Team

Heather Olsen, Ed.D.

Dr. Heather Olsen is an Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Leisure, Youth, and Human Service Division within the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa. She serves as the Executive Director of the National Program for Playground Safety which was established in the School of Kinesiology, Allied Health, and Human Services in 1995.  Dr. Olsen has been a member of the ASTM International, National Association of Parks and Recreation, National Association of the Education of Young Children, and state of Iowa’s Playground Safety Committee.  She has made numerous presentations on the national level. She has given numerous presentations throughout the country about safe playgrounds, led national webinars on playground safety, and written many articles on creating safe playgrounds for children.  She has also co-authored S.A.F.E. Play Areas: Creation, Maintenance, and Renovation and SAFE and Fun Playgrounds.

A hallmark of Dr. Olsen’s work is the development and delivery of numerous online training courses providing participants with playground safety knowledge and practical resources and information.  This work has reached approximately 2,100 people representing individuals from 49 states and 9 countries.  This work has led Dr. Olsen to be the Principal Investigator on a federal contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for the project National Program for Playground Safety Online Training for the Department of Defense

In addition, Dr. Olsen has also been the Principal Investigator for the subcontract with ICF Incorporated and Commonwealth of Massachusetts for work supporting playground safety and safe surfacing.  Dr. Olsen lead the Iowa Early Childhood Outdoor Environment Assessment project in which they conducted a state-wide study examining the safety and quality of child care programs (NPPS, 2015; in press Early Child Development Journal, 2016) in addition to the Iowa Safe Surfacing Initiative (years 2004, 2005, 2006).  

 

Brandy Smith

Brandy Smith, M.A. is the Project Coordinator for the National Program for Playground Safety. She is currently the co-investigator for a federal contract titled National Program for Playground Safety Online Training for Department of Defense.  She also works closely with Head Start and Child Care Resource and Referral agencies across the nation addressing topics around outdoor supervision, safety in the outdoor environment, and quality outdoor planning. She has presented at a number of state and national conferences specific to the physical and social-emotional development of young children, in addition to publishing articles in those domain areas.

Her background is in early childhood and elementary special education, with a specific passion for the professional development of those that care for and educate children. She holds several years of experience teaching young children and more recently teaching and advising at the collegiate level. Brandy has developed and implemented numerous trainings supporting the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional domains of childhood, including work at the state and national level with systematic training programs.

Brandy is currently a doctoral student at the University of Northern Iowa in the Curriculum & Instruction department with an emphasis in Early Childhood. Her current research focuses on quality outdoor environments in early childhood and the social-emotional development of children during unstructured play times.