Mari Estrada and Carola Oliva-Olson Advance Early Childhood Studies

Mari Estrada and Carola Oliva-Olson

We were happy to learn recently that Department of Education alumni Drs. Mari Estrada and Carola [Matera] Oliva-Olson, faculty at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), were awarded a $1.1 million grant from the State of California for their early childhood training project, Dual Language Learning Professional Development for the California Early Childhood Workforce. We decided to reach out to them and ask them about this project, their time at the Gevirtz School, and advice for current students.

GGSE: Did you know each other at UCSB—did your time overlap?

Estrada: No but it worked out. I attended UCSB from 2009-2016, working on her GGSE ELO MA/PhD. Our mutual advisor, Dr. Michael Gerber, introduced the two for the Research Apprenticeship milestone required as part of the PhD. From there, we made numerous connections in our work supporting the early childhood system (ECS) in California (and across the nation), resulting in publications, research, presentations, and the establishment of an ECS cohort based at CSU Channel Islands to serve the Santa Barbara area.

Oliva-Olson: Through joint publishing, conference presentations, participation in the ECQEE, and work on various DLL projects in California, we support and learn from each other. We also have strong mentors who show us how important it is to commit to the causes that drive our work and personal aims.

GGSE: What's it like to work with a fellow GGSE-er at CSUCI (did one of you help get the other one hired, etc.)?

Estrada: Working with Carola is a blessing. Carola is not only an expert in her field, but she is the most genuine, humble and caring person I have worked with since my phenomenal mentor and advisor, Dr. Gerber. We get along well, but more importantly, in addition to our mutual goals and interests, we complement each other in our work. I enjoy content development, and I also thrive in developing infrastructure and systems. Carola is the content expert, superb at relationships and scaling up the impacts.

Oliva-Olson: Mari looks at the big picture, and find the gaps that are not evident in day-to-day practice. She constantly seeks ways to understand systems and build them to respond to the needs of the California ECE workforce. I admire her determination and ability to notice what matters but is not obvious and to pursue the most difficult tasks. She worked as a principal investigator on a project at CI funded by First 5 Ventura, and is now extending the findings to another effort at CI. Nothing gets lost, efforts build on new and established work, always moving forward, making programs work more efficiently to serve young children, families, and current and future ECE professionals.

GGSE: Tell us about the project for the grant—how the research came abut and what you hope to have happen with it.

Oliva-Olson: As Mari shared, we implemented the Early Childhood Studies undergraduate cohort model in Santa Barbara in partnership with Santa Barbara City College. We have also been involved with state and local initiatives and understand the barriers that many students face to complete their degrees in the early learning field. We advocate for the development of systems and resources to support first generation students to finish their studies. We proposed a model for professional development designed to support early childhood professionals by offering courses in Spanish and English that provide transferable undergraduate academic credits and include Communities of Practice. There are two mandatory courses that are sequential and include documentation of their learning as well as application in their programs. Instructors will be recruited for an online training and then supported as they teach the courses in fall 2019 and spring 2020. We can’t wait to begin with the first cohort!

GGSE: Who did you work with at the GGSE? Any particular memories you'd care to share?

Estrada: I have the fondest of memories of my time at the GGSE, starting from humble beginnings at Phelps Hall to the eventual move to our new space. I could not be more thankful to the faculty. Drs. Gerber, Conley, Cook-Gumperz, Green, Raley, and my first advisor and life changer, Dr. Tuli Glasman, all not only supported my work to achieve my academic goals, but also my personal and professional development. I particularly cherish the memory of taking the EDUC 200 courses with the EDD cohort in which my husband, Luis Gonzalez, EdD, was enrolled. It was an excellent program. I enjoyed the structure, the students, the faculty, and the content. I still have, and reference, the ED 200 book (Green, J. L., Camilli, G., & Elmore, P. B. (Eds.). (2012). Handbook of complementary methods in education research, Routledge), and recommend it to students I work with on their thesis and dissertation.

Oliva-Olson: I switched emphases after a year in the program, and joined Mike Gerber’s student team. It makes such a difference to have mentors and seasoned students who are not only supportive, but encourage you to advocate for your interests and dreams! Mike, George Singer, and Emily Solari did exactly that. In a few months, I won a two-year federal grant, which was an extraordinary experience. I will never forget practicing my presentation with Emily, and going to Washington, DC, and presenting at a meeting with 20 remarkable professors and researchers.

GGSE: What advice do you have for current students, especially given your grant-writing success?

Estrada: It’s all about developing a strong and diverse work team with respect and commitment to the task. Diverse skills are needed in order to move forward effectively and systematically. As I mentioned, Carola and I have shared skills and interests, but we also bring our own unique skills and expertise. We draw these out from one another, and we identify where we need to add to the team. It helps that we both devote our professional time to the field of ECE and know how to leverage our previous and current work, experiences, etc. to develop new proposals. We pool and expand what we know about the state of ECE and the potential applications for funding, and have learned how to present ideas informatively and concisely.

Oliva-Olson: Ask for what you want, be resourceful, and advocate for your interests and dreams. Search for a mentor, and build a support system. Be kind, and advocate for those who don't have a voice. Be someone's amplifier! Write proposals with a clear idea of aims and practical steps needed to achieve them and how these align with the goals and interests of potential funders.

GGSE: Feel free to add anything else that you think might be relevant.

Estrada: I also earned my undergraduate degree from UCSB, a BS in Sociology, 2005. Shout-out to Drs. Zimmerman, Raymond, and Robinson.

Oliva-Olson: I have been very fortunate to continue collaborations with UCSB faculty Matt Quirk, Erin Dowdy, and Karen Nylund-Gibson. I was a member of Dr. Kelly Edyburn’s doctoral committee (Matt was her chair) last year, and we published a chapter and article. I hope UCSB will one day incorporate a PhD. in early childhood studies!