Faculty Focus: Dr. Stephanie Nilsen
DR. STEPHANIE NILSEN
College of Education
Title: Assistant Professor
Years at GCU: 2.5
Academic degrees: Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education, Master’s in Special Education K-12, Doctorate in Infant and Early Childhood Development with an emphasis in Mental Health and Developmental Disorders
Faculty scholarship (publications, scholarly presentations, fellowships, etc.):
Nilsen, S. (2019). “Supporting social and emotional development through building individualized collaborative relationships.” Presentation at the Arizona Head Start Pre-Service Conference: Nurturing Connections, Phoenix
Nilsen, S. (2019). “Using self-regulation strategies in the early childhood classroom: Five steps to reducing stress and promoting resilience.” Presentation at the GCU Making TIES Conference, Phoenix
Nilsen, S. (2018). “DIR/Floortime: Promoting development through connection and play.” Presentation at the Arizona Autism Coalition Autism Conference, Phoenix
Nilsen, S. (2012). “DIR/Floortime Intervention.” Presentation at the Utah Valley University Autism Conference, Orem, Utah.
Notable research in your field: My dissertation:
Nilsen, S. (2017). “Sensory strategies for emotional health, behavioral health, and learning in the early childhood classroom setting: A phenomenological study”
Notable employment in your field: I started as a second grade teacher and soon began working with children with autism spectrum disorders in Utah. I taught for eight years in autism classrooms for a variety of ages and specialized in the DIR/Floortime model, ran an early intervention grant program, worked for a year as a staff trainer/developer and served as the headmaster toward the end of my time there. I came back to Phoenix, my hometown, in 2012 to finish my doctoral research in infant and early childhood development, examining sensory processing in the early childhood classroom. At this point, I am the highest trained DIR/Floortime provider in the state of Arizona, and I have done and occasionally participate in consultation work for families exploring play-based and developmental approaches in the area.
What are you most passionate about in your field? I am a firm believer in social and emotional approaches to education that take into account trauma, mental health and exceptionalities. I believe that educational approaches should be more trauma-informed and that the behavioral-only approaches traditionally used for many of our most challenging kids need to be reframed to include mental health perspectives and evidence-based trauma-informed practice. Sensory strategies, collaborative problem solving approaches, play-based considerations and self-regulation approaches need to be more integrated into our everyday teaching practices to better account for the varied experiences and needs of our children and youth today.
What aspect of your teaching style is the most distinctive and/or memorable? My students have said that I am passionate and positive and that they love to get me talking about something I really care about because I am enthusiastic and optimistic about the many possibilities that lay in the future. I think my students try to find the things that I love and connect the content we are learning to that to distract me from the topic at hand. They do a very good job of it.
What do you like to do for fun in your spare time? I am a proud aunt to 10 of the most beautiful, funny and delightful nieces and nephews. I love to have auntie sleepover parties and outings, attend their school functions and just spend time with them. I am also an active member in my church, teaching children ages 2 through 10 music, hymns and worship through song, and I love coming up with new teaching ideas, singing with them and just learning from them.
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know? I play a variety of music instruments and love music. I started piano at 7 years old, learned the flute and piccolo soon after, played percussion (bells, marimba, chimes and keyboard) in the band/orchestra, participate in church choirs, and have taught myself guitar, ukulele and have done a little learning on the cello. I hope one day to learn the French horn, harp, violin, and oboe – all gorgeous instruments.