Start Early. Start well.

March 02, 2023

Walter Gilliam Joins Buffett Early Childhood Institute as Executive Director

Gilliam, Formerly of Yale University, Is a National Expert in Early Childhood Development and Education

Walter S. Gilliam, an expert in the education, health, and mental health of young children, will lead into its next decade the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska.

Gilliam started March 1 as the new executive director of the Buffett Institute, the University of Nebraska’s system-wide institute dedicated to the learning and development of young children. The Buffett Institute was established with a founding gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett and opened its doors in 2013.

Gilliam succeeds Founding Executive Director Samuel J. Meisels, who retired Feb. 28.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the Institute into its next decade,” Gilliam said. “My goal is to broaden and deepen our existing work and strengthen the commitment the Buffett Institute made 10 years ago to make Nebraska the best place in the nation to be a baby.”

“In doing this, we will draw on the resources and expertise across all four campuses at the University of Nebraska, while supporting President Carter's vision that the University conducts research with real-world impact and supports the workforce needs of the state,” he continued. “I look forward to collaborating with campuses, communities, families, educators, and other early childhood professionals throughout Nebraska so we can all work together to best serve our children and families. “

In his new role, he will build upon the Buffett Institute’s mission to transform the lives of young children birth through age 8. He has identified several objectives:

  • Cultivate a deeper connection between the Buffett Institute and the University of Nebraska campuses, including the Institute’s traditional partners and new collaborators who share the belief that the economic vitality and prosperity of the state are directly tied to giving Nebraska’s youngest learners a strong start in life
  • Grow the Institute’s presence, relationships, and engagement throughout Nebraska, stretching from urban areas like Omaha to rural towns experiencing child care deserts
  • Build out the Institute's national identity and expand its expertise and reach across the country

He holds a primary academic appointment at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center at a rank of tenured professor.

Gilliam, a Kentucky native, comes to Nebraska from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he previously was the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at Yale’s Child Study Center, where he maintains a position of professor adjunct. He also served as director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, named for his mentor, who is widely considered the “Father of Head Start.”

Gilliam has a national reputation in the early childhood field. He is a widely published and cited researcher, author, and speaker with expertise in early childhood education and intervention policy, mental health and pediatric supports for young children, and effective methods for reducing classroom behavior problems and preschool expulsion, among other topics. He recently directed a nationwide research project that includes data from more than 126,000 members of the early childhood workforce regarding COVID-19 transmission, vaccination, and health and safety promotion in early childhood settings.

He is the vice president of Zero to Three, a past president of Child Care Aware of America, board treasurer for the Irving Harris Foundation, and a board director for First Children’s Finance, All Our Kin, and the National Workforce Registry Alliance. In 2008, he was a co-recipient of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Education for the coauthored book A Vision for Universal Preschool Education

“I have come to know Walter as a strong champion for children and families, a passionate believer in the power of partnerships, and an accomplished thinker who will bring a distinguished record to Nebraska,” said Ted Carter, president of the University of Nebraska System. “We’re excited to have Walter on board and continue our work in serving the needs of Nebraska’s most vulnerable young people.”

Gilliam is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he earned a master’s degree in educational psychology and a Ph.D. in school psychology. He grew up in Pikeville, Kentucky.

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