Griffin and Yan take on childhood adversity in Grand Challenges project

Monday, February 19, 2024 - 4:15pm

Advertising and public relations faculty members at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications Jemalyn Griffin, assistant professor of practice, and Changmin Yan, associate professor, are co-principal investigators on the Grand Challenges Catalyst Award project "Inspiring Outcomes for Children through Equitable Early Childhood Education Experiences."

The five-year, $3.44 million project aims to reshape the lives of children facing major childhood adversities in Nebraskan communities. These adversities bring stress to children's developing brains, putting them at risk for academic difficulties and health and behavioral issues – all of which have consequences into adulthood.

Yan leads one of the project's objectives to enhance stakeholder awareness of social emotional well-being for young children. He and Griffin will use research and design to implement a strategic communication program.

"As Co-PI's, we're investigating social emotional well-being research and practice, identifying innovative methods to implement for campaign delivery and ensuring the messages are inclusive and culturally appropriate," Yan said.

The project's principal investigator and director of the Nebraska Academy for Early Childhood Research, Lisa Knoche, leads the large-scale program to deliver proven, evidence-based interventions in early childhood settings using diverse, novel methods across arts and humanities and the behavioral sciences.

The project, Knoche said, is designed to create connections among the university and community partners to promote early childhood workforce development and retention — and, as a result, promote children's social-emotional development.

"Our work will help ensure that all children, despite early life adversities, are positioned for lifelong health and social-emotional well-being, which enables them to develop into capable and productive citizens who contribute to Nebraska's vitality and social good," Knoche said.

The interventions aim to boost children's social and emotional skills, which offer protective factors that improve resilience and reduce the risk of future problems. The project also supports the development of an innovative, equitable method for measuring children's social-emotional skills.

"Our project employs culturally responsive practices in its interventions and incorporates family engagement strategies, acknowledging the importance of the home environment," Yan said. "Educator training will be enhanced to equip them with skills to identify and respond to the diverse range of childhood adversities."

Yan also noted that the team will adapt evidence-based methods into an integrated approach and work with UNL's Office of Diversity and Inclusion to ensure cultural responsiveness and inclusivity.

The mental wellness of educators across the state is another project priority. Using the CHIME (Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators) intervention, educators will be equipped with strategies to reduce stress and promote emotional well-being through mindfulness and compassion training.

"The project's commitment to educator mental wellness is integral to creating a positive and supportive educational environment for both educators and children," Yan said.

The team will also collaborate with local organizations like Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Nebraska Association for Infant Mental Health and First Five Nebraska to tailor the program's approach to Nebraska communities.

"The project's ripple effect extends to communities, reducing educational disparities and promoting inclusivity," Yan said. "Additionally, its success could influence policy and best practices in early childhood education, shaping systemic changes for future generations."

The project team includes 18 faculty, plus university, state and community partners. Read more about the project in Nebraska Today

Jemalyn Griffin, assistant professor of practice
Jemalyn Griffin, assistant professor of practice
Changmin Yan, associate professor
Changmin Yan, associate professor