Barbara Wasik smiling with bright colors.
Photo courtesy of Barbara A. Wasik

In the dynamic realm of early childhood education, one name stands out as a beacon of innovation and impact—Barbara A. Wasik, the distinguished PNC-Endowed Chair in early childhood education in the College of Education and Human Development. With a career spanning 35 years, Wasik's pioneering work in early language and literacy interventions has earned her prestigious awards and transformed the landscape of early childhood education.

Recently, Wasik, alongside esteemed colleagues Annemarie Hindman and JeanMarie Farrow, received the Katharine G. Butler Trailblazer Award from the Topics in Language Disorders Journal. Their insightful article, "Teacher-Child Conversations in Preschool: Insights into How Teacher Feedback Supports Language Development," published in the October-December 2022 issue of TLD, delves into the nuances of teacher-child interactions and their pivotal role in language development.

Additionally, Wasik was honored with the Notable Vocabulary Researcher Award from the AERA (American Education Research Association) in 2023. This prestigious award from the Vocabulary Special Interest Group (SIG) recognizes her significant contributions to vocabulary research, highlighting her profound impact on the field.

Reflecting on her recent awards, Wasik emphasized the collaborative nature of her work. "The work that I do is very collaborative. Annemarie [Hindman] and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University have been a big part of it. We go into schools, Head Start, and childcare centers to implement effective programs, laying the crucial language foundations necessary for reading," she explained.

Wasik's influence transcends far beyond accolades and awards. As the PNC-Endowed Chair, her primary focus has been bridging the achievement gap for impoverished children through effective interventions. Notably, her Exceptional Coaching for Early Language and Literacy (ExCELL) program, funded by an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, empowers early childhood teachers to nurture language and literacy skills in their students.

"Dr. Barbara Wasik's influence has been pivotal not just during my time as a graduate student but throughout my early career as a scholar and professor," said Farrow. She added that her mentorship extended well beyond the classroom, providing invaluable opportunities for growth and learning from her expertise. 

 "What truly distinguishes Barbara is her genuine concern for her students. It wasn't solely about imparting course content; she invested herself in establishing meaningful connections. Her commitment was evident in how she took the time to understand not just my academic needs but also my aspirations, challenges, and interests, showing a level of empathy and understanding that altered the course of my graduate journey. Barbara saw my potential, and because of that, I began to see it too," added Farrow.

A dedicated contributor to the field, Wasik served on the Editorial Board of Early Childhood Research Quarterly and currently on the Early Childhood Education Journal. Her expertise is sought after on advisory boards such as PNC Grow Up Great, and Sesame Street Math is Everywhere.

Collaborating with Baltimore City Head Start for over two decades and ongoing work with the School District of Philadelphia, Wasik consistently demonstrates her commitment to improving early childhood education on both local and national levels.

Currently, at the forefront of research, Wasik leads the "Story Talk" project, a language and vocabulary preschool intervention funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. This initiative aims to enhance language and vocabulary development in preschoolers, furthering Wasik's impactful contributions to the field.

In 2017, Dr. Wasik's commitment to inclusive education was highlighted when she was recognized as the co-primary investigator of a National Professional Development grant from the U.S. Department of Education. This grant focuses on training preschool teachers to work effectively with English language learners, showcasing Wasik's dedication to accessible early education.

Beyond her remarkable achievements, Wasik's journey is marked by a profound dedication to narrowing educational disparities. Her work continues to shape the landscape of early childhood education, leaving an indelible mark on the field and the lives of the children she seeks to empower.

Recently awarded a PNC Grant phase 1, Wasik is exploring how information is disseminated to families and childcare organizations in the community. Her commitment to supporting teachers and families underscores her belief that to do better for our kids, we must do better for our teachers.

"I think that teachers are underrated. They have one of the hardest jobs in the world, and they do one of the most important jobs," Wasik emphasizes. Her insight into teachers' challenges and the importance of providing resources and training aligns with her mission to ensure every child receives a quality education.

As a developmental psychologist by training, Wasik's approach encompasses rigorous data collection and assessments leading to effective interventions. Her dedication to understanding the role of families in children's education further emphasizes her holistic vision for early childhood development.

In the vibrant tapestry of early childhood education, Wasik is a luminary, illuminating a path for educators, researchers, and families. Her legacy is tireless dedication, collaborative spirit, and an unwavering commitment to empowering the youngest minds in our society.