Start Early. Start well.

July 19, 2021

Buffett Institute Awards Graduate Fellowships to Three University of Nebraska Students

UNL’s Saima Hasnin and Anna Johnson and Morgan Staver of UNMC each received the award for the 2021-22 academic year

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute has awarded one-year grants to two University of Nebraska ̶ Lincoln doctoral students and one doctoral student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center through a pioneering fellowship program.

The three students are Saima Hasnin, Anna Johnson, and Morgan Staver. Hasnin is a student in the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska ̶ Lincoln, while Johnson is in the clinical psychology training program at UNL. Staver is a graduate student in nursing at UNMC. 

The Buffett Institute Graduate Scholars program provides financial support and mentoring and is designed to foster the growth of diverse, exceptional graduate students conducting research about young children and their families. The program, now in its sixth year, is the first financial support program for doctoral students who have reached Ph.D. candidacy at the University of Nebraska that focuses on young children and their development.

Each student will receive up to $25,000 to support scholarly research that benefits young children.

Greg Welch, the associate director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute, oversees the Graduate Scholars fellowships. Welch is impressed by this year’s projects and the impact they can have on children and families.


“These graduate students will participate in research projects that will positively impact several important areas of child development,” Welch said. “A diverse group of projects, this research will help us learn more about a variety of important topics including child obesity and mental health in both children and mothers.”

Hasnin’s project, “Can Family Child Care Home Providers’ Preparation and Serving Practices Influence Children’s Vegetable Consumption?” will help to understand family child care home providers’ preparation and serving practices of vegetables, parents’ feeding practices at home, and their influences on children’s vegetable consumption, while also validating a convenient method to measure children’s vegetable consumption. Her study will further the science for improving children’s vegetable consumption in child care and will help address early childhood obesity, which is a major public health problem in the U.S. that disproportionately impacts children from low-income and minority families in rural areas. Hasnin, a native of Dhaka, Bangladesh, is serving as a graduate research assistant in the Ecological Approach to (EAT) Family Style project and the Nebraska Nutrition and Physical Activity in Child Care (NE Go NAP SACC) project. 

Her faculty mentor is Dr. Dipti A. Dev.

“Assessing rural family child care home providers’ vegetable preparation and serving practices will contribute to an improved understanding of why young children are not meeting dietary recommendations for vegetables,” Dev said. “Hasnin is a motivated, dedicated, and collaborative scholar who has demonstrated enthusiasm to learn novel research methods and conduct research to build capacity of the early childhood workforce to support implementation of evidence-based practices for improving dietary outcomes in young children for chronic disease prevention.”

Johnson, from Lake City, Minnesota, is a fifth-year student in the clinical psychology training program at UNL. Her project will examine moderators of the associations between early childhood sleep problems and elementary school development outcomes. Sleep problems, one of the most common areas of concern for parents of young children, can have detrimental impacts on development in early childhood as well as lasting impacts throughout childhood. Johnson’s study will inform early childhood practice and policy around the issue of sleep and child development. The identification of risk factors will inform pediatric sleep screenings and facilitate early identification for children who are at increased risk for poor outcomes. Johnson serves as an early childhood mental health consultant at Head Start, where she collaborates with teachers to support the social and emotional development of toddlers and preschoolers.

Her faculty mentor is Dr. Timothy Nelson.

“Anna is a talented scholar with a bright future in early childhood research and practice,” Nelson said. “Her project is ambitious and will contribute to our growing understanding of the critical role of sleep in child development across multiple domains.”

Staver is a doctoral student in nursing at UNMC on the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner clinical track. Her project will examine the maternal distress in mothers of infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. A Clive, Iowa, native, Staver will examine depression, anxiety, and trauma experiences in mothers of infants in the NICU. Maternal distress can have devastating developmental, social, and economic outcomes for a mother and her infant. Staver’s work has the potential to assist with identifying women who would benefit from clinical intervention and referral to treatment, which would improve the lives of the mother, her infant, and their family. Staver is certified in perinatal mental health. She is also a registered nurse and has worked at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in the NICU, at Methodist Hospital as a forensic nurse examiner, and at Catholic Health Initiatives as a registered nurse in behavior health.

Staver’s faculty mentors are Drs. Kathleen Hanna and Tiffany Moore.

“Ms. Staver is passionate about improving the health of mothers and infants through her research,” Hanna said. “Her research focuses on maternal distress among mothers whose infants have been hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units. The distress mothers experience has health and developmental consequences for infants. I have no doubts that Ms. Staver will make significant contributions to improving mothers’ and infants’ health, development, and well-being.”

“Morgan is a hard-working, dedicated doctoral student and rising star in maternal-child research,” Moore said. “As a NICU nurse, Morgan has personally witnessed the emotional effects of having a baby in the NICU on these NICU parents. These experiences have ignited her passion to define, understand, and improve maternal distress which will ultimately improve infant outcomes. I am confident that Morgan will be a phenomenal nurse scientist who makes a significant impact in maternal-child health.”

The Buffett Institute Graduate Scholars program is intended to reach across traditional higher education boundaries, supporting quality research from diverse fields that impact young children, including health, education, social work, music, art, the neurosciences, and others. Multidisciplinary research and practice—particularly from disciplines not typically associated with the field of early childhood education—and new methodologies are encouraged. Scholars work with their faculty mentors on a dissertation that represents an in-depth exploration of early childhood issues.

Visit for more information.



Scroll to top