Experts in Child Development, Research Design and Molecular Biology Honored with KU Research Excellence Awards


LAWRENCE – What environmental factors influence language learning in young children? How can research design and data analysis help evaluate and improve education delivery? What can the evolution of immune genes in fruit flies tell us about disease resistance?

Three University of Kansas researchers grappling with these questions have been named recipients of the Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award and the KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Achievement Awards.

Honors are awarded annually to recognize outstanding unranked academic staff, unranked professional staff, and postdoctoral fellows whose research has significantly influenced their fields and broadened their intellectual or societal knowledge. This year’s recipients are:

  • Dale walker, Associate Research and Scientist Professor, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, Life Span Institute, Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award recipient
  • Jie chen, psychometrician, Achievement & Assessment Institute, recipient of the KU Research Staff Achievement Award
  • Tom hill, postdoctoral researcher, Rob Unckless Lab, Department of Molecular Biosciences, recipient of the KU Research Postdoctoral Achievement Award

The three will be recognized in a ceremony on April 22, 2020 featuring Chancellor Douglas A. Girod.

The Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award was established in 2006 to honor unclassified academic researchers. The winners receive $ 10,000 in research funds. The KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Fellowships were established in 2018. Recipients are awarded $ 5,000 to be used for approved research or professional development activities.

Learn more about this year’s winners:

Dale walker has made significant contributions to the collective understanding of how early environmental experiences affect language learning in young children and how to intervene effectively to improve children’s developmental outcomes. As a principal investigator at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project – a center of KU’s Life Span Institute – she works primarily with children and families living in poverty in Wyandotte County and nationally. Walker has received 39 externally funded grants totaling more than $ 18 million from federal, state and private agencies, including the US Department of Education, the Health Resources & Services Administration, and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. These projects have benefited thousands of children and families and have supported more than 50 graduate research assistants and 22 postdoctoral fellows. Walker has published in peer-reviewed journals including Child Development, Journal of Early Intervention, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly. She has also published in journals and presented at conferences designed to help bridge the gap between research and practice, ensuring knowledge translation for parents and caregivers. Walker holds a doctorate in developmental and child psychology and a master’s degree in human development from the University of Kansas. She received a BA in Psychology from Scripps College.

Jie chen

Jie chen is an expert in quantitative research, designing research methods and analyzing data in the service of providing the best possible education for children. She contributes to KU’s research in education and special education, consulting with everyone from graduate students to senior faculty members. In her role as a statistician for the Center for Montessori Research at the Achievement & Assessment Institute, Chen develops measurements, data collection and analysis, and the preparation of presentations and articles. In response to the fact that the term “Montessori” is not protected by law, and that there is no widely accepted tool to capture the variety of allegedly Montessori practices, Chen and colleagues examine an instrument to assess teaching. Montessori at the early childhood and primary levels. . Chen holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Kansas, an MA in International and Comparative Education from East China Normal University, and a BA in English Language, Literature and Education from the Northwest Normal University.

Tom hill

Tom hill advances understanding of the forces that drive immune evolution. Using Drosophila, commonly known as fruit flies, as a biomedical model, Hill studies how DNA viruses infect a host and how the host’s immune system responds. His work will ultimately shed light on the immune response to viral DNA infection in humans. Hill has published six articles in journals such as Molecular Biology and Evolution, Journal of Virology and Infection, Genetics and Evolution. He has presented his work at national and international meetings and received numerous awards, including the award for best postdoctoral speech at the Midwest Population Genetics Conference in 2019. Known for his innovative approaches, Hill has developed a genomics software package that uses machine learning to analyze variations in genetic sequences. He obtained a PhD in Population Evolution and Genetics from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and a BS in Biological Sciences from the University of Reading in England.


Paul N. Strickland

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