, Ph.D. ’08

Julie Koch, 2008 alumna of the Department of Educational Psychology’s counseling and student personnel psychology (CSPP) Ph.D. program, is one of this year’s recipients of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Rising Star Award.

Since graduation, Julie has been a faculty member at Oklahoma State University. Today, she is an associate professor and interim head of the School of Applied Health and Educational Psychology, a newly formed department that includes counseling, counseling psychology, health education, and public health. Her research interests include: microaffirmation, faculty multicultural competence, counselor development and training, issues related to diverse populations, and prevention in school settings.

The Rising Alumni award goes to CEHD alumni who have achieved early distinction in their career (15 years or less since graduation), demonstrated outstanding leadership, or shown exceptional volunteer services in their community.

“Julie is definitely a Rising Star,” says Thomas Skovohlt, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s CSPP program. “She is unusually gifted at management and administration, and it is easy to see her as a university president in the years ahead.”

Special ed alum, Lembke, named Honorary Alumni by University of Missouri College of Ed

Erica Lembke

Erica Lembke, chair and professor of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri and an alumni of the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, recently was awarded an Honorary Alumni award by the University of Missouri College of Education.

Lembke, whose research focus centers on measurement, intervention, progress monitoring, and data-based individualization within content areas such as mathematics and writing, has been involved in $4.5 million in federal funding for research and training, has more than 40 publications, and has given more than 150 presentations at local, state and national conferences.

In addition, Lembke is active in her local and regional schools, as she provides support and technical assistance for individual teachers and administrators.

On the national level, Lembke serves as a Senior Technical Advisor for the National Center on Intensive Intervention, which advocates for federal special education technical assistance and policy for all U.S. schools. She is also the current editor of the Journal Assessment for Effective Intervention.

According to one of Lembke’s nominators, “I hope to emulate this very talented professor in every way, as she has truly made an impact on my professional development and career. Her unconditional support and tireless efforts to advise and mentor me continue to this day.”

Ed Psych alum, Dick Senese, named president of Capella University

Dick Senese head shot
Dick Senese

Dick Senese, Ph.D., an alumni of the Department of Educational Psychology’s counseling & student personnel psychology program, was recently named Capella University’s new president.

According to the Star Tribune, Senese had been serving as interim president for nearly a year, in addition to his previous duties as vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer — positions he has held since 2014. While president, he will continue to be the school’s chief academic officer. Read the full article.

Ysseldyke recognized for outstanding contributions to school psychology training

James E. Ysseldyke

Jim Ysseldyke, professor emeritus in the Department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, received the 2017 award for Outstanding Contributions to School Psychology Training from the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs. Ysseldyke was recognized for his contributions to graduate preparation and leadership in numerous centers, professional organizations, task forces, and other local, regional, and national organizations that shaped school psychology since he entered the field 45 years ago.

Amanda Sullivan, coordinator of the school psychology program, and Janet Graden, coordinator of the University of Cincinnati school psychology program and Ysseldyke’s former advisee, presented the award at the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs’ recent meeting in Hollywood, FL. Educational Psychology professor emerita Sandra Christenson received the award in 2009.

CSPP alumnus, Blaine Fowers, receives Joseph B. Gittler Award

Dr. Blaine Fowers

Dr. Blaine Fowers, a 1983 alumnus of the Department of Educational Psychology’s Counseling & Student Personnel Psychology (CSPP) M.A. program was recently awarded the Joseph B. Gittler Award, a premier award from the American Psychological Foundation. The annual award, which includes a $7,500 honorarium, honors theoretical psychologists who question the basic assumptions most psychologists take for granted.

“The Gittler award is an honor to receive because it is the premier award given to recognize work on the philosophical foundations of psychology in North America,” said Fowers. “The importance of the award was indicated by its first two awardees, Jerome Bruner and Daniel Kahneman (who also won a Nobel Prize), two giants in psychology.”

Fowers’ work helps to illuminate fundamental assumptions underlying psychological thinking. Currently, he teaches as a tenured professor at the University of Miami. Learn more.