Texas Tech University

Professor Enjoys Facilitating Growth in Children, Students and Herself

Glenys Young

April 14, 2021


Malinda Colwell received a 2021 Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

In February, the Texas Tech University System announced its 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards to honor outstanding faculty members who provide exceptional opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting the seven Texas Tech University faculty members who were recognized.

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” It's an idea Malinda Colwell has always been fascinated by: not only how growth and change happen, but also the things we can do to facilitate them.

Colwell, a professor in the College of Human Sciences' Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, has built a career researching the factors that affect young children's development. But one of the things she likes best about her job is that it allows her to constantly learn and grow as well. Sharing those experiences with her students enables her to simultaneously influence their development.

Her dedication to helping others grow is one of the reasons Colwell was named a recipient of the 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

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The Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards are given to individuals who exemplify teaching or research excellence, have significantly advanced teaching or research efforts and are noted as leaders among colleagues and in their respective fields. Established in 2001, they are the highest honors given to Texas Tech University System faculty members.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?

My research focuses on preschool children's socio-emotional development and the relationships and environmental factors that influence their development. I am interested in how parent-child relationships function as a context in which children learn about emotions and how to express them, as well as how to interact in socially competent ways with others.

I also am interested in how outdoor learning environments foster children's development, particularly their socio-emotional development. As part of the Texas Tech Coalition for Natural Learning, I have worked with child care centers to redesign their outdoor environments based on best practices and to help early childhood educators take advantage of those spaces in ways that benefit the children in their care. Increasing awareness of the importance of children's social and emotional development, as well as how relationships and environments can foster this development, is important for helping adults support young children's development.

What projects are you working on at this time?

I am currently working with child care centers on their outdoor learning environments and refining training to assist teachers and caregivers in their interactions with children in these environments. I also am working on publications related to this work.

What areas are you interested in for future research?

In the future, I would like to continue to examine teacher-child and peer relationships in early childhood settings to see what factors in those relationships may be beneficial for young children's understanding of social interactions and emotions.

What rewards do you get from teaching?

The main reward I get from teaching is learning from and with my students. Whether in the classroom or in individual settings, I find that I gain much from students' insights and questions, as well as the ways in which they apply course content to their own lives and experiences. I find it rewarding when a student is able to take information they have wrestled with and learn it well enough to apply it and make sense of it in ways that are meaningful to them.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?

I wanted to pursue a career in academia because of my desire to get to continue to learn as I teach, conduct research, and participate in outreach and engagement. I enjoy each aspect of my career and appreciate the theoretical, as well as the practical aspects of my work. I think another reason academia appealed to me is the variety of opportunities and experiences that are afforded. There are continually new challenges and new opportunities to pursue.

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching?

Texas Tech has provided numerous opportunities for me to grow and develop in all facets of my work, particularly in my research and teaching. I have appreciated trainings and financial support provided for my research and the overall support provided by multiple entities on campus to facilitate research and collaborations. My teaching has been supported and enhanced by many opportunities at the Teaching, Learning & Professional Development Center, as well as many conversations with colleagues and mentors throughout the years. Overall, Texas Tech has helped advance my research and teaching by being an environment where questions and ideas are encouraged.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why?

I feel fortunate to have had many people in my life who have made a big impact on me personally and on my career. My mentors, family, friends and students have all helped me to learn and grow throughout my career. I am grateful for the support, encouragement and challenges they have provided through the years that have helped me to think, re-think, explore, try new things and continue to strive toward doing better at all that I do each day.