Julie Nicholson, PhD; Co-Director

J. NicholsonJulie 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.

Betty Lin, EdD, CCLS; Co-Director

Betty LinBetty Lin is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Mills College. Dr. Lin teaches coursework in early childhood education, special education, child life, infant mental health, and early childhood leadership. Dr. Lin actively participates in several local, state, and national level organizations that work on advocacy for young children and their families and the development of professionals in the early childhood education field. These include the Infant Development Association of CA, California Association for Infant Mental Health, and Community of Practice Development Group. Her research interests include play across different contexts and abilities, teaching children with autism, child life, teacher preparation, and early childhood leadership. Dr. Lin’s previously worked as an infant development specialist, special education preschool teacher, elementary school teacher, and special education program specialist. She holds CA teaching credentials in early childhood special education, multiple subjects, and administrative services. She is a certified child life specialist. She received her BS in Bioresources from University of California, Berkeley; MA in Education Leadership, MA in Early Childhood Education and Child Life, and EdD in Education Leadership from Mills College.

Maja Jevgjovikj, MA; Research Associate

Maja JevgjovikjMaja Jevgjovikj has been a research associate at the Center for Play Research since 2013. Maja holds a bachelor degree in pedagogy obtained in Macedonia and a Masters 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

J. KurnikJean 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 ManiatesHelen 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 MaurerCyndi 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 in order 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.

Sara Bonetti, MA; Research Assistant

Sara BonettiSara 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 0-8 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 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.