Dr. Walter Gilliam named Buffett Early Childhood Institute executive director
LINCOLN, Neb. -- University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter announced Monday that following a national search, he has named Walter S. Gilliam, Ph.D., a leading expert in the education, health and mental health of young children, as the next executive director of NU’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute.
Gilliam is currently the Elizabeth Mears & House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at Yale University’s Child Study Center in New Haven, Conn. He is also director of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, named for his mentor, who is known as the “Father of Head Start.” Gilliam is a widely published and cited researcher, author and speaker with expertise in early childhood care and education programs, school readiness, and mental health supports for young children, among other areas.
Gilliam will begin his new role on March 1, 2023, succeeding the Buffett Institute’s founding executive director, Samuel J. Meisels, Ed.D.
“Walter Gilliam has a deep commitment to education, and early education in particular, as America’s greatest force for social mobility and growth,” Carter said. “That commitment is personal for him as a first-generation college graduate.
“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. We’re excited to have Walter on board and continue our work in serving the needs of Nebraska’s most vulnerable young people.”
Launched with a founding gift from Omaha philanthropist Susie Buffett, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute draws on the talents and resources of all four University of Nebraska campuses plus community partners across the state to help transform the lives of young children by improving their learning and development. Faculty across the University of Nebraska have a long history of leadership in early childhood, helping Nebraska create a new model for the engagement of higher education in the field.
As the Buffett Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, Carter said Gilliam emerged as the right person to work with university faculty, staff, students and community partners to lead the institute into its next chapter. Carter thanked the search committee, chaired by University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Education Dean Mark Reid, for its work in identifying and assessing candidates.
Gilliam said: “In creating the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, Nebraska has set a high bar for what’s possible when talented and committed people from across the university system and around the state come together to make a difference for children, families and the incredible professionals who serve them. I’m honored and excited to be part of this work.
“The challenges before us are clear, and have only become more urgent in the wake of the devastating impacts the pandemic has had on early childhood programs and the early educator workforce. But I know Nebraska will be the place that will deliver nation-leading solutions for making sure every young person has the best possible opportunity for their fullest measure of health, happiness and success.”
Gilliam is 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.
Gilliam’s research has focused on early childhood education and intervention policy analysis, specifically how policies translate into effective services; ways to improve the quality of prekindergarten and child care services; the impact of early childhood education programs on children’s school readiness; and effective methods for reducing classroom behavior problems and preschool expulsion. His research and writings are frequently cited in major news outlets and he is regularly consulted by decision-makers in the U.S. and other countries on issues related to early care and education.
Gilliam has also studied Covid-19 transmission, vaccination, and health and safety promotion in early childhood settings. At the beginning of the pandemic, he created the Yale CARES program to study the impact of Covid-19 on early care and education programs; the program has more than 126,000 early educators participating, and its results are regularly provided to federal and state agencies including the CDC and governor’s offices.
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, Ky.