Start Early. Start well.

September 03, 2019

UNL, Buffett Institute Announce First Recipient of Community Chair in Infant and Child Mental Health

Julia Torquati to Promote Mental Health and Social-Emotional Development

Lincoln, Neb. — The College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska ̶ Lincoln and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute have announced the joint appointment of Julia Torquati as the inaugural recipient of the Community Chair in Infant and Child Mental Health.

Torquati—a professor and interim department chair of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies (CYAF) in the College of Education and Human Sciences—will contribute expertise in the areas of infant and child mental health and socio-emotional development. As chair, she also will help educate families and other care providers to support mental and emotional development in young children.

“We are so pleased to have Dr. Torquati take on this new role,” said Sherri Jones, the College’s dean. “Julia is an award-winning faculty member with 25 years of experience in child development, child care, and nature-based environmental education.  She is a leader in her discipline and department, valued mentor for students and junior faculty members and she has a strong record of active collaboration in her research and her teaching.”

“Dr. Torquati’s work integrates mental health into the full ecological system of very young children including their families, caregivers, teachers, and communities,” Jones said. “Her vision for the community chair and the partnership with the Buffett Institute is exciting and will serve the state, the university, and the college very well.”

Torquati’s publications related to temperament, self-regulation, caregiving, peer relationships, adult-child relationships, and executive functioning demonstrate her expertise in the emotional and social well-being of young children, Jones said. Torquati holds her Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Arizona and her B.A. from Marquette University.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute team and with people across the state to promote mental health and well-being of our youngest Nebraskans,” Torquati said. “I am building a plan to integrate research, teaching, and engagement that will advance our ability to support infants, young children, and the adults who work with them. But I will also be meeting with many of the professionals and stakeholders in Nebraska to learn about their concerns, needs, and questions so that in the role of community chair, and in our land-grant university, I can be responsive to the needs of the state.”

“We share Dr. Torquati's focus on this important part of child development and are excited to have her become the community chair at the University of Nebraska ̶ Lincoln,” said Samuel Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Institute. “We know that relationships with responsive, consistent primary caregivers help support healthy social-emotional development and help form the foundation of mental health for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.”

The Buffett Institute is working with the University of Nebraska Foundation and the University of Nebraska to establish endowed, tenured community chair positions on each campus. Annual stipends are awarded to the chair recipients for salary and research support and are made possible by permanently endowed funds established by donors at the Foundation. The community chairs each focus on different aspects of early childhood development and reflect the interdisciplinary commitment of the Buffett Institute. 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 translational and applied research. Chairs devote 25% of their time to Buffett Institute programs and bridging the work to campus and community partners.

David Dzewaltowski is community chair in activity, nutrition, and obesity prevention at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Susan Catapano is the new Cille and Ron Williams Community Chair for Early Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The remaining chair to be filled is at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

For more information about the community chairs, visit

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