This September, 14 undergraduate fellows and three faculty members from the College of Education and Human Development traveled to Las Vegas for the Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation, Retention, and Research kick-off event. This first-of-its-kind cross-institutional collaboration among the University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada State College, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers unprecedented opportunities to work together to serve the communities across Nevada. The more than $825,000 grant was provided by the Nevada Department of Education.
“This is a unique and exciting project,” Eleni Oikonomidoy, associate dean of the College of Education & Human Development, said. “Having the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas to meet with the fellows from the other institutions was invaluable. Our students found the educational experience stimulating, engaging and empowering, and they enjoyed the team-building activities. We thank our hosts in Las Vegas, and we look forward to hosting the fellows from Nevada State College and UNLV in Reno next year!”
The event included a keynote speaker and three breakout sessions focused on special education, language development and mental health. There was also a panel discussion where fellows had the opportunity to ask questions. Outside of the main event, the most memorable aspect of the trip was the networking between fellows and faculty. To encourage team building, fellows participated in an evening of problem-solving and collaboration in escape rooms.
“I chose to be a part of this program to enhance my journey to becoming a teacher,” Paige Eriksen, NIEPRR fellow, said. “The fellowship offers a multitude of amazing opportunities, including professional development, collaboration across three colleges in Nevada, participation in research endeavors and outreach to the local community.
“Over the course of our trip to Las Vegas, we got to meet and get to know each other, then participate in several educational talks from various professors and a keynote speaker. We learned about mental health in youth, the overrepresentation of minorities in special education and strategies to support English language learners. Having important conversations about how best to support our future students was wonderful, and my takeaways from the weekend are incredibly valuable.”
University faculty members Oikonomidoy, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development; Lydia Deflorio, associate professor of human development and family science; and Robert Ives, associate professor of special education, accompanied the fellows to Las Vegas to offer mentorship and training.
“At a time of desperate teacher shortages across the country, research shows that higher levels of engagement contribute to retention of teachers and better-quality teaching,” Robert Ives, associate professor of special education at the College of Education & Human Development, said. “This program provides opportunities for pre-service teachers to actively engage with communities, empirical research, higher education, and professional development. We hope the state of Nevada will continue to support these efforts to train and retain teachers beyond the end of this project.”
The goal of this grant-funded program is to provide each fellow with new and innovative experiences around education research, training, and preparation that go above and beyond what they will receive in their pre-service coursework and practicum experiences. As a result, they should be equipped to be a skilled practitioner and leader in K-12 education in Nevada. Next year, the event will be hosted at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“In addition to preparing future educators, we are also focused on building and strengthening communities through this grant,” Lydia Deflorio, associate professor of human development and family science at the College of Education & Human Development, said. “In Las Vegas, it was awesome to watch as new friendships formed between students within and across the three universities.
“Over the course of this academic year, the students will continue to work together across campuses on projects focused on enhancing equity in education, particularly among underserved populations in Nevada. It is our hope that the relationships they build through this work will last long beyond their time in the program and that the work that they do has a positive impact on communities within our state.”
The Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation, Retention, and Research two-year program includes approximately 90 hours of learning opportunities each academic year to support skill development as an emerging educational leader. The program takes a multifocal approach, providing enhanced preparation of pre-service teachers through programming, community engagement, participation in research and knowledge dissemination.
Fellows participate in three pathways while in the program, Educational Engagement Pathways, Community Engagement Pathways and Professional Development.
“Together with our partners in Las Vegas, we hope that the multiple experiences that the students will engage in in the next two years will enrich their skills, knowledge and professional networks, and prepare them well for their transition into Nevada’s elementary, middle and high school classrooms,” Oikonomidoy said.
The Educational Engagement Pathways allow fellows to engage with critical educational topics in meaningful ways and to build their ability and sense of self as advocates for their students and communities.
The Community Engagement Pathways connects fellows with students and families in their local community. Fellows connect by sharing their interests and experience, learning the backgrounds of the children and families they serve, and honing their craft as effective and engaged educators.
The Professional Development days bring together fellows with education researchers, thought leaders and activists to build and strengthen their framework as educators. Through small breakout groups and larger keynote addresses, pre-service and practicing educators are given a platform to have powerful discussions that impact their teaching practice and broaden their perspectives in the pursuit of students’ educational and personal growth.
The Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation, Retention, and Research program also encourages meaningful research in the fields of teacher preparation and retention through mini grants. Funded projects undertake meaningful collaboration with community organizations in order to enhance equity, inclusion and engagement.
The vision of the program is to have all Nevada educators to be community-focused, research-informed and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively teach all Nevada K-12 students.