Start Early. Start well.

Leadership

SAMUEL J. MEISELS

SAMUEL J. MEISELS, ED.D.
Founding Executive Director

Dr. Meisels is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the assessment of young children and early childhood development. He came to the Buffett Institute in 2013 to serve as the Institute’s founding executive director and undertook an extraordinary first year to launch the Institute and form its programs. He is also Professor of Child, Youth, and Family Studies at UNL, with courtesy appointments as professor of public health (College of Public Health, UNMC), education (College of Education, UNK), and public administration (College of Public Affairs, UNO). A former preschool, Kindergarten and first grade teacher, Dr. Meisels formerly served as president of Erikson Institute in Chicago, one of the country’s premier graduate schools in child development. Prior to leading Erikson Institute, Dr. Meisels had a distinguished 21-year tenure at the University of Michigan, where he remains professor emeritus and research scientist emeritus. Dr. Meisels was also a faculty member at Tufts University for eight years and director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School at Tufts. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Rochester and received master’s and doctoral degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. MORE

RENEE WESSELS

RENEE WESSELS
Associate Executive Director

Renee Wessels serves as associate executive director and works closely with Dr. Meisels to oversee the work of the Buffett Institute. She joined the Institute in 2013 and has more than 30 years of experience in public affairs, communications, and public policy issues. Wessels has worked with some of the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children, including Save the Children, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Commission on Children. Later, as head of her own public affairs firm, she specialized in child welfare, after-school, and public health issues and worked with a variety of public/private partnerships and systems improvement efforts. She also has worked in the Nebraska Legislature and Governor’s Office, and the U.S. Congress.

IHEOMA IRUKA

IHEOMA IRUKA, PH.D.
Director of Research and Evaluation

Dr. Iruka joined the Buffett Institute in 2014 and oversees applied research and evaluation studies involving children from birth through Grade 3 and their families. She previously served as associate director for research at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on determining how early experiences affect the development of low-income and ethnic minority children and the role of the family and educational environments in this process. Dr. Iruka received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Miami (Florida) in applied developmental psychology. MORE

Maria Malnack

MARIA MALNACK
Director of Finance and Administration

Maria Malnack is director of finance and administration at the Buffett Institute, where she manages all financial functions including generating the annual budget and partnering with the Institute’s leadership to plan for the organization’s long-term financial sustainability. She also facilitates implementation of the Institute’s strategic plan and oversees daily administrative operations. Malnack brings more than 20 years of financial and business management experience to her new role, including seven years at the University of Nebraska Omaha Alumni Association, where she has served as business manager. Before that, she was director of finance and administration at the Fontenelle Nature Association. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from UNO, and bachelor’s degrees in accounting from UNO and international business from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

CHRISTINE MAXWELL

CHRISTINE MAXWELL, PH.D.
Director of Program Development

Dr. Maxwell joined the Buffett Institute in 2014 and works with a wide range of early childhood services and providers to improve the quality of care for children in need from birth through Grade 3. Her areas of expertise include early childhood education and urban public school reform. She previously served as director of the New Schools Project at Erikson Institute and was a principal and developer of alternative schools in Milwaukee. While at Erikson, Dr. Maxwell partnered with the Chicago Public Schools to advance the quality of PreK through Grade 3 education. Dr. Maxwell received a bachelor’s degree in marketing, a master’s degree in early childhood education, and a Ph.D. in childhood education, all from Florida State University.

SUSAN SARVER

SUSAN SARVER, PH.D.
Director of Workforce Planning and Development

Dr. Sarver focuses on increasing the quantity, quality, and skills of early childhood educators in Nebraska and the nation, joining the Buffett Institute in 2014. Her research has been devoted to studying rural families living in poverty as well as continuity between parents and teachers. Dr. Sarver is on leave as an associate professor of child, youth, and family studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she provided leadership for undergraduate programs in early childhood education. Dr. Sarver received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington & Lee University in Virginia and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in child and family development from the University of Georgia.

SHANNON SHERMAN

SHANNON SHERMAN
Director of Communications

Shannon Sherman directs strategic communications programs and joined the Buffett Institute in 2014. A Nebraska native, she previously served as senior director of communications and director of programs and outreach at the Nebraska Alumni Association, where she was responsible for brand and communication strategies. Earlier, she worked for the Bailey Lauerman advertising agency and as assistant sports information director at the University of Nebraska Athletic Department. Sherman received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Rose Edzie

ROSE EDZIE, PH.D.
Director of Development, NU Foundation

Dr. Edzie is director of development at the University of Nebraska Foundation, where she supports the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Previously, she served as assistant director of operations for the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and affiliate director for Nebraska’s Project Lead the Way, a state-level program focused on enhancing STEM education for K  12 students. Dr. Edzie holds a doctorate in education administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a master’s degree in education, leadership, and social policy from Loyola University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Program Staff

Kim Bodensteiner

KIM BODENSTEINER
Assoc. Director-Program Development

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MOLLY COLLING
Program Specialist

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DALHIA LLOYD
Program Specialist

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JANETTE MERKEL
Program Specialist

Cama Charlet

CAMA CHARLET
Educational Facilitator

Darcy Heath

DARCY HEATH
Educational Facilitator

Mary Beth Pistillo

MARY BETH PISTILLO
Educational Facilitator

Amy Schmidtke

AMY SCHMIDTKE
Educational Facilitator

Brooke Studt

BROOKE STUDT
Educational Facilitator

Workforce Development Staff

CATHEY HUDDLESTON-CASAS
Associate Director of Workforce Planning and Development

Alex Daro

ALEX DARO
Graduate Assistant

Research and Evaluation Staff

Greg Welch

GREG WELCH
Associate Director of Research and Evaluation

Amy Roberts

AMY ROBERTS
Research Specialist

Benjamin Baumfalk

BENJAMIN BAUMFALK
Graduate Assistant

Communications Staff

Machaela Cavanaugh

MACHAELA CAVANAUGH
Conferences and Special Projects Manager

Duane Retzlaff

DUANE RETZLAFF
Communications Associate

administrative staff

Laurie Griffiths

LAURIE GRIFFITHS
Office Associate

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LORI KUKER
Office Associate

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MAGGI NALL
Office Associate

ENDOWED COMMUNITY CHAIRS

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is establishing four endowed community professorships on the University of Nebraska campuses. MORE

buffett SCHOLARS

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute Graduate Scholars program awards 1- and 2-year grants—each worth up to $25,000 annually—to a maximum of four doctoral students every year. MORE

BOARD OF ADVISORS

Our work is supported by a distinguished panel of highly respected educators who form the Buffett Institute’s Board of Advisors. MORE

STRATEGIC PLANNING COMMISSION

A statewide strategic planning commission guided the Buffett Institute’s formation. MORE

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