New leader supports department’s excellence, collaborative atmosphere

Julie Rieker standing next to a tree for a portrait photo

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University recently welcomed its new department head, Julie Braungart-Rieker. Before coming to CSU, she worked at the University of Notre Dame, where she served as an associate dean for research and the director of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families.

Learn more about Braungart-Rieker’s plans for the HDFS department and her background in psychology and early childhood development.

What is your background and experience, and what drew you to the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at CSU?

I did my graduate work in a department of HDFS. After I earned my Ph.D., however, I worked in a psychology department where we had a somewhat small developmental program among three other programs in the department. When the position opened here, I was excited to explore CSU’s HDFS department. I was extremely excited to see all the great research going on here with so many faculty members focusing on important issues across the entire lifespan. I was also excited to learn more about the many clinics and outreach programs the department offers, all with the intention of helping youth and families in need. I was also happy to learn that HDFS at CSU has around 1300 student majors, which shows that the department has a strong commitment to teaching. There are also several different graduate programs the department offers that help train the next generation of developmental clinicians and scientists. With all these elements, the department seemed very well-rounded. I felt a strong connection with the mission of the department that traces back to my HDFS training and pursuit of understanding and better supporting children and families.

How do you plan to incorporate your experience into the future?

In my previous job, I held several different positions such as an associate dean for research for four years and as a director of a research center that focuses on the well-being of children and families for 11 years. I learned a lot in those roles in terms of how universities work beyond the departmental level, how to navigate challenging situations, how to support and strengthen units and those who work in those units, and a number of other important aspects that are needed in leadership positions. I hope to take these experiences and support the HDFS department’s already strong path toward excellence!

What are you most excited about regarding your new role and your potential to make an impact?

In my new role, I have been very excited to get to know the amazing and hardworking people in the department. Even though it was a bit challenging to move during a pandemic, everyone here has been very supportive and engaging. I get the sense that the department, and CSU more broadly, strives to create a collaborative and supportive atmosphere which makes working here an enjoyable experience.

What have been your favorite courses/subjects to teach?

In the past, I have taught courses that focus on infant and child development, social-emotional development across the lifespan, and research methods. Research methods is actually one of my favorite courses to teach because it gets at the heart of how we come up with ways to tackle important questions using the scientific method. Every student can think of what they are passionate about and then develop a method for better understanding that issue and answer the questions they are most interested in.

What is your research focus?

My research focuses on the early part of the lifespan. More specifically, my research has looked at how infants and children develop important skills for managing their emotions and how parents can better support their children during this important time in their development. My work has involved fathers in addition to mothers because there is much less research on fathers and much more to learn about fathers’ roles and their effect on the family.

What do you like most about living in Fort Collins?

I love the many places to walk, hike, and explore. The mountains are beautiful, and the sun shines often here! It really makes living here an enjoyable place. My own kids are out of college and don’t live here, but they are excited to visit and explore all that Fort Collins has to offer.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love spending time outdoors. We have two big dogs who have been enjoying the climate and the many places to walk and hike. I also love learning new skills. Last fall, I took a short course in how to watercolor and really liked it. But I also have a long way to go with those developing those skills! But now that we are in a beautiful place with lots of nature, I have more subjects that I can try to practice those skills with.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.