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Lisa and John McNichol

Lisa and John ’74, ’79 McNichol

Accelerating “cradle to career” opportunities for children

Lisa and John McNichol
President John Fry, John '74, '79 and Lisa McNichol, Dean Penny Hammrich

In the critical field of early childhood education, the Lisa and John McNichol Early Childhood Education Lab at Drexel’s School of Education serves as a vibrant and influential hub of knowledge and innovation for practitioners, researchers, parents and other stakeholders. Created through a generous gift from the McNichols in 2019, the lab has enabled the School to enhance its physical space and to significantly extend its reach, impact and vision for the future – also advancing Drexel’s vision to support “cradle to career” opportunities for children in our communities.

New spaces in the lab have made possible a growing range of important and creative activities serving children and families, as well as researchers, practitioners and students of early childhood education. Students engage in coursework, field experiences, co-op and teaching, and they receive tutoring support. A seminar space will host presentations and events for and beyond the Drexel academic community. In turn, this work enables the lab to attract additional researchers and grant funding from foundations and government agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Lisa and John McNichol’s belief and investment in our School’s – and Drexel’s – vision help shape a brighter future for children in Philadelphia and beyond.

“The generous gift from the McNichols is an accelerator,” says Michael Haslip, director of the lab and assistant professor of early childhood education. “It has provided a space where researchers and partners can join us to workshop and incubate ideas, initiating research that brings in grant funding. Now our lab can bring together people from all parts of the field. We’ve been able to bring in six students and researchers from within and outside Drexel as lab members. My goal is to double that number. It seems that we have limitless potential moving forward.”

The new dedicated space serves as an accessible community resource center, providing materials for parents and community organizations from throughout the Philadelphia area. The McNichol gift supported a lending library that provides books, journals, and other publications, a collection that has been growing further owing to contributions of publications from faculty and others. “Essentially, it is becoming a small public library,” adds Haslip.

The lab has also been able to acquire technology to support video and other presentations.

The McNichol gift also supported a special edition on early childhood education, published in 2019 in Emerging Voices in Education, a journal published by the School of Education that is the only internationally reviewed and editorially independent publication in its field managed by graduate students and early scholars. Among other subjects, the issue includes content on empirical studies that explore teacher-child interactions and relationships; early education quality and instructional support; social support in special education; and children’s early math skills. “By running this journal as junior scholars, graduate students gain skills they need to take the next step in becoming assistant professors,” Haslip notes.

The McNichols also have contributed to Drexel’s Co-op Support Fund, providing full-time co-op assignments for School of Education students with pre-kindergarten organizations in economically distressed neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

“With the dedication of the Early Childhood Education Lab, I have come full circle from my graduate studies –– and we anticipate that the outcomes of efforts made here will result in lasting effects for years to come,” says John McNichol, who received a PhD in social science research and administration from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, a predecessor of Drexel’s College of Medicine. “Lisa and I are proud to support this new venture and look forward to hearing about its impact and success.” McNichol’s doctoral dissertation examined the role of early education on disadvantaged youth in urban areas.

The lab is a component of a broader commitment by Drexel and the School of Education, which for more than a decade have been leading collaborative efforts with local families and civic leaders to ensure that children growing up in surrounding neighborhoods – adjacent to the emerging “innovation district” in University City –  gain the education, skills and experiences they need to be successful in the innovation economy.

“Lisa and John McNichol are dedicated and inspiring partners who ardently champion the importance of improved and more accessible early childhood education,” says Penny Hammrich, dean of the School of Education and Distinguished University Professor. “Their belief and investment in our School’s – and Drexel’s – vision helps shape a brighter future for children in Philadelphia and beyond.”

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