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New UW Excellence Chair Savors Literacy Opportunities

August 5, 2016
head portrait of a woman
Cindy Brock is one of the two Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chairs in Literacy Education. (UW Photo)

Opportunities to collaborate with others to enhance literacy education opportunities for Wyoming’s children are among the many reasons that Cindy Brock chose to spend the next chapter of her professional life as a scholar-leader at the University of Wyoming’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic (LRCC).

“One thing that attracted me to this position is the collaboration with colleagues and the idea that we’re working together in this college to provide service to the state,” says Brock, one of the two Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chairs in Literacy Education.

That collaborative spirit is exemplified by the full plate of research and service projects launched through the LRCC.

“I’m coming into a group of people who already work in the state and spend a lot of time in schools and districts,” Brock says of initiatives focusing on community-informed research, literacy education services for children and professional development programming for their teachers.

She says collaborative professional development work in central Wyoming -- with fellow Excellence Chair Victoria Gillis -- exemplifies what is possible when stakeholders gather around common literacy goals.

“The idea was to make professional development meaningful so that we were exploring disciplinary literacy -- what it is and what it means,” she says of a recent initiative involving K-12 teachers from across Fremont County. “They actually tried ideas in their classrooms, and then we came back together and talked about some of the work that they were doing.”

At the center of that work -- and every LRCC initiative -- is starting with stakeholder-identified needs.

“What we do want to do is work in dialogue with our partners and the people we serve around the state, to meet the literacy education needs of teacher and children,” Brock says.

That mission is a familiar and comfortable one for Brock. So, too, is working with communities and cultures with unique needs and that are often isolated from others. Reaching out across Wyoming’s miles mirrors many of Brock’s previous research and service experiences, most recently as a member of the University of South Australia faculty.

One component of her responsibilities there was working with pre-service teachers assigned to Aboriginal lands for their internship experience. Brock also is co-investigator of a three-year study in Fiji, still in process, exploring community approaches to fostering English language and literacy development for preschoolers who lack access to early childhood services.

Like the literacy work in Wyoming, attention to stakeholders’ unique needs drives that research -- reinforcing the value of collaboration with communities.

“It is work from the ground up,” Brock says. “We didn’t go into Fiji and say, ‘This is how you provide literacy education.’ We are co-constructing what will work best in that context over a three-year period of time.”

Themes from that project intersect with literacy education efforts in Wyoming, according to Brock.

“We strive to understand what our collaborative partners are already doing and then work in dialogue with them to think about additional ways that they can work with their young children to prepare them to be ready for school,” she says.

With a Wyoming Excellence Chair assignment comes significant leadership expectations, which Brock embraces. She and Gillis share responsibility for shaping UW’s Ph.D. program in literacy education and mentoring a growing international cadre of doctoral students. Working with the program’s students is one of the greater pleasures for Brock.

“We work with one of the best groups of doctoral students imaginable,” she says.

Brock and Gillis work closely with LRCC Director Dana Robertson, particularly for leadership and coordination of the center’s research and service programs.

Stretching that impact beyond the LRCC walls, Brock also works with fellow endowed chairs (Gillis and Tim Slater) to create professional development opportunities for UW faculty.

For example, Brock and Gillis have a lead role in launching and administering the UW College of Education Research Grant Development Award Program, which supports faculty and doctoral students’ efforts to secure external funding for their research. As part of that effort, Brock played a pivotal role in bringing grant expert David Bauer to campus to work with program participants.


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Chad Baldwin

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