MSU Child Development Laboratories head teacher Erica Colón receives MSU Distinguished Academic Award and promoted to senior specialist

By Katie Frey 

MSU Award Pic

Erica Colón, head teacher at the MSU Child Development Laboratories in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, received the 2023 MSU Distinguished Academic Staff Award. She was honored in May 2023, and in August, she was promoted to a senior specialist.  

"Until receiving this award and promotion, I have never fully taken the opportunity to acknowledge, admire, and celebrate myself,” Colón said. “I have always been motivated to do for others, which is a big reason why I chose this field.  Reading about my accomplishments fills me with a sense of pride and motivates me to continue on this journey. I am uplifted by the endearing remarks of my colleagues, families, and professionals in this field.  I am honored that my family has supported me in all of my professional endeavors and I'm excited for what's to come.  Even though I’ve been doing this job for 20 years, I feel like I am just getting started."   

“Ms. Colón has been a key team member of the CDL, and has thoughtfully and enthusiastically taken on leadership roles, both within the organization, MSU and the community,” said Dr. Adrian Blow, chair of the MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “During her almost 20 years of service as head teacher, Ms. Colón has worked tirelessly to support the mission of the CDL through curriculum development, teaching, and investing in parent and community relationships. Additionally, she works to keep issues of diversity at the forefront of her education of young children, communications with parents, work with her students and by engaging in DEI initiatives at the university.”  

Distinguished academic staff awards are given to academic specialists and MSU Extension academic staff for extraordinary achievements, excellence, and exceptional contributions in advising, curriculum development, outreach, extension, research, and/or teaching. 

She was recognized for her award at the all-university awards ceremony on May 8, 2023. 

Dr. Yijie Wang, HDFS assistant professor, was a co-nominator and worked to put together Colón’s teaching record and gathered information from her colleagues and students. Dr. Wang noted the profound impacts Colón has made on her students and colleagues.  

“In her 20 years, she has taught and supervised more than 700 university students to work with young children in an inclusive preschool setting,” Dr. Wang said. “She's also an excellent undergraduate instructor with excellent SIRS scores and unanimously positive evaluations she has received from students in all years. I really love this quote from one of her colleagues at Lansing Community College, an early education professor, ‘Her classroom is a model of effective practices, and university students walk away understanding the importance of relationships and the skills needed to support each and every child.’”  

Dr. Wang has also seen the impact of Colon’s DEI efforts at CDL and MSU more broadly.  

“She has taken on numerous initiatives (e.g., anti-bias curriculum development) to advance the inclusive environment at CDL for many years now,” she said. “A unanimous theme emerging from the support letters from her colleagues and students was that she has pushed them to consider biases that they didn’t know and encouraged them to reflect on issues that they would rather avoid in a gentle, supportive and nurturing way. Developmental science has just started to advocate for these conversations to begin in early childhood in order to raise justice-minded children and youth, and Erica is clearly at the forefront of scientific and practical endeavors.” 

Colón loves her job at the MSU CDL.  

“I feel that I have the best of all worlds, as I get to playfully teach and interact with preschoolers; mentor and coach pre-service teachers; and educate families on their child's development,” she said. “Being able to develop lasting relationships with families is a truly a benefit of this job. It's so rewarding when families check in and update me about their child's progress or send me invitations to their child's graduation open house.  It's even more satisfying when the child can recall something we did in preschool.  Knowing that I have a direct impact on the child's start to school, as one of their first teachers, is a job I don't take lightly. It is important for me to provide a play-based environment where children feel comfortable taking risks, exploring, and learning about the world around them. My ultimate goal is to create a safe and nurturing space for children, students, and families that fosters a sense of community and respect for everyone, despite our differences. In fact, I encourage everyone to embrace differences, ask questions, celebrate each other, and advocate for change.”