Brenda Fyfe Leaves Behind a Strong Legacy of Community Partnerships and Academic Leadership

Webster University School of Education Dean Brenda Fyfe has been a major influence on education in St. Louis. During her 35 years at Webster – the past 15 as dean – she helped attract millions of dollars in grants for community-based educational partnerships that have started programs both at the University and numerous local school districts. During her tenure as dean, she oversaw and supported the re-design of MAT programs, the development of several new master’s degree programs, and a doctoral program to meet emerging needs. She led the school in becoming one of the top educational institutions for preparing educators in teaching English as a second language for children and adults.

But her largest influence has been on how several school districts and private schools in St. Louis approach early childhood education. Fyfe has tirelessly advocated for Reggio Emilia Education, a European-style of pre-school education that encourages children to explore and test the boundaries of their knowledge. Today, dozens of early childhood programs throughout the region now offer Reggio Emilia inspired education, and Fyfe is recognized as one of the foremost experts in the country on the educational approach.

This year, Dean Fyfe announced her retirement.

“The contributions of Dean Brenda Fyfe to education in the St. Louis region are immeasurable,” said Julian Schuster, the provost, chief operating officer and senior vice president of Webster. “The programs she created and supported at the university and at area school districts will impact how we teach our children for generations to come.”

Fyfe is well known throughout the St. Louis educational community for her work in helping school districts adopt the Emilia Reggio philosophy. As early as 1991, Fyfe was recognized by local media for her work in introducing Emilia Reggio to St. Louis and more recently in 2007 for her efforts to bring this approach to the Early Childhood Education Center in Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District. She also helped establish similar programs at numerous Head Start programs, public school districts and private in St. Louis, Clayton, University City. and Webster Groves.

Outside of the region, Fyfe established a collaborative research and education partnership with Reggio Children, the Preschools and Infant Toddler Centers of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and the University of Modena and Reggio. She also serves on the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance national board of directors, as well as on the board for the Association for Constructivist Teaching and for the Educational Deans for Justice and Equity.

She previously served on the editorial boards of several publications that discussed early education or Reggio Emilia. She has contributed to nine books about childhood education, has been interviewed by the authors of two books that focus on Reggio Emilia education, has written several dozen research papers on early childhood education, delivered keynote speeches at four national conferences, and presented research at 12 national and international conferences.

“Brenda leaves behind a legacy of creating community partnerships at Webster University, and also of strengthening the scholarship in the School of Education” said President Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble. “Because of her leadership, the School of Education is one of the leaders in teaching English language learners and in helping introduce early childhood literature comprehension in homes and in the classroom. Webster’s School of Education is much stronger because of her work.”

During her tenure as dean, the School of Education secured millions of dollars in grants and donations for specific educational programs. Among the largest were a $2.7 million state grant to allow 120 St. Louis area public school teachers in three regional school districts to complete the coursework required by Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for English Language Learner (ELL) Certification, a $1.9 million Department of Education grant to provide  provided ELL Certification coursework to more than 80 public school teachers in Kansas City, and a two-year, $1 million grant from the PNC Foundation for the project “Mind Full of Words,” designed to help build preschool children’s vocabularies in two St. Louis low-income neighborhoods. The School also secured a $300,000 state Math and Science Partnership Grant to cross-train K-5 Math teachers in St. Louis to serve the needs of ELLs.

In 1999, Fyfe secured a $2.8 million endowment Gift from Beatrice Kornblum, which was used to establish the Kornblum Institute for Teaching Excellence, which awards scholarships, funds professional development, research and special projects focused on urban education. Just this month, she announced the School received a $300,000 grant from PNC Bank to extend the original $1 million grant for “Mind Full of Words” for a third year.

As dean, she oversaw and supported the re-design of five Master’s in Teaching degree programs, oversaw the development or redesigned 10 other master’s programs, and helped create a doctoral program.  She led the school to achieve national accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation in Techer Education (NCATE).  In addition, seven graduate programs in the school have achieved additional national recognition through accreditation by special professional associations.

During her tenure, the School of Education established professional development partnerships and corporate partnerships with Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, University City School District, Webster Groves School District and Special School District.

“Brenda has fostered a great work environment where people can cultivate their skills in new ways,” said DJ Kaiser, a professor of education and associate dean of the School of Education. “Through her leadership, faculty have been able to explore new grant opportunities, cultivate new programs, create our new Maker Space, and make our mark on education all over the world.  She will greatly be missed but never be forgotten.”

Fyfe’s last day will be Dec. 31. The University has announced that Thomas Cornell, associate professor and chair of the Language, Literacy, and Leadership Department, has been named interim dean of the School of Education. DJ Kaiser, associate professor and program director for the MA in Teaching English as a Second Language, has been named associate dean on an interim basis.

School Psychology Awareness Week

Faculty and students in Webster University Applied Psychology and School Psychology celebrated School Psychology Awareness Week

The event included a guest lecture on education in Afghanistan from a fellow Webster student with unique insight into the topic.

Their speaker was Shabnam Granzooy, one of two Fulbright Scholars from Afghanistan pursuing master’s degrees at Webster’s main campus in Webster Groves. Granzooy is pursuing a master’s in forensic accounting, and upon her return to Afghanistan she plans to help monitor the flow of money, improve the economic system and invest more in the education sector.

New School of Education Leadership Announced

The Office of the Provost has announced new leadership for the Webster University School of Education upon the retirement of Brenda Fyfe, dean, at the end of 2017.

Thomas Cornell, associate professor and chair of the Language, Literacy, and Leadership Department, has been named interim dean of the School of Education. DJ Kaiser, associate professor and program director for the MA in Teaching English as a Second Language, has been named associate dean on an interim basis.

“Tom and DJ have long been forward-thinking leaders among our faculty in both the School of Education as well as throughout Webster,” said Julian Schuster, Webster University’s provost, senior vice president and chief operating officer. “In addition to their teaching background, their experience in developing programs and curriculum, securing grants and partnerships, and collaborating with school districts will serve the School well through this leadership transition.”

Thomas Cornell and DJ Kaiser

In Memory of Patricia McKissack

Webster University recently held an event and celebration to honor the life and work of Patricia McKissack. Many friends, family, and colleagues were in attendance. A former graduate of Webster University, McKissack had written over 100 children’s books. Patricia felt that there was a lack of children’s literature featuring African Americans, and together with her husband Frederick, wrote stories to fill this void and highlight the history of African Americans. Patricia McKissack was also a board member of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, a national not-for-profit that actively advocates for literacy, literature, and libraries.

A collection of books by Patricia McKissack is now on display in the Emerson Library on the main campus in Webster Groves.

Leiden Study Abroad Spring 2,2018

Interested in studying abroad? The Department of Teacher Education is offering an exciting new opportunity at our Leiden campus for Spring 2, 2018. Come get your questions answered and find out more info – There will be an open house Thursday, Sept 7th, 1-2 pm in WH Webster Groves Room and Monday, Sept 18th, 3-4 pm, WH Webster Groves Room.  There will be food and Study Abroad Staff to answer any questions about logistics, finances and scholarships.

Move-in Day Fall 2017

A record number of first-time freshmen have enrolled at Webster University for the fall semester, a 21 percent increase since last year and the highest ever freshmen enrollment in Webster’s history. Classes begin on Aug. 28, with move-in day being the week before, as new and returning students moving and settling into to their new homes away from home.

How Webster supports students who are resuming their programs and helps students return to college

Webster University is using InsideTrack’s services to support students who are resuming their programs and help students return to college so they can finish their degrees.

InsideTrack, the nation’s leading provider of student success coaching services, today launched its newest suite of Re-Enrollment & Re-Entry solutions to help higher education systems and institutions successfully re-engage adults with some college credit, but no degree or certificate, and assist them in completing their credentials

InsideTrack has gained over more than a decade supporting institutions including Penn State World Campus, Brandman University, and Webster University in re-enrolling former students and preparing them to overcome the obstacles to postsecondary education success.

“Fulfilling our mission means ensuring that all of our students graduate prepared for global citizenship and individual excellence, including those who have had their education disrupted by life’s many competing demands,” said Michael Cottam, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and director of the Online Learning Center at Webster University.

InsideTrack’s unique solutions combine its uCoach® technology and analytics platform and executive-style coaching to directly engage former students and help them navigate the enrollment process, define long-term goals and plan to overcome potential barriers to completion. Coaches conduct multi-channel outreach campaigns, using the platform’s voice, email, text and other communication capabilities, then work with re-engaged students to design plans for graduating prepared for meaningful careers

“Adults with some college, but no credential represent one of America’s greatest untapped resources,” said Pete Wheelan, CEO of InsideTrack. “Unlocking their potential by supporting them in finishing what they started benefits those individuals, their families and communities, and our nation as a whole.  It also supports colleges and universities in fulfilling their missions, while providing much needed revenue in a time of great fiscal uncertainty.”

For more information on our programs’ visit:

For more information of InsideTrack visit:

Emphasis in School Counseling Offered

The Department of Professional Counseling is introducing a School Counseling emphasis (K-12) for the Master of Arts in Counseling at the Webster Groves campus. This emphasis is designed for individuals wishing to work as professional school counselors in the state of Missouri. The 2.5 year program will provide students with exposure to a wide variety of school populations including vulnerable and underserved communities in both urban and rural settings. The program has a strong emphasis on equality, diversity, and inclusion of all students.

Potential students can read more about the program and request information here »

Students in this degree program will have the additional opportunity to specialize in specific content areas that will further enhance their preparation to work in the schools. Individuals who are already teacher certified will be able to choose a focus on Response to Intervention(RTI)/Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS); Psychoeducational needs of immigrant and refugee youth; or Fostering resilience in at risk children and youth.  Non teacher-certified students will focus on completion of Missouri requirements for teacher certification.

Upon completion of the degree, students will be eligible to apply for school counselor certification in Missouri at both the K-8 level and the 7-12 level based on the level at which they complete their field experience. Students who plan to seek certification in other states should consult the certifying entities to obtain more information.

This emphasis of the MA in Counseling is only offered at the home campus in Webster Groves starting August 2017. Students can apply today to start in August or January.

School of Education Graduate Spotlight

With our annual commencement ceremony having just taken place, the School of Education highlight’s two of our recent graduates, Juliet Salih and Erin Rasmussen.

Juliet Salih, who graduated from Webster University’s Teaching English as a Second Language program, had this to say about her experience: I want to impress upon people that disability is not a weakness. It is not something to be overcome or cured; it is part of a person’s identity, People with disabilities can teach, but teacher preparation programs often undermine the contributions and perspectives of this community, or think that we are not capable of meeting the many demands of teaching. I want to challenge students and faculty to reconceptualize the way we think about disability.  My experience at Webster in the MATESL prorgram has helped me to reclaim my place in the world as a teacher of languages, and has pushed me out of my comfort zone by challenging me to think outside of the proverbial box.

You can watch the video of her speech here:

Juliet Salih Commencement Speech

Juliet Salih, who graduated from Webster University’s Teaching English as a Second Language program, had this to say about her experience

Posted by Webster University School of Education on Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Erin Rasmussen, who graduated from Webster University’s Special Education program, also had a few words on her Webster experience: It was my absolute pleasure to speak at the school of education ceremony to a group of individuals who will most definitely make change happen in this world. After all John F. Kennedy once said, “Great things do not happen, they are made to happen.”

I am incredibly fortunate to have attended Webster University. The commencement ceremony was the final step toward truly closing a chapter of my life that shaped me into who I am today. My 3 1/2 years at Webster were filled with people, organizations, and learning opportunities that I will cherish forever. I am proud to call myself a Webster graduate because this university instills confidence and competence in its graduates

We would like to congratulate all of our 2017 graduates and welcome them as alumni!

SOE Students Present at Multicultural Roundtable

In February Dr. Jameca Falconer, Dr. Debbie Stiles and three graduate students Enita Rogers, Centron Felder and Christopher Campbell presented at the Multicultural Roundtable at Teachers College at Columbia University. All of the students are students in the Applied Educational Psychology program at Webster University. Webster University’s academic programs in Applied Educational psychology and School Psychology are committed to supporting the rights, needs, and well-being of children and youth.

Our presentation was titled “The Ferguson Effect: Exploring how Post-election Hatred is addressed in Schools.” The study was initiated because as psychologists and educators we have noticed numerous discriminatory events in K-12 schools since the election. This post-election crisis is particularly crucial in Missouri given the racial segregation, prejudice, and unrest in the St Louis area since the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.

Teachers, counselors, and psychologists in St. Louis area schools have reported that ever since the election, some children are scared, upset, crying, and acting out in class. These reactions have been most often seen in racial and religious minority youth. Just a week after Trump’s election, students in one local high school told African American children to get to the back of a school bus because of Trump’s victory.

Our presentation was both well-attended and well-received at the conference. Our symposium incorporated data from news sources, reflected on parents’ and schools’ responses, and offered suggestions about how schools and communities can best meet the educational and psychological needs of children and youth.

-By Dr. Jameca Falconer