Start Early. Start well.

February 23, 2023

Buffett Institute's Samuel J. Meisels Retires, Capping Distinguished Career in Early Childhood

Samuel J. Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, will retire Feb. 28, capping off a career that has spanned a half-century and established him as a leading voice in the field of early childhood education. 
Meisels came to Nebraska in 2013 to help launch the Buffett Institute, the University of Nebraska’s system-wide institute dedicated to the learning and development of young children. It was founded with a gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett. Under his leadership, the four-campus, multidisciplinary institute has: 

  • Established itself as a state voice and a national leader in early childhood 
  • Created a bold vision—that Nebraska will become the best place in the nation to be a baby 
  • Built a strong mission to transform the lives of young children by improving their learning and development 
  • Raised awareness and understanding about the importance of ensuring quality, continuity, and equity in early care and education that galvanized a focus on early childhood in the state 
  • Developed signature programs that focus on two of the most challenging areas in early childhood: Closing the Opportunity Gap and Elevating the Early Childhood Workforce 
  • Promoted university faculty and graduate student research through the creation of endowed faculty positions and provided funding for more than 20 graduate scholars devoted to research on early development 
  • Nurtured trusting relationships, partnerships, and collaborations across all sectors of the early childhood system in communities across Nebraska, as well as the university, state, and nation 
  • Inspired and helped lead a growing movement to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education
“What I’ve learned over the past 10 years is that the Buffett Institute is a learning organization—it is dynamic and changing, evolving with time, discovery, research, insight, opinion, and increased ability to listen and respond,” Meisels said. “Yet, we know there is always more we can learn and more we can do. Making Nebraska and every other state in the nation the best place to be a baby is both a commitment and a reward.” 

A new report recounts the first decade of the Institute’s work, its accomplishments, and the lessons learned along the way. Read Start Early. Start Well: 10 Year Report, 2013–2023.  

Prior to coming to the Buffett Institute, Meisels spent more than 11 years as president of Erikson Institute, one of the nation’s foremost graduate schools in child development. He was a professor and researcher at the University of Michigan and a professor in the Department of Child Study at Tufts University. He began his career in education as a preschool and Kindergarten-first grade teacher in Massachusetts.  

In 2019, Meisels received the visionary leadership award from the Simms/Mann Institute—one of the highest career honors in the nation given to early childhood experts. In 2022, he received the Plambeck Early Childhood Pioneer Award from the University of Nebraska at Kearney honoring his distinguished career and dedication to children and families.  

Succeeding Meisels is Walter S. Gilliam, a leading expert in the education, health, and mental health of young children. Gilliam comes to the Institute from Yale University, where he was the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the university’s Child Study Center and served as director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. Gilliam will start March 1.   

“I thank Sam Meisels for agreeing to serve as founding executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute,” said NU System President Ted Carter. “We created the Institute to bring together world-leading faculty, staff, and students from across the university system, along with partners from every corner of the state, to make a difference in the lives of young children and families. We are making progress together, and today we are well-positioned to expand the university’s impact in early childhood even further.” 

Meisels, who holds the Richard D. Holland Presidential Chair in Early Childhood Development, said leading the Buffett Institute has been the professional highlight of his career.  

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Buffett Institute’s Founding Executive Director,” said Meisels. “The leadership and vision of the University of Nebraska in creating the Buffett Institute remains a game-changer in the field of early childhood education. The need for supporting young children’s development and education has never been greater, and I am excited to see all that Buffett Institute will accomplish in the years ahead.”
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