School of Graduate Studies

Colleen Tillis claims UW-Whitewater Capstone Award

December 15, 2023

Written by Chris Lindeke

Colleen Tillis, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s school psychology program, has earned the 2023 Outstanding Capstone Award from the university’s School of Graduate Studies.

Tillis’ project, titled “Improving Students’ Visual Spatial and Math Reasoning Skills in the Early Childhood Classroom with Weekly Teacher Video Training,” shows how 10 weeks of brief training of early childhood teachers on nine key math topics may improve their students’ visual spatial and math reasoning skills.

“I am honored and thrilled,” Tillis said. “I will be grateful forever for Dr. Christine Neddenriep’s counsel and the rigorous, caring school psychologist program at UW-Whitewater. The work was hard, but warm, supportive classmates and professors made the work manageable.”

As part of UW-Whitewater’s school psychology program, Tillis earned an MSE in school psychology in 2021 and an Education Specialist Degree (Ed.S) last May. She is credentialed as a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) and currently works as a school psychologist for Gibraltar School District in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.

As a child, Tillis was a student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) – this motivated her to become a school psychologist.

“I feel UW-Whitewater trained me well for my work as the first on-staff school psychologist hired at Gibraltar,” Tillis said. “I love it here. The school climate and the staff, students, and families here are what school psychologists dream of.”

Tillis’ practicum site was the School District of Milton, a longtime collaborative partner of UW-Whitewater’s school psychology program that has continued Tillis’ project through the district’s 4K Math Initiative. The study found that a greater percentage of 4-year-olds showed secure understanding on six out of nine math topics, including sorting objects, pattern recognition, one-to-one correspondence, rote counting, interpreting creations and naming numbers.

Tillis collaborated with principal Jennifer Cramer and teachers Katie Kletzien and Rebecca Smerud on the 4K Math Initiative. She also worked with school psychologists Brenda Wolfe and Katherine Grady, a UW-Whitewater graduate, during her time as a practicum student in the district.

Each of UW-Whitewater’s graduate programs was able to nominate one capstone project completed between fall 2022 and summer 2023 for consideration for the award. Nominated capstone projects were assessed on the following criteria: analysis, evaluation, explanation, perspective taking, and synthesis.

“All school psychologists are trained to make systemic changes to improve schools, but I feel fortunate to be given the opportunity to make an impact early in my career,” Tillis said.

Prior to UW-Whitewater, Tillis graduated summa cum laude from Beloit College with a bachelor’s in psychology and education and youth studies. She completed an Honors thesis at Beloit on screening for visual spatial challenges in high school geometry class.

UW-Whitewater’s School of Graduate Studies provides numerous opportunities to grow student expertise, expand career options, and increase lifetime earning potential at an affordable cost. Opportunities include master’s programs, graduate certificates, and a doctoral degree program.

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