Laura Spelman Rockefeller Grants

The Obermann Center supports the DeLTA Center’s projects in the area of children’s learning and development through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller grant. Members of the DeLTA Center and their community partners—professionals from the Iowa Children’s Museum, Iowa 4Cs, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Iowa City Community School District, Foundations in Learning, Children’s Center for Therapy, Johnson County Empowerment, and SourceMedia—recognize the importance of play and shared reading in early learning. 


The mission of the DeLTA Center is to discover and communicate the organizing principles of learning and development that are essential for overcoming grand challenges in health and education. Founded in 2006, its national and international reputation as an interdisciplinary center committed to excellence in basic research, health, education, and engagement has steadily grown. Its faculty and student members come from the Departments of Anthropology, Biology, Communication Sciences & Disorders, Computer Science, Mathematics, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Neuroscience, Nursing, Psychological & Brain Sciences, Psychological & Quantitative Foundations, Psychiatry, Radiology, and Teaching & Learning. In addition, the DeLTA Center has dozens of prominent non-UI affiliate members from universities around the globe, as well as community partners and an advisory board.

Core Activities

The core activities of the Center revolve around Friday morning roundtables and afternoon colloquia. This past year, the Center hosted events nearly every week, including six outside speakers, an afternoon workshop on the effects of stress on development, a workshop on best practices for sharing and coding video data, student presentations, presentations and discussions on the replication crisis in science and on the over-reliance on clinical trials in education and speech pathology, and several presentations from UI faculty.

Outcomes and Successes

  • A Program Project Grant written by Ed Wasserman (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS) and John Freeman (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS), along with colleagues from Ohio State University and University College London, began funding in 2017–18.
  • DeLTA and the College of Education have forged closer ties. A year ago, Deb Dunkhase (College of Education and Director of the Iowa Children’s Museum), together with co-PIs Kristen Missal (then a DeLTA member and faculty in the College of Education) and Ben DeVane (College of Education), were awarded a three-year grant from NSF entitled “Understanding Physics through Collaborative Design and Play: Integrating Skateboarding with STEM in a Digital and Physical Game-Based Children’s Museum Exhibit.” In addition, Bob McMurray (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS), Eliot Hazeltine (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS), and Deborah Reed (College of Education) continued work on an IES SBIR award to Foundations in Learning, Inc., to develop a new computer-based reading assessment for struggling middle-school readers.
  • How We Develop—Developmental Systems and the Emergence of Complex Behaviorsa collection of 25 essays regarding the Center’s conception of development was published by Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews.
  • Eric Jackson, a postdoctoral scholar in the DeLTA Center and soon-to-be assistant professor at New York University, and Mark Blumberg (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS) created a DeLTA Center podcast devoted to interviews with outside speakers, DeLTA Center members, and others.
  • Bob McMurray, Eliot Hazeltine, and Deborah Reed have continued a multi-year project to develop a computer-based reading assessment with a local private sector education technology company, Foundations in Learning, Inc. This assessment was extensively tested in collaboration with the Cedar Rapids School District, and validation is complete.


The DeLTA Center has continued the interdisciplinary student grant program with its tenth round of applications this year. This year, three projects were funded at $1,000 each:

  • McCall Sarrett (PhD candidate, Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program, Graduate College) and Jennifer Dibbern (Spanish & Portuguese, CLAS) proposed a collaborative project between the labs of Bob McMurray and Christine Shea (Spanish & Portuguese, CLAS) to use eye-tracking to understand how second-language learners of Spanish organize words in their mental lexicon.
  • Banu Gumusoglu (PhD candidate, Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program, Graduate College) proposed a collaborative project between the labs of Hanna Stevens (Psychiatry, Carver College of Medicine) and Donna Santillan and Mark Santillan (Obstetrics & Gynecology, Carver College of Medicine) to examine disruptions to brain development resulting from maternal preeclampsia.
  • Naomi Hertsberg Rodgers (PhD candidate, Communication Sciences & Disorders, CLAS) proposed a collaborative project between the labs of Tricia Zebrowski (Communication Sciences & Disorders, CLAS) and Teresa Treat (Psychological & Brain Sciences, CLAS) to examine cognitive and personality factors that may contribute to outcomes in people who stutter.

This year, the DeLTA Center also sponsored one round of small grants for faculty members spanning multiple disciplinary approaches. One grant was awarded to Meredith Saletta (Communication Sciences & Disorders, CLAS) and Erika Kaldenberg (Teaching & Learning, College of Education) to develop new text supports to improve comprehension of science texts for college students with disabilities.

About Obermann Center

The University of Iowa’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies in Iowa City, Iowa.