Academics and Research / Magazine Feature / People

Professor studies resiliency in children

Norman Watt has spent almost 30 years at the University of Denver as a professor of clinical psychology. Outside the classroom, his endeavors over the last 10 years have taken his life in a new direction. This month, Watt will relinquish his tenure at the University to pursue his research. 

Watt has been studying the literacy patterns of children considered “high risk” for psychological disorders because of parental divorce or death. 

“My research interest has focused on the study of psychological resilience, targeting mainly individuals exposed to severe risk factors who nevertheless thrive and excel,” Watt says. 

Beginning in 1993, Watt worked closely with Denver Public Schools, Head Start and Early Head Start programs. He studied children raised in poverty and exposed to other adverse conditions early in life, yet continue to survive and thrive. 

Watt conducted interviews with former Head Start students who demonstrated exceptional reading ability on national standardized tests to develop a resiliency profile. Working with Denver Public Schools, he began follow-up research on students who began in Head Start and were then integrated into DPS. He developed a comprehensive database of area former Head Start students, which he plans to expand statewide. 

In 1997, Watt helped create the Ambassadors for Literacy initiative, asking 31 former Head Start students to volunteer with their community Head Start programs. In return, volunteers receive stipends to attend college. Watt reports that 83 percent of volunteers have attended college. 

“Norman has done cutting-edge research for his entire career,” says DU psychology Professor Howard Markman. “Through his work with children and families, he’s been one of the leading advocates of providing mental health resources to help stop the cycle of poverty.”

In his new role as a part-time research professor for DU, Watt will focus his efforts on building the Ambassadors program statewide.

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