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2014 News | College of Education

Vision made real: UW Literacy Research Center creates new opportunities for Wyoming

A University of Wyoming facility vision that began as a focal point for literacy education research opens this spring as an outreach hub designed to initiate and support programs across the state and to host collaborative research with scholars around the nation and the world.

With the March 2014 opening of the new UW Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC) comes new opportunities in three areas:

  • To provide a home base for UW faculty and graduate students researching literacy across the lifespan
  • To connect, support and expand existing literacy programs across Wyoming
  • To invite visiting scholars with literacy research expertise to collaborate and contribute.

UW’s first Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair in Literacy Education, Jim Bauman, provided the vision and the inspiration for the LRCC.

“In its initial conceptualization, it was going to be like other centers around the country,” George Kamberelis, UW’s second literacy education endowed chair, says, “a research center, largely funded by federal and state grants and largely devoted to faculty research.”

When Bauman left UW, Kamberelis and Dean Kay Persichitte re-visited the original proposal for the center.

“When I came to understand the state of Wyoming a little better, it seemed to me that typical research center that was proposed in the original white paper really wasn't’t the best fit,” he recalls.

Kamberelis, Persichitte, and incoming Excellence Chair Victoria Gillis led the development of a revised vision of the project, one firmly grounded in the university’s outreach tradition. The primary focus of the Center would be to build partnerships with schools, school districts, community-based organizations, and state agencies who had good ideas for literacy activities and programs and wanted some assistance developing them. These partnerships would focus on linking College of Education faculty expertise with partner projects and priorities, strengthening the college’s commitment to UW’s land-grant purpose.

“One of the things the Literacy Center can do is become a hub that identifies and connects many existing, powerful literacy-related activities and programs around the state,” Kamberelis says, “to raise awareness that there are many people and organizations doing good literacy work around the state and to connect those that make sense to connect.”

Nurturing new research and program delivery relationships – and building new ties – is essential.

“We’ve worked hard to build partnerships that are really robust and vital,” Kamberelis says. “Some others are emerging at the moment, but they will become more robust in time.”

Expanding, transforming literacy education in Wyoming

Core literacy education programs at UW focus on four areas: family literacy, early childhood literacy, disciplinary literacies, and tutoring of struggling readers. Each area now sees potential expansion with the increased capacity that the Center represents.

For example, UW faculty and graduate students are exploring ways to expand a local student tutoring program to reach more areas of the state. UW instructional staff will be able to draw from the Albany County model to recruit, train and support literacy-expert tutors located around Wyoming using distance technologies housed at the center.

Technology also will create new opportunities to deliver customized to fit local (e.g., district-based) or general statewide professional development programming.  An example of that service is a series of 22 half-day family literacy workshops delivered to Wyoming Department of Family Services staff. Programs like that series, originally delivered face to face, can now be delivered via the state’s Outreach Video Network (OVN) system or using webconferencing tools from the Center.

Not only does the LRCC offer a campus home for UW’s own literacy researchers, it  also offers space (and funding) for visiting faculty scholars interested both in developing their own research agendas and in contributing to the Center’s programs.

Dedicated office space is available for faculty from other institutions to come to UW during their sabbaticals. Private funding will allow some of those scholars to extend sabbatical time from six months to a year, with the proviso that half of their work be spent supporting one or more programs sponsored by the literacy center.

Kamberelis also anticipates opening similar opportunities to bright, early-career literacy researchers who may lack disciplinary peer support at their home institutions – and ultimately extending the expertise available to support center programming. Creating new research collaboration opportunities, and supporting early-career literacy scholars’ individual interests, expands the larger knowledge base and enriches programming offered through the center.

“We can involve top-level professionals, who don’t work at the university, in the activities of the Literacy Center,” he says.

Also anticipated is the opportunity to involve UW faculty based in other colleges and programs and who study literacy from perspectives other than education (e.g., communication, English, speech pathology).

“I’m hoping that it becomes increasingly interdisciplinary over time,” Kamberelis says.

Building critical multi-stakeholder support

Growing the broad support needed to bring the LRCC to its launch has been a multi-year, multi-partner, multi-funder process. One key to the project’s success is the institutional commitment represented in the Center’s inclusion in the UW academic planning process. Becoming a university priority raised the LRCC’s visibility, especially with potential donors. Private funding, matched by state funds provided by the Wyoming Legislature, ultimately made the launch possible. Success in obtaining operational funds, including funds for staffing needs, from private sources was essential, according to Gillis.

“Outreach projects require so much manpower, and most traditional funding sources are reluctant to support labor-intensive outreach work ,” Gillis says.  Private gifts are thus essential to support the level of staffing required to enact current and future literacy projects.

Also critical has been the visibility and support generated around the state, starting with the college’s former dean, Kay Persichitte.

“Kay was a central player as we envisioned the Center, and she is largely responsible for the fact that the center is going to be launched,” Kamberelis says. “She did incredible work around the state and with the UW Foundation.  Not only did she raise public awareness about the Center, but she also pointed out that the Literacy Center will be an exemplar for the how the entire college might engage in the land-grant mission – in a way, reimagining how the college serves the state.”

Another lead ally in promoting both the Center and literacy more generally has been Wyoming first lady Carol Mead.

“Our first lady has been very instrumental in supporting us in many ways,” Gillis says, especially in generating visibility for literacy generally and the Literacy Center specifically. Mead convened two meetings at the Governor’s Residence in Cheyenne.

“Those meetings were real opportunities for incubating ideas and making connections,” Gillis says of the targeted events that Mead hosted. She also acknowledges Mead’s ongoing commitment to continue the conversation throughout the state, not only about the potential of the LRCC but of the value of literacy more generally.

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