Dr. Samuel J. Meisels, one of the nation’s leading authorities on the assessment of young children and early childhood development, has been named the founding executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, NU President James B. Milliken announced today. Meisels, currently president of Erikson Institute in Chicago, the country’s premier graduate school in child development, will begin at the University of Nebraska on June 1, 2013. Prior to that date he will assist the university in beginning to develop staffing, strategy and other plans.
“We launched the Buffett Early Childhood Institute to become a national leader in early childhood education and development – to help create a more level playing field for at-risk children and families in Nebraska and beyond. Sam Meisels shares that vision and he is extraordinarily well-suited to lead the Institute,” Milliken said. “His extensive experience in teaching, research and advocacy; his outstanding reputation and expertise; and his passion for improving the lives of children and families will help us achieve our goal of becoming a national leader and model for public universities in addressing early childhood.”
Meisels said, “The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is being created at exactly the right time about precisely the right things in just the right way. The Institute has the philanthropic support, university backing, and applied research tradition that it needs to achieve its initial goals. It provides us with a rare opportunity to move the field of early childhood forward to change the lives of children and families in Nebraska and beyond. I am deeply honored to take on this new challenge.”
Jack Shonkoff, professor of child health and development in the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, said: “The establishment of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute put an important stake in the ground toward advancing the healthy development of young children and their families. The selection of Sam Meisels as the founding director assures that this promise will be realized not only for Nebraska but for the nation as a whole. Congratulations to the University of Nebraska for this inspiring appointment.”
Meisels has served as Erikson Institute president since January 2002. Erikson, an independent higher education institution, prepares child development and family service professionals for leadership. Through academic programs, applied research and community service and engagement, Erikson works to advance the ability of practitioners, researchers and decision-makers to improve life for children from birth to age 8 and their families. Erikson brings the newest scientific knowledge and theories about children’s development and learning into its classrooms and out into the community so that professionals serving children and families are informed, inspired and responsive.
Meisels led Erikson through a time of substantial growth. During the past decade the size of the student body more than doubled, the value of Erikson’s endowment doubled, and grants and contracts awarded to faculty and staff increased by nearly 150 percent. Meisels also spearheaded a capital campaign that allowed Erikson to build a new campus, establish centers devoted to clinical, pedagogical and policy matters, initiate new programs in distance learning and for dual language learners, and extend the institute’s influence on the field by investing more heavily in applied research and community-based interventions.
Meisels came to Erikson Institute after a distinguished 21-year career at the University of Michigan, where he is now professor and research scientist emeritus. At Michigan, he was awarded the Faculty Research Award in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. His research interests include developmental consequences of high-risk birth, with a focus on disabled children and infants born at extremely low birth weight; policy issues related to early intervention and assessment; and development of screening instruments and alternative assessment approaches for young children.
Previously, he was associate professor and director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School in the Department of Child Study at Tufts University and served as senior adviser in early childhood development at the Developmental Evaluation Clinic of Boston’s Children’s Hospital. He has taught in preschools, kindergarten and first grade in the Massachusetts public schools. Meisels graduated magna cum laude from the University of Rochester, where he studied philosophy, and his master’s and doctorate degrees are from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Buffett Early Childhood Institute was created in 2011 with a generous gift from Omaha philanthropist Susan A. Buffett, chair of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. The institute is a university-wide, multidisciplinary research, education and policy center focused on promoting the development and success of children from birth to age 8, especially those who are vulnerable because of poverty, abuse, or developmental, learning or behavioral challenges.
“Dr. Meisels is a world-class leader for the new Institute,” Buffett said. “He brings just the right vision, experience and skills needed to launch this initiative. With Sam at the helm, the Institute will play a major role in transforming early childhood practice, early childhood research and early childhood policy in Nebraska and across America.”
Meisels was named following a national search. The Buffett Institute search committee was chaired by Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Meisels will be a tenured professor in the college, with courtesy appointments to be requested at the other campuses. Kostelnik said, “Dr. Meisels is an eloquent and forceful advocate for young children and their families. We welcome him to Nebraska and look forward to his leadership of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.”
Other members of the search committee were:
- Charlie Bicak, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, University of Nebraska at Kearney
- Eric Buchanan, assistant vice president and director of corporate and foundation relations, University of Nebraska Foundation
- Nancy Edick, dean of the College of Education, University of Nebraska at Omaha
- Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of the College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center
- Eleanor Kirkland, director of the Head Start-State Collaboration Office, State of Nebraska
- Helen Raikes, professor of child, youth & family studies, UNL
- Brian Maher, superintendent, Kearney Public Schools
- Jessie Rasmussen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund
- Steve Seline, president of Walnut Private Equity Partners LLC
- Susan Sheridan, professor of educational psychology, UNL
- John Sparks, chair of pediatrics administration, UNMC
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