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LeeH-2013.jpgHee Yun Lee, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Social Work, and Dr. Melissa Geller, gynecologic oncologist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, received the Ovarian Cancer Pilot Award from the U.S. Department of Defense Health Program. The overall goal of the award is to eliminate ovarian cancer by supporting innovative, high-impact research.

Lee and Geller were awarded $225,000 over two years for the project, which aims to develop and assess an intervention using mobile phone technology to promote genetic counseling among women with ovarian cancer and their families.

1aimage.jpgAbout 1 in 32 Somali children, ages 7-9 in 2010, was identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Minneapolis, according to new data released today by the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). Somali and White children were about equally likely to be identified with ASD in Minneapolis. There is no statistically meaningful difference between the two estimates. Somali and White children were more likely to be identified with ASD than non-Somali Black and Hispanic children.

The Somali and White estimates from Minneapolis were higher than most other communities where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks autism spectrum disorder. The project estimates that 1 in 48 children reviewed in Minneapolis was identified as having ASD.

"We do not know why more Somali and White children were identified as having ASD than Black and Hispanic children in Minneapolis," said Amy Hewitt, director of the U of M Research and Training Center on Community Living in the Institute on Community Integration and primary investigator on the project. "This project was not designed to answer these questions, and future research is warranted."

Somali children with ASD were more likely to also have an intellectual disability (e.g., IQ lower than 70) than children with ASD in all other racial and ethnic groups in Minneapolis, according to the project findings.

"Future research can and should build upon these findings to better understand how ASD affects Somali and non-Somali children," said Hewitt. "This project was not designed to tell us why these differences exist, but its findings support the need for more research on why and how ASD affects Somali and non-Somali children and families differently."

This project also found that the age at first ASD diagnosis was around five years for Somali, White, Black, and Hispanic children.

"Children with ASD can be reliably diagnosed around 2 years of age," said Hewitt. "Further research must be done to understand why Minneapolis children with ASD, especially those who also have intellectual disability, are not getting diagnosed earlier."

To date, this is the largest project to look at the number and characteristics of Somali children with autism spectrum disorder in any U.S. community. However, these findings are limited to Minneapolis, and there are challenges in identifying ASD in small, ethnically diverse groups.

Hmong Across BordersThe Consortium for Hmong Studies between the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted the second Hmong studies conference "Hmong Across Borders," over three days in October. The conference focused on current, innovative research on the Hmong across different intellectual and national boundaries, by scholars from across the U.S., Thailand, and China.

Department of Family Social Science participants included professors Zha Blong Xiong and Catherine Solheim, and graduate student Kari Smalkoski, who presented twice and co-organized the conference.

Institute of Child Development alumna Rebecca ShlaferRebecca Shlafer (Ph.D. 2010), recently spoke to KARE 11 about her research on the doula program, Isis Rising, in the women's prison at Shakopee, MN. The program pairs a doula (a trained birth coach) with a pregnant inmate, which allows the inmate to receive delivery room support and prenatal and postnatal support that helps to foster not only a better, healthier birth experience and a healthier baby, but potentially a stronger start to a better relationship between the mother and her baby, which the program hopes will also foster healthy moms who don't return to prison. As one pregnant inmate put it: "I believe this is my chance. I'm going to have another kid. I need to get it together."

A privately-funded program, Isis Rising has reduced the number of caesarian births at Shakopee to around 3%, while the national rate is around 30%, and there have been no low-birth weight babies born in the program. Shlafer says that all of this saves the taxpayers money. And, she adds: "Putting aside the fact this mom has committed x, y, or z crime, all of the children in this are completely innocent."

Can providing teachers with information about the neurobiology of learning improve K-12 teaching and student learning? Yes, according to University of Minnesota researchers, who recently published their findings in the journal Educational Researcher. Those findings were also selected as an "Editor's Choice" in Science magazine.

By studying attendees of BrainU, a professional development workshop that teaches neuroscience principles of learning to in-service teachers, neuroscience professor Janet Dubinsky, RoehrigG-2004.jpgcurriculum and instruction associate professor Gillian Roehrig (left), and educational psychology associate professor Sashank Varma discovered that understanding of and engagement in neuroscience concepts improved for attending teachers and their students. Teaching the concept of "plasticity," as designed by the Society for Neuroscience, provided a model for understanding student learning in response to teacher instruction, which was a key concept taught in the BrainU workshop.

VarmaS-2011.jpg"Our empirical evaluation of BrainU finds that it improved teacher understanding of neuroscience and confidence in teaching neuroscience," said Varma (right). "This understanding translated to improved classroom instruction compared to control teachers. There was more evidence of inquiry-based learning on the part of teachers and of students engaging in higher-order thinking, displaying greater depth of knowledge, making deeper connections to the world, and engaging in more substantive conversations with teachers."

The researchers conclude their journal article with advice for integrating neuroscience principles of learning into the training of pre-service teachers.

Read the article "Infusing Neuroscience Into Teacher Professional Development," in Educational Researcher.

Also see "When Neuroscience Guides Education" in Science magazine.

Joy Kratzke Johnson (B.S. '52), who completed her 25th New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, died at the age of 86 the next day. A Minnesota native, Johnson was a physical education and math teacher in Duluth for several years before moving to California's Bay Area, where she continued to teach and coach track, volleyball, swimming.

The oldest female finisher in this year's marathon, Johnson fell near mile 16 and received cuts on her face and head, but she got up and finished the race. The next day, she was interviewed by Al Roker on the "Today Show" (see photo). Later she passed away in her hotel room.

A well known, dedicated runner, Johnson did not begin the sport until 1985 after retiring from teaching. She started running half-marathons "in the freezing February cold of her native Minnesota," according to a Wall Street Journal story.

In June this year, Johnson was the oldest runner in Grandma's Marathon in Duluth. Before she came back to Minnesota for that race, she wrote this in a letter to the University alumni magazine:

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1952 and hardly a day goes by when I don't think and/or comment about the positive things I saw about the University of Minnesota. My education there brought me to California. I went to the placement bureau at Cal in Berkeley and within a day had a job teaching. I did not have my credentials with me, but when I told the superintendent of the Campbell schools that I graduated from the U of M he hired me.

I have lived in the San Jose area ever since and upon my retirement started to run and now do marathons. When I come to Minnesota next summer to visit family and run Grandma's Marathon, I plan to come by the tree at the end of the Washington Avenue Bridge and add an old pair of running shoes to the tree ...

Johnson had become a celebrity in the running community for her training tenacity and commitment to finish every race. Chris Weiller, from the New York Road Runners, said Johnson was a member of "the prestigious 'streakers' -- a tightknit group of runners who have completed 15 or more consecutive New York City Marathons," according to a San Jose Mercury News story.

"We're just so sad to hear about her passing," Weiller said in the story. "She was an inspiration to everyone. We're really feeling her loss here."

Johnson's husband, Dr. Newell Johnson, died in 1999, but several of her family members were with her in New York for the race.

"She considered everyone her friend," her daughter, Diana Boydston, told "I think she would be happy with this chain of events: to run her beloved New York marathon, talk to her buddy Al, be there with her sister Faith. She told everyone she loved them before the race, and she was at peace."

Johnson is survived by three of her four children and six grandchildren. Burial and services are being planned for her in Waconia, Minnesota.

See more on Joy Johnson in this Star Tribune story.

Lindsey ZemanekDepartment of Family Social Science graduate student, Lindsey Zemanek was accepted as a 2013-14 LEND Fellow. LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders) is part of a national network with training fellowships funded as a national level through Maternal and Child Health.
Lindsey currently works as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor where she assists children and adults with different disabilities, including neurodevelopmental disorders.

Learn more about Lindsey's research interests.

1JeanIllsleyClarke2011Web.jpgBest known for writing the seminal books on parenting, Jean Illsley Clarke, an internationally recognized family studies scholar and educator, influenced generations of parents. To honor her achievements, the University of Minnesota will award Clarke with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at 5 p.m. on Oct. 15 at a special ceremony in the Upson Room of Walter Library, 117 Pleasant St. S.E., Minneapolis.

A 1948 graduate of the University of Minnesota (B.S. in home economics education, cum laude), Clarke has had a long and distinguished career focusing on ways to help parents raise likable, self-sufficient and respectful children. She is the author of Self-Esteem: A Family Affair and How Much Is Enough? Among her list of honors and accomplishments: winner of the Eric Berne Memorial Award in Transactional Analysis, 1995; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northwest Parenting and Family Education Conference, 2008; alumni awards from the University of Minnesota College of Human Ecology, 1999, and College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), 2001; leadership positions on the National Council on Family Relations and the Minnesota Council on Family Relations; and honoree on the U of M's Wall of Discovery Scholars Walk.

Self-Esteem: A Family Affair is second only to Dr. Spock's as the most influential parenting advice book. Clarke's research and counseling, documented in her 20+ books, have been described as imaginative and practical.

"Jean Clarke is an expert on overindulgence, self-esteem, parenting, human development, group dynamics, and Transactional Analysis," said CEHD Dean Jean Quam. "She deserves this honor for her many contributions to the disciplines of family and parent education, and for translating that work to improve families and communities around the world."

Clarke has an M.A. from St. Mary's College in Winona and has been an adjunct faculty member at both the U and Concordia University.

To expand access to early childhood education to Minneapolis children and families, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the University of Minnesota have formalized a new partnership. The goal is to improve the overall quantity and quality of services by working together and with community partners to establish new early childhood education centers in the City of Minneapolis, beginning in North Minneapolis immediately and eventually expanding to a second center during the next several years.

There is not enough space at high-quality facilities in North Minneapolis to meet the demand for successful early childhood education, University research recently found. This program is meeting a real need and aligns with the state's focus on supporting all families seeking quality education for their young children.
"MPS continues to make significant investments in early childhood education because we believe that it is critical to reducing and eliminating the disparities in student achievement," said Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools. "I am grateful to the University for helping to elevate early childhood education and to our community partners for their long standing commitment to young children and their families. "

The partnership will support early learning "centers of excellence" that are based on the most current research and that demonstrate strong results for the children and families that participate. The program model will be based on both best-available research and evidence-based practices, and the already-established promising and proven practices of existing high-quality programs. The partnership will focus on the planning, development, and implementation of permanent sustainable solutions for children ages 0-5 in Minneapolis.

MPS will provide leadership, space, and staff--with a long-term goal of sharing this space with other community partners. The University will share intellectual capital, through research, to best support early learners; convene and facilitate a conversation to find long-term solutions for this partnership; and continue to innovate and improve the experience for young students.

"The investment we make now in Minneapolis' young children will pay dividends in the years to come--they are our future college graduates and workforce," said University of Minnesota President Kaler. "The U is uniquely poised to partner in this effort, with our past and current work in early childhood education as well as ongoing commitment to close the state's achievement gap."

MPS has a long history of partnering closely with the University's Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) and Department of Educational Psychology faculty, and this investment will continue that tradition. Many other University resources will provide assistance to this partnership: Professor Michael Rodriguez, who is leading achievement gap efforts; the University's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC); the Human Capital Research Collaborative; and other academic departments and centers.

Minneapolis Public Schools and the U of M plan to broaden their partnership to include other community based organizations that have long been working on providing early childhood education to the children of Minneapolis. These programs, through their existing services and ongoing commitment to finding the best ways to serve young children and their families, will enrich the knowledge and bandwidth of the overall partnership such that more children reap the benefits of high-quality early childhood education.

See more on the story in the Minnesota Daily.

Stoffregen2012.jpgProfessor of kinesiology Dr. Thomas A. Stoffregen and his work as the director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL) was highlighted in a recent blog in The New York Times' Well section. The feature, "Rethinking Motion Sickness," relays Stoffregen's hypothesis that motion sickness is connected to posture and gait, not imbalances in the inner ear.

Author Peter Andrey Smith writes, "For decades now, Dr. Stoffregen, 56, director of the university's Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory, has been amassing evidence in support of a surprising theory about the causes of motion sickness. The problem does not arise in the inner ear, he believes, but rather in a disturbance in the body's system for maintaining posture. The idea, once largely ignored, is beginning to gain grudging recognition."

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