Beth VanMeeteren, Ed.D., Director
An Iowa native, Beth Dykstra VanMeeteren, Ed.D. began her career as an early childhood teacher in a rural Iowa school earning an MAE in literacy education along the way. In 2001, she relocated to Cedar Falls where she was First Grade Lead Instructor at the Freeburg Early Childhood Program in East Waterloo, an experimental early childhood research school for the University of Northern Iowa. VanMeeteren designed and piloted first and second grade experiences in Ramps & Pathways, an integrative approach to force and motion with young children which was ultimately funded by the National Science Foundation. She went on to develop other early STEM curriculum and professional learning for the Iowa Regents’ Center. Upon earning a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on engineering in early STEM, she became Director. In addition to this role, she serves as an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction for the University of Northern Iowa. VanMeeteren delivers keynotes and professional learning on integrative early STEM at the state, national, and international levels. Her current research interests include integrative STEM and literacy in grades PreK-2.
Sherri Peterson, MS, MA, Program Coordinator
Sherri Peterson brings nearly four decades of experience in early childhood to the center’s work. Holding a BS in Child Development and an MS in Family and Consumer Science from Iowa State University and an MA in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa, she has worked as an early childhood teacher, lead teacher, STEM coach, and preschool instructional coach in a large urban school district and as an early childhood special education teacher, Early ACCESS Coordinator, and ECSE consultant for an area education agency in northwest Iowa. Peterson is an advocate for developmentally appropriate practice and inclusive learning environments for all children and currently developing STEM professional learning for teachers of infants and toddlers and implementing STEM professional learning opportunities for early childhood teachers in Iowa. She regularly presents at state, local, and national conventions.
Mary Donegan-Ritter, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Mary Donegan-Ritter, Ph.D. began her career in the field of early childhood education as a preschool teacher, early interventionist, and early childhood special education coordinator in the New York metropolitan area. After earning her doctorate in early childhood special education from the University of Illinois in 1996, she joined the faculty at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, earning tenure in 2002. Three years later she relocated to Iowa, and taught a variety of courses at the University of Northern Iowa. She spent four years as Project Director of Coaching and Mentoring for Preschool Quality (CAMP Quality), a CLASS-related professional development project funded by the Office of Head Start aimed at improving the interactions between teachers and children in Head Start classrooms across Iowa. She joined the unified early childhood faculty at the University of Northern Iowa in 2015 and is currently the coordinator of the program. Her current research interests include coaching models for professional development in early childhood settings, evaluation and development of STEM curriculum, and project approach in preservice teacher preparation.
Judith Finkelstein, Ph.D., Professor Emerita Department of Curriculum and Instruction
In 1988, the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education was established by the State of Iowa’s legislators (Senate file 2295: 262.71). The University of Northern Iowa was chosen to house the center. Judith Finkelstein, Ph.D., was named as its first Director. She had been teaching at the Malcolm Price Laboratory School for the previous twenty years developing the multi-age Nursery/Kindergarten program and in the 1st Grade. She became a Fellow at the Iowa Regents’ Center and for the next twenty years taught Early Childhood courses in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She taught the first Head Start program in Cedar Falls, served on the Board of the National Council for Social Studies, and the Board of the National Program for Play Ground Safety. She retired in 2008 and has continued to actively support the staff and the work of the Iowa Regents’ Center.
Linda May Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Emerita Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
Dr. Linda May Fitzgerald is an emerita professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Northern Iowa. In retirement she is an active member of the campus advisory board for the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education at UNI. She is making a transition to becoming an environmental educator, and she plans to contribute to the development of life sciences in the STEM experiences disseminated by the Iowa Regents’ Center. In her teaching career, she prepared preservice teachers to accept into their early childhood classroom communities a wide variety of children, with a focus on the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. She took particular delight in working with practitioners who were becoming teachers of teachers in the EdD program, which is now a member of the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate (CPED). She also supervised practicing teachers as they found problems in their practice to research for their master’s degrees. In both programs she taught self-study methods such as those in proceedings and books she has co-edited and to which she has contributed, such as Research Methods for the Self-Study of Practice, Learning Communities in Practice, and the Self-Study and Diversity series, for which a third volume is now in progress.
Jill Uhlenberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor Emerita
Jill Uhlenberg, Ph.D., retired from UNI in 2017. She has a wide variety of experience in early childhood education, including preschool and child care teaching, as director of the UNI Child Development Center, 13 years as a school board member in Northeast Iowa, and as Head of UNI's Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Since her retirement, she has continued to support the Iowa Regents' Center in research, curriculum development, and grant writing, with a focus on infant and toddler STEM curriculum.