UNH professor impacts education in Conn.

Miriam Correia

The University of New Haven’s Nancy Niemi has been appointed to Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education’s Network for Transforming Education Grant Team.

Nancy Niemi (Photo provided by Niemi)
Nancy Niemi (Photo provided by Niemi)

Recently, Connecticut has been awarded quite a few grants, including a grant to transform school climate, the Project Prevent Grant, which is providing funding to school districts to assist students who are directly or indirectly exposed to violence, and a grant for School Emergency Management.

It takes teams of great people to ensure that Connecticut obtains grants that will be beneficial to the growth of the state and keep them for the allotted time period.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) created the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation to support states that were ready to train education professionals in three key areas: (1) Licensure, (2) Program Approval, and (3) Data Collection, Analysis and Reporting. In October of 2013, they announced that seven states were selected to participate in their two year pilot program so that educators would be “ready on the first day of their career to prepare our students for college, work and life,” says a statement on the CCSSO website. Connecticut was one of the states chosen for the pilot program.

Nancy Niemi, professor and chair of the UNH Education Department, has been invited to serve on Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education’s Network for Transforming Education Grant Team specifically for the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP).

Connecticut is one of only seven states to earn this grant and they are building a team of responsible educators to make sure the money is well-spent on enhancing teacher preparation programs.

“The Connecticut team is responsible for administering this grant, and our job will be to design better, and integrated data systems for Connecticut schools and for the Institutions of Higher Education that prepare teachers for those schools,” said Niemi.

When the work is done, the initiative will affect all schools of education in Connecticut.

Niemi has been a teacher educator for over 20 years so she has a lot of experience to back up her nomination from the Commissioner. She started out wanting to teach English but then she changed her route.

“I quickly realized that I had bigger questions about formal schooling and its role in helping to create social equity; teaching public school wouldn’t help me answer those questions, and so I became a professor of education in order to study those relationships. Now, I research and teach – it’s the best of both worlds,” she said.

Regarding the initiative, Niemi intends to impact it in two ways.

“One, by informing them about the often-overlooked aspects of teacher preparation in the context of American culture – that it’s comprised of mostly white, middle class women and until we change that, the profession will not radically change in status or pay,” she said. “And two, that over-regulation of teacher preparation programs is making it very difficult for universities to keep excellent teacher prep programs, and that’s not a good thing.”

When asked if she thinks this grant will make a great impact on the education system in Connecticut, Niemi responded, “Sadly, not as much as I’d like it to. We’re still tinkering around the edges of change rather than having the political will in the states to make wholesale changes. Doing that kind of work takes more courage and political power than this grant has. Still, the major constituents of change are talking through this grant—kindergarten through twelfth grade schools, colleges, and government—and that’s never a bad thing!”

As a growing university that specializes in experiential education, it is important that we have educators who embody these beliefs and strive to be an example for their students.

It’s too easy to talk at students without experience behind it, but the fact that UNH has many professors who lead with action every day is an integral part of the UNH experience.

Professor Niemi is an example of one of these professors.