By Duane Retzlaff
Marisa Macy has spent her professional life on the move.
The Seattle native has worked all over the country—Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and now Nebraska.
She and her family were living in Orlando when the Cille and Ron Williams Chair of Early Childhood Education opened at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Quarantined at home during the pandemic, she interviewed remotely and accepted the job without visiting the state. After a three-day drive, they arrived last August at what Macy describes as her dream job, a place where she can put down roots.
The whole family feels supported by the Kearney community, she said, and their daughter, Adriana, loves her school.
“It’s everything and more we thought it would be. And the people at UNK, the people at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, the people I get to meet all across Nebraska as part of my outreach work that I do are just amazing.”
Macy, who has a Ph.D. in special education from the University of Oregon, this summer added the title of Buffett Early Childhood Institute Community Chair, one of four community chairs the Institute is establishing on the four University of Nebraska campuses. Macy is the chair at UNK, focusing on early childhood education, and Julia Torquati is the chair at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, focusing on infant and child mental health. The community chair represents a new role for faculty that goes well beyond teaching, research, and service to include campus leadership and responsiveness to the local community through research.
Though based in Kearney, Macy doesn’t stand still for long.
“I just spent a few days in western Nebraska, in Scottsbluff, Sidney, and a couple of other visits earlier in July, meeting people at the Educational Service Units and learning about the work that Nebraska Extension does. I’m just so impressed with how much care there is for children and families in this state,” she said.
Her first year at UNK has been a bit of a whirlwind, collaborating with researchers at the Institute and on other NU campuses. The projects she’s involved with include Nurture Nebraska, which addresses children’s social-emotional needs; Help Me Grow Nebraska, which focuses on early detection of developmental delays or disabilities; and a number of workforce issues, one led by UNK colleague Dawn Mollenkopf, another by Torquati, and yet another with the Buffett Institute’s Susan Sarver.
Then there are conferences and convenings, including the RESPECT kickoff event in Lincoln this past May, and the upcoming Thriving Children, Families, and Communities Conference and the UNK-Community Early Childhood Conference, both to be held in Kearney in September and October, respectively.
“Another thing I’m really excited about is teaching,” she said. “Some of my classes have a field component, and so I’ve been getting the chance to go around the state and meet people through the work that my students are doing.”
Macy said she’s proud of the work at the Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center on the UNK campus. The center provides child care for university staff and students as well as the Kearney community and provides opportunities for early childhood research and educator training. Time at the center has been personally rewarding, too, for Macy.
“They embraced us. I would pick up my daughter from school and she and I would go there in the afternoons,” she said. “My daughter’s an only child, so she’s never really been around other young children. And it was so exciting, because she learned how to change her first diaper at Plambeck; she did read-alouds with the kids. To see my daughter witness child development right before her very eyes, it was just so exciting.”
Macy said she and a colleague in communication disorders, Philip Lai, will be starting a language study at the Plambeck Center.
“They have beautiful technology. They have video cameras in the rooms, and we’re going to be doing language samples, and the technology allows us to do some really cool things. And so there’s a lot of exciting things happening at UNK, and Plambeck is just one of them.”
Samuel Meisels, founding executive director at the Buffett Institute, is eager to see more of Macy’s contributions to the early childhood field. The Institute will honor her at a reception in Kearney this fall.
“It has been a delight getting to know Marisa, and I know that my colleagues at the Institute are excited about the work she’s doing and the opportunities to collaborate with her and make a real difference in early childhood in Nebraska and beyond,” he said.
Duane Retzlaff is a communications associate at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, helping share the Institute’s work with educators, child care providers, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the general public.
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