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Principal Investigator


Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D.  

Principal Investigator & Leader

Email: kkwon@ou.edu

Kyong-Ah Kwon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa. She has extensive experience as a teacher of young children and teacher educator in Korea and the United States. She received her doctorate in developmental studies from Purdue University and worked as an associate professor at Georgia State University before coming to the University of Oklahoma (OU). Kwon has an extensive record of scholarly work about classroom quality, teachers’ well-being, and parenting and each of these impact on children’s development. She has been published in prestigious journals, such as Journal of School Psychology, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Kwon has also led several grants that contribute to supporting teachers and improving classroom quality. She was recently awarded the Research Scholarship Award from the Jeanine Rainbolt College of Education at OU.

Fun fact:

Kyong-Ah loved her preschool teacher and experience in preschool so much that she made a career decision to be an early childhood teacher at age 5 and never changed her choice ever since. Her grandmother and mother were a teacher in elementary school and she is so proud to live with the legacy as a third generation teacher and teacher educator.  

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

It takes a big heart to help shape little minds, and you have that. You are more influential and worthy than you would ever imagine. As a fan and cheerleader for early childhood teachers, our Happy Teacher Project will do whatever we can do to support your well-being and work. Thank you for being YOU! 

Co-Principal Investigators 


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: ken-randall@ouhsc.edu

Ken Randall, PT, PhD, MHR is Associate Dean in the University of Oklahoma’s College of Allied Health, is a Professor in its Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, and is co-Director of the OU-Tulsa Office of Community Engagement.  He received his B.S. in physical therapy from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 1986, his master of human relations degree from the University of Oklahoma in Norman in 1996, and his PhD in educational psychology at Oklahoma State University in 2009. Ken has taught in the academic environment for twenty-eight years and has been in physical therapy practice for thirty-four.  Ken is actively engaged in physical therapy practice, in community service, and in research and when possible, he blends all three. As examples, his line of research is fitness and wellness in special populations, a model which typically involves students serving as fitness and wellness coaches.  He has applied this model to children undergoing treatment for leukemia, adults with severe mental illness, and in Oklahoma’s early childhood teachers. Ken has presented globally and has published numerous articles in international journals as well as in both Allied Health Education and Physical Therapy, the flagship journals of his profession. 

Fun fact:

Ken is an avid runner and have run four marathons to-date in Paris, Athens, Venice, and Oklahoma City.   

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Folks are just about as happy as they set their minds to be.” Set your mind to be happy!  And keep moving! Physical activity and exercise release endorphins: Your body’s “natural high.”


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: tgford@ou.edu

Timothy G. Ford is an associate professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and Senior Research Scientist for the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy at the University of Oklahoma. His research agenda is focused on improving working conditions for school professionals, which constitute a significant barrier to the effective functioning of schools as social organizations, and contribute substantially to employee dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover. He current serves on the editorial boards of both the American Educational Research Journal and the International Journal of Educational Policy and Leadership. His work has been published in prominent journals in leadership and educational policy such as Review of Educational Research, Education Policy, Educational Administration Quarterly, Journal of Educational Administration, and Leadership and Policy in Schools.

Fun fact:

I am a science-fiction junkie and all around cinephile.

Happy note for early childhood teachers:                                                                 Teachers will always be at the top of my list of heroes in our city, our country, our world. My career is (and will continue to be) dedicated to uplifting and supporting them in their loving, courageous, selfless work.


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: lieny.jeon@jhu.edu

Lieny Jeon, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Advanced Studies in Education at Johns Hopkins School of Education. She also serves as the Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) and leads BERC’s Early Childhood Data Collaborative. She received her PhD degree in Human Development and Family Science with a minor in Quantitative Method at Ohio State University. She completed her post-doctoral training in the Department of Defense Child Development Virtual Laboratory School. Her research focuses on early care and education, family characteristics and neighborhood disadvantage that impact children’s lives. She is passionate about early childhood educators’ social and emotional well-being and workforce development, and the way it impacts young children’s development. She also examines how early care and education buffers challenging home and neighborhood environments, and maximizes at-risk children’s development. Her research has been published in national and international peer-reviewed journals, and featured in the New York Times. She was selected as an AERA-SRCD early career fellow in early education and development in 2017.

Fun fact:

As a baseball lover, my dream is to complete all MLB ballparks tour. Fifteen stadiums out of thirty have been completed!

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

Every day, you are making a difference in many lives. You deserve to be happy!


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: mkile@ou.edu

Over the course of her 20+ years tenure as an interior design educator, Mia has inspired students through the undergraduate and graduate courses she taught to include: immersive studios, travel study programs lighting design, indoor environmental controls, cultures of collaborating, creating, and constructing, commercial design, professional practice and institutional design. Her research focuses on Healing / Healthy Environments, Sustainable Design, Design Communication and Design Pedagogy.

Mia is also a Registered Interior Designer (RID) in Texas, a Certified Healthcare Interior Designer (CHID) and is a National Council for Interior Design Qualifications (NCIDQ) certificate holder. She has extensive professional experience as a RID and has worked in the healthcare design industry with the firms RTKL and FDS International in addition to private consulting services. She serves on the Council for Interior Design Qualifications (CIDQ) as NCIDQ Ambassador and Exam Reviewer. She is also an active member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) where she has served as the Director at Large for the Oklahoma chapter, International Interior Design Association (IIDA) where she served as the VP of Education for the Texas/Oklahoma Chapter,  Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), and an Educator Member of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD).  Her membership and involvement with these professional organizations provides opportunities for professional growth as well as venues in which to disseminate and further research and teaching initiatives.

Fun fact:

While I am an interior designer, I find peace spending time outdoors in nature.  My husband and I enjoy sailing, biking, hiking/ backpacking, scuba diving, snow skiing, and rock climbing.

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

Teachers are vital assets as they are the preparing students, who will be our future leaders, for success. We need to appreciate our teachers by providing them with the resources to be the best that they can be, this includes taking into account their health and well-being. In the age of COVID, this is more important than ever.  


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: nellis@ou.edu

Dr. Ellis has commercial and residential interior design practice experience, is a trained instructive scholar, and has an integrative and extensive research background.  Her environment and human behavior design research is applicable in the higher educational classroom as well as with her consulting design practice. The connective relationship of these practices in tandem with her organizational analysis strengths, strongly promote improved communication between academic research and professional practice.  In effect, her research process relies upon bringing into consideration the importance of harmonizing theoretical knowledge with the consideration of every challenge’s unique set of circumstances.  Through these considerations, a distinctive solution will always occur for the practitioner, educator and researcher.  Of notable demonstration to the study between the congruent and environment and early childhood practitioners, Dr. Ellis is part of the currently funded multi and inter-disciplinary research team led through The Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI) of the University of Oklahoma with the Norman and Tulsa Campuses.  

Central to all creative endeavors is her profound passion for creating healthy and sustainable buildings for people in both practical and theoretical applications.  As a LEED BD+C accredited professional since 2009, Natalie has worked on past and current LEED projects which brings practical knowledge back into the academic classroom. As such, she continues to expand upon the connective research between practice and academic pursuits and evolving the existing educational research knowledge base.

Fun Fact:

I been the mother to 16 fur-children over the past 38 years.  10 of these furry beings were rescued!  My husband and I are devoted to making certain that our four legged children live their best life ever!

Encouraging note to early childhood teachers:

My message to all the teachers is that they matter!  No matter what anyone may say!  They (the teachers) are seen and we (our research team) hear you.  What you do is one of the most important lifetime endeavors that can be attempted in anyone’s lifetime.  Take heart and make certain to give yourself good care.  Try to remember to live your lives in excellence daily and know that your demonstration of living life well is a huge influence to pass on to the children that you work with for generations to come.


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: jessica-tsotsoros@ouhsc.edu

Jessica Tsotsoros, Ph.D., OTR/L, is an Assistant Professor in the Rehabilitation Sciences Department at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, OU-Tulsa campus.  She has practiced as an occupational therapist for twenty years in early intervention, school systems, assistive technology, and mental health settings.  Jessica has studied power mobility with young children, models of self-determination for adults with visual impairments, and currently studies a wellness intervention called IHOPE (Integrating Healthy Habits Optimized by Community Participation & Engaged Learning) in adults with severe mental illnesses.  Jessica was introduced to the Happy Teacher Project to bring her expertise in mental health and wellness to identify early childhood teachers' needs and support optimal health in their occupation.  

Fun fact:

When I am not tending to backyard chickens, I daydream about my yearly trip to Uganda, where I will once again see my "Ugandan Family" of kids with special needs and their caregivers at a local orphanage called the GEM Foundation.

Happy note for early childhood teachers:          

Thank you for your hard work (physically and mentally) and your endurance in caring for and teaching these young children that are our future.  


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: susan-sisson@ouhsc.edu

Dr. Sisson earned a MS in Health and Exercise Science at the University of Oklahoma and a PhD in Exercise and Wellness at Arizona State University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of South Carolina in Health Psychology and Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Physical Activity Epidemiology. 

Dr. Sisson conducts her research in the Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Laboratory in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Research in the lab focuses on promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors such as dietary intake and physical activity in children to prevent lifetime chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer.  Physical activity, nutrition, and sedentary behavior epidemiology are areas of expertise. Early childcare and education settings are of particular interest and Dr. Sisson actively collaborates with many Native American tribes and nations in Oklahoma.

Dr. Sisson’s personal and professional vision is to improve the health of young children.

It is the mission of the Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Laboratory to engage in high quality research and to develop the research, professional, analytical, critical-thinking, problem-solving, team-work and logistical skills of graduate student members.

Dr. Sisson’s personal and professional vision is to help others reach full potential and have opportunity through healthy growth and development. She works toward this vision by engaging in collaborative research to enhance health of young children, thoughtful mentorship of graduate students, and dedication to increasing the research impact of the College of Allied Health.

Fun fact:

My nick name is Super Su

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

Early care teachers are the foundation for our society. The work you do is seen and valued and you are incredible!


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: alicia.salvatore@christianacare.org

Alicia Salvatore is a public health researcher and practitioner with expertise in health promotion, intervention science, chronic disease prevention, community-engaged research, mixed-methods and worker and environmental health. For more than 20 years she has worked with communities, workers and diverse collaborators to examine and address health disparities.  Alicia is currently Co-Principal Investigator of Healthy Happy Homes, a five-year study evaluating two interventions to promote healthy environments in Oklahoma Family Child Care Homes.  She has also been an active collaborator of several other studies aimed at advancing the health of child care centers, teachers and children. These studies focus on nutrition and food environments as well as the environmental conditions of home-based and center-based child care and the broader communities in which they are located.

Alicia is currently the Director of Community-Engaged Research at the ChristianaCare Value Institute in Delaware.  Prior to moving home to the east coast, she was an Associate Professor of Health Promotion Sciences at the Hudson College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.  Alicia received her bachelor’s degree from Franklin and Marshall College, a Master in Public Health in Health Behavior from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, a Doctor of Public Health degree from the School of Public Health at the University of California Berkeley and completed a NHLBI-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

Fun Fact: 

Alicia spent three years living in Burkina Faso West Africa as Peace Corps Volunteer. She credits this time for bringing  her to public health and for shaping her collaborative approach to research and practice.

Happy Note for Teachers: 

In my work with child care teachers, I’m continually amazed at the passion they have not only to educating and caring for children but for constantly learning and improving their centers and practices. Teachers juggle a complex array of responsibilities and child needs and dynamics. Yet, they find the time and energy to try new things, grow and 

 


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: dhorm@ou.edu

Diane M. Horm, Ph.D., is the George Kaiser Family Foundation Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education and Founding Director of the Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI) at the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa. Through the ECEI, Horm is currently leading several applied research initiatives in early childhood education including program evaluation research in collaboration with Tulsa’s Educare programs and a large, multi-year study will colleagues from Georgetown and McGill Universities to investigate children’s development from Pre-K through Grade 4.  Horm has a Ph.D. in Child Development with a specialization in Early Childhood Education, a Post-Master’s Specialization in School Psychology, and a Master’s in Developmental Psychology.   

One fun fact:

Diane owns and drives a 1978 MGB convertible as a fun hobby.  Her daily driver is a Mini Cooper.                                                                                                                                                      

Encouraging note for teachers:

Early childhood teachers have the most important career of all.  Research demonstrates that early childhood teachers, through their sensitive and responsive interactions and their intentional developmentally effective activities, shape children’s development in the short- and long-term.  Few, if any, careers can make the same claim


Co-Principal Investigator

Email: jmcribbs@ou.edu

Julie's current research amplifies factors pertaining to vulnerability, strengths, and functioning in the arenas health and community life. She is particularly interested in health disparities and access to health care and improving social work education in the state of Oklahoma. Her publications have appeared in various journals, she has authored educational material utilized in textbooks and course outlines related to cultural diversity, and she is the author of three books. She has presented her research at over 50 national and international conferences. She has taught at both the MSW and doctoral level primarily in the areas of Social Welfare Policy, Health Policy, Advanced Social Work Practice and Research. She has received awards for her teaching and research, served as chair or member on 10 dissertation committees, mentored medical and nursing students, and multiple graduate research assistants. She is active on the college and university level and has served on multiple committees and planning boards. She has both current and past leadership experience in professional organizations, state commissions, and local community boards. A Tulsa native, Julie is married to Henry, a High School English teacher at Union Public Schools and has two children Carly and Cole.

Fun fact:

I am a certified scuba diver who is very interested in whales and sharks!

Happy note for early childhood teachers:

Teachers secure the future of our democracy and ensure the development of children. They are brave, passionate, and absolutely necessary for the fabric of our society.

 


(Co-Principal Investigator)

Email: michael-a-baxter@ouhsc.edu

Dr. Michael A. Baxter is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, at the Oklahoma University-Tulsa University School of Community Medicine. He received his D.O. degree from Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2005 and completed his pediatric residency at the University of Oklahoma,Tulsa in 2008, and a Child Abuse Pediatric fellowship in 2010. He is the medical director of the child abuse pediatric team at the Children's Advocacy Center of Tulsa and the program director for the University of Oklahoma, School of Community Medicine Child Abuse Pediatric Fellowship. Dr. Baxter is a diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics and is board certified in General Pediatrics and Child Abuse Pediatrics. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a member of the AAP Section on Child Abuse and Neglect and a Member of the Helfer Society.

Fun fact:

I am a registered officiant in Tulsa county and have officiated 5 weddings over the past 15 years.  In 2006 I was recruited by performing group to be in their comedy dinner show in San Francisco after being pulled from the audience during a portion of the show, I respectfully declined.

Encouraging note to early childhood teachers:

As I told my daughter’s teachers during our fall parent teacher meetings, I am amazed at the resiliency they have shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyday I am thankful for all who have dedicated their lifework to the profession.