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UMD's New Early Childhood Studies Minor

January 21, 2016

UMD’s new Early Childhood Studies (ECS) minor evolved from student need and faculty collaboration.

UMD’s new Early Childhood Studies (ECS) minor, which launched last fall, evolved from student need and faculty collaboration. Associate Professors Molly Harney and Ariri Onchwari, both in UMD’s Department of Education, are among the faculty members who helped to shape the new program which focuses on how children, ages 0-8, grow, develop, and thrive.

Working in academic advising in the College of Education and Human Service Professions, Lisa Kittelson saw a pattern. “Students were saying ‘I really want to work with kids but there aren’t a lot of classes in my major,’” she recalls. After hearing this from a number of students, Lisa started talking to faculty.

Many of the classes in the minor were already available to education majors, but because the classes focus on how children develop, they are applicable to a wider range of disciplines. “This minor is supporting disciplines that support children and families,” Molly says. These disciplines include social work, psychology, and communication sciences. Also having this new minor on their resume, Ariri points out, is “making the students very marketable.”

Student Perspectives
Senior Maria de Leon is exactly the kind of student this new minor is geared toward. A psychology major, Maria wants to become a child life specialist working in a children’s hospital or other medical setting. It’s a small but rapidly growing field. “Child life specialists support the development of children while they are going through medical treatment. They are advocates for the child. They also help the family,” she says.

Maria, who was already minoring in Deaf Studies, found classes in the ECS minor extremely relevant and soon added the second minor to her course load. “I need to understand healthy children who are going to school and developing normally. That will help me to support the development of children in a hospital setting. If a three-year-old isn’t picking up on something in the hospital, I need to figure out why,” she says. 

Sophomore Christine Empanger is majoring in social work with a minor in psychology. Initially she added the second minor in ECS because she was working as a nanny. “I thought why not learn more about kids?” she recalls.

Through this minor, she began volunteering at the Steve O’Neil Apartments with her professor, Molly Harney. “The first day I walked in, I fell in love with the children,” Christine says. The ECS minor is providing Christine with new insights. “Understanding how the brain works and develops, I can use my knowledge to better serve the children as well as the moms. I'm learning a lot from my classes and then putting that into practice at Steve O'Neil Apartments,” she says.

The Big Picture
In addition to helping students “understand what it means to support children and families,” Molly also believes there is an important, big picture component to the ECS minor. "By supporting a broader sector of people who touch the lives of children,” Molly says, “UMD has a bigger impact – in this community and in others.”

Maria encourages students who are interested in working with kids, but perhaps don't want to teach, to explore the program. "The minor is easy to fit in. If someone wants to work with kids or families, this is a great program to take to find where you fit in." 

For more information, visit the Early Childhood Studies minor website.