Julie Nicholson, PhD; Director

Julie Nicholson is an associate professor of practice in the School of Education at Mills College. Dr. Nicholson teaches coursework in research methodology, leadership development, family and child policy, play and child development. She works on several local and state level policy committees including the Oakland Education Cabinet Prenatal to Eight committee, Oakland’s Starting Smart and Strong Task Force and Alameda County’s Early Care and Education Planning Council’s ECE Committee. Dr. Nicholson co-leads a professional learning community to support leadership development among early childhood professionals that has been recognized by the California Department of Education. Her research and publications emphasize social justice in several areas including leadership, play across the lifespan, the use of social networking tools in higher education coursework, teachers’ use of data to inform their instruction, consequential validity in ECE assessments, and system building efforts (prenatal–eight years) in urban schools. A former kindergarten and preschool teacher, she has a California multiple subjects teaching credential, an MA in developmental psychology from San Francisco State University, and an MA and PhD in early childhood education from the University of Michigan.

Tasha Henneman, EdD; Research Associate

Tasha Henneman is currently the Education and Health Policy Advisor for the City of Berkeley’s Office of the Mayor. Dr. Henneman is a current applicant of the Leadership of the East Bay (LEB) Program. She is also part of a Child Care Health and Safety Regulatory Workgroup that is creating recommendations to Community Care Licensing on expulsion and physical guidance policy. In May, 2014 she graduated from Mills College with a doctorate and master's degree in educational leadership in early childhood. The focus of her research explores the experiences of parents who have Black boys that were expelled or 'pushed out' from several early child care environments and the impacts of the expulsions on the entire family. Dr Henneman’s areas of research interest are child development projects that emphasize the importance of play, critical race theory, issues of social justice, efforts to close the opportunity gap—particularly with consideration to neurobiology (including temperament theory, toxic stress and trauma), gaps in the teacher workforce, and the High Stakes (Testing) Accountability Movement and it’s spiral push down effects upon ECE and school readiness. Previous education includes a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from CSU Chico and a master’s in public administration with an emphasis in public management from CSU East Bay. During this time Dr. Henneman developed a passion for organizational change and human behavior theory within the workplace, specifically, job satisfaction and managing and understanding the generational divide within an organization. This information is also made applicable to her current work in early childhood.

Maja Jevgjovikj, MA; Research Associate

Maja Jevgjovikj has been a research associate at the Center for Play Research since 2013. Maja holds a bachelor's degree in pedagogy obtained in Macedonia and a master's degree in early childhood education from Mills College, Oakland. Prior to moving to United States, Maja was working as a journalist at a daily newspaper in Macedonia. She is currently teaching toddlers at the Marin Day Schools, SF City Hall Campus. Her academic interests include language development in dual language learners, heritage language maintenance, children’s right to play, and the socio-cultural aspects of play.

Jean A. Kurnik, MA; Research Associate

Jean Kurnik joined the Center for Play Research as a research associate in 2012. She is a former early childhood educator, mentor, and site director for privately and publicly funded preschool programs in California and manages social media content for the Bay Area Coalition for Play. Jean earned her masters in education for leadership in early childhood at Mills College and received her BA degree from St. Mary’s College. She was an assistant project manager of the First 5 Alignment Project, School of Education, Mills College. An experienced early childhood professional and early childhood policy advocate, Jean works with local and national committees and foundations concerned with and addressing healthy child development, early learning quality and improvement and early literacy. These include Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, Quality Rating and Improvement System with First 5 Alameda County, and SEEDS of Early Literacy professional development system with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. She is a consultant and research reviewer for WestEd’s “For Our Babies” Campaign. Jean’s research interests include children’s right to play, socio-historical and current contexts influencing children’s play experiences and the connection to social justice issues, and raising the importance of investing in our youngest children.

Helen Maniates, PhD, Research Associate

Helen Maniates is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco. She coordinates the Master of Arts of Teaching Reading/Reading Certificate Program and teaches credential courses in the Teacher Education Department. Her research focuses on teacher adaptation of curriculum to expand access for historically marginalized students, community-based teacher preparation, readiness for schooling, and transitional kindergarten. She has a California multiple subjects teaching credential, an MA in education with an emphasis in early childhood education from Sonoma State University and a doctorate in education from University of California-Berkeley.

Cyndi Maurer, PhD; Research Associate

Cyndi Maurer recently completed her doctorate in childhood studies at Rutgers University. She received her bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and psychology with a focus on child development from the University of California, Riverside. After working for three years in both the private and non profit sector, she returned to academia to pursue her PhD. Cyndi is committed to encouraging the well-being of children through creative and playful means, and has worked with inner-city youth to document what happiness means to them. Her areas of research interest and expertise include the incorporation of media and technology in play, the use of television in children’s understanding of interactions, and providing children with an opportunity to share and highlight their own experiences.

Anne Bauer, MA; Research Assistant

Anne Bauer has been an early childhood educator for over 18 years. She is currently co-director of Aquatic Park School, a progressive preschool and infant toddler center in Berkeley, California. She received her MA in education from Mills College and is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program with an emphasis in early childhood at Mills College. Her research interests are the integration of play in urban elementary school contexts, supporting teachers' learning of inquiry and teacher research, how social justice and play intersect in early care and education contexts, and professionalism of early childhood educators.

Sara Bonetti, MA; Research Assistant

Sara Bonetti is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program with an emphasis in early childhood at Mills College. Her research interests include early childhood policy and advocacy, quantitative research, data use, workforce development, mathematics and technology in early learning settings, and prenatal to eight systems development and alignment. Sara is an ECE policy and data associate for the Alameda County Early Care and Education Planning Council where she manages several data-related projects. Her professional experience includes working as coordinator of the Marin County Child Care Commission, a research and survey analyst, and toddler and preschool teacher. Previously Sara did research and policy work in the field of international development as an agricultural economics and rural development specialist. Sara has an MSc in agricultural economics from UC Davis and an MSc in development studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Iris Corey, BA; Research Assistant

Iris Corey graduated from Mills College with a BA in psychology. After graduating, she became a Behavior Specialist for the Center for Social Dynamics and currently works at St. Paul's Episcopal School, a private elementary and middle school in Oakland. Her academic interests include the relationship between play and emotional development in children. She plans to attend graduate school soon and develop her interests in education and developmental psychology.

Michelle Grant-Groves, MA; Research Assistant

Michelle Grant-Groves is the founding director of the 13 Institute: Inquiry, Intention and Innovation, an emerging network of passionate research practitioners interested in empowering and integrating the current early care and education system, birth to third grade and beyond. Michelle's 13 Institute effort with the San Francisco Children and Families Commission was recognized by Mayor Ed Lee as one of the Top 10 Civic Innovations for 2014. Additionally, Michelle is working with WestEd, the Silicon Valley Foundation, and the Alameda County Office of Education to support the state-wide integration and implementation of "School Readiness" observation based assessments (DRDP-PS and DRDP-K, 2015). Michelle has over 18 years of service in the field and classroom as a teacher, administrator, advocate, and professional development designer and facilitator. In addition to holding a BA in research and policy (child and adolescent development), and her MA in education (early childhood), she is currently pursuing her EdD in educational leadership from Mills College.

Jonathan Julian, BA; Research Assistant

Jonathan Julian is a marriage and family therapist in training, studying expressive arts therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He has worked with young children for many years using the arts to help find expression and explore the self, as well as advocating for LGBTQ+ young people through community work. His career path is now leading to build bridges between the mental health and education systems via direct service and advocacy in schools; creating a safer more inclusive school environment for all kids by advocating for marginalized students, particularly gender expansive and trans* students. Jonathan lives in Oakland with his partner and puppy, and enjoys hiking, dancing, and singing in the SF Gay Men's Chorus in his (limited) free time.

Katherine Kabick; Research Assistant

Katherine Kabick is an undergraduate student at Mills College. She has developed a profound commitment to the principles of social justice through her work in community organizing, and she carries this commitment in her academic career. Her research interests include trauma and play within the US foster system, and play as practice in early elementary education. In 2017, she will earn her bachelors in history with minors in both urban education and child development. After graduation, she plans to pursue a masters of arts in education and work as a teacher in a kindergarten classroom.

Betty Lin, MA, CCLS; Research Assistant

Betty Lin has several professional interests and areas of expertise including early childhood education, special education, child life, and teacher training. She completed her master's degree in education with an emphasis in early childhood education, is a certified child life specialist, and holds California teaching credentials in multiple subjects, early childhood special education, and administrative services; all completed at Mills College. Betty has ten years of experience teaching at the college level; fifteen years of experience in the field of early childhood special education; over ten years of experience advocating for early care and education and for children with special needs. She is honored to be a part of the research team working on a project for the California Council on Teacher Education examining higher education reform in response to California’s newest grade, Transitional Kindergarten.

Patricia Nunley, EdD; Research Assistant

Patricia Nunley is an American Education Research Association Hillard-Sizemore Fellow who has 15 years of experience as a Master Teacher. She currently serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the School of Education in the Early Childhood Education Program at Mills College.  She also works in an adjunct capacity at San Francisco State University, San Francisco City College, and the Peralta College District. Patricia earned her graduate degrees at Mills College and her undergraduate degree in business administration at San Francisco State University. Her dissertation explored classroom teacher efficacy in assisting urban, Black male preschoolers in mastering the skill of self-regulation. As an advocate for educational equity, she is active in local, national, and international efforts to effect change in the lives of young children and their families.  Examples of her commitment include her work as a school design team member for a hybrid charter school in the Oakland Unified School District, consultant work for school districts and early education programs, service as a federal grant reviewer for Head Start in Washington, DC, and board membership for the local chapters of the Association of Black Psychologists and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  During a recent visit to South Africa and Zimbabwe she met with faculty from the Universities of Zimbabwe, Cape Town, and KwaZulu-Natal for the purpose of engaging in cross-cultural research projects.

Priya Shimpi Driscoll, Phd; Research Assistant

Priya Shimpi Driscoll is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Mills College, where she is the director of the Language Development Laboratory. She received her PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Chicago in 2006. Afterward, she was the Senior Research Associate at the Ounce of Prevention Fund, integrating research and advocacy to provide high-quality early childhood programs for children living in poverty. In 2009, she completed a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in social and cultural foundations of child development at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Shimpi has taught courses on the role of play in cognitive and linguistic development, and has published on the topic of adult and children's play, with a focus on cross-cultural and intergenerational perspectives. Other current research focuses on the role of cultural and environmental experiences in young children’s language development

Katie Steele, BS; Research Assistant

Katie Steele has 14 years of experience working in various non-traditional learning environments, including experiential and adventure-based education. She is currently a full-time graduate student at Mills College completing a joint master's degree in business administration and educational leadership. She received his bachelor's degree in outdoor education with a minor in psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Katie is a member of a research team at Mills interested in creating gender inclusive environments in early childhood education including non-binary and gender expansive youth. Her academic interests upon returning to school are gender diversity, social justice, and nonprofit management.

Veronica Ufoegbune, EdD; Research Assistant

Veronica Ufoegbune is a Nigerian American educator; director of early childhood and school age programs in Alameda Unified School District, adjunct faculty at CSU East Bay, and instructor/examiner-Berlitz International Languages. Appointed by Council Woman Wilma Chan, Commissioner Veronica Ufoegbune currently serves as the Chair of Alameda County’s Early Care and Education Local Planning Council. She is also the current President of Anioma USA Tribal Association, Inc., Northern California Chapter; a 501c3 non-profit and as well a co-founder since 1991 and is the National Chair of the Anioma USA Inc. Youth Group and on the board of directors of the United Nations Association of Northern California in the East Bay. Veronica completed her BA at the University of Benin, Nigeria, her MA at Mills College and her EdD at Pepperdine University in the field of educational leadership, administration, and policies.

Ristyn Woolley, MA; Research Assistant

Ristyn Woolley, Education Specialist at the YMCA of the Central Bay Area Early Childhood Services, is currently a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Program with an emphasis in early childhood policy at Mills College. She is a former state analyst for federal grant programs within the California Departments of Education and Mental Health. More recently her experience includes assisting in program development and implementation activities for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant: Quality Rating and Improvement System with First 5 Alameda County as well as SEEDS of Early Literacy professional development system with the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. Her research and publication interests include early childhood policy and advocacy, prenatal to eight systems change and alignment, professional development and continuing education, and policy and data analysis. She recently completed a research study examining policy complexities emerging from the implementation of California’s Quality Rating and Improvement System as identified by a diverse group of stakeholders at the state, county, and program levels. She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Pacific and her master’s in early childhood education at Mills College.