A Profile in Caring: TRI’s Tom Udell Recognized for His Life’s Work in Early Childhood Education


Research to Practice • Practice to Research

A Profile in Caring: TRI’s Tom Udell Recognized for His Life’s Work in Early Childhood Education

Posted on September 6, 2016

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By Carol Dennis

Tom UdellHe wanted to be a middle-school math teacher. That was the plan back in the 1980s when Tom Udell studied at Western Oregon State College (now Western Oregon University). But a stint as a teacher at the on-campus Child Development Center changed his mind. Now, more than thirty years later, the lives of thousands of children and their families have been improved because of his contributions to early childhood education across Oregon.



Recognized by the Oregon Early Learning Division


A recent recipient of the Lynne Angland Award presented by the Oregon Early Learning Division, Udell was recognized for his strength and leadership. The award reads, “Tom has mentored individuals who are now in prominent positions throughout Oregon’s Early Learning System. He has done so with humility and grace, and continues to work tirelessly to ensure the success of Oregon’s youngest learners.”



1980 - Tom and Kim Udell

The early years


From that stint as a teacher in the Child Development Center (CDC), Udell soon rose through the ranks to become its Director, guiding the Center through all the steps for accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) – making the CDC one of the first programs in Oregon to attain that standing.



NAEYC's mission is to “serve and act on behalf of the needs, rights and well-being of all young children with primary focus on the provision of educational and developmental services and resources.” Woven throughout their accreditation standards is language about inclusion – creating safe and respectful learning environments for every child regardless of gender, language, culture, or disability. These elements are also an essential part of the fabric of Tom Udell’s commitment to early childhood education.

A class photo. A young Tom Udel stands behind 11 children. The faces of the children are slightly out of focus.



Udell is currently the Director of the Center on Early Learning (CEL) at The Research Institute at Western Oregon University. Through that position, he is the co-director of Oregon’s QRIS (Quality Rating and Improvement System) which works to raise the quality of child care facilities throughout the state. He brings his decades of passion, experience, and knowledge to help set the standards for what it means to be a high quality child care program.


A passion for inclusion


Tom has a deep belief that high quality child care environments are those that serve all children, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and children with disabilities.

“Show me what a child would be getting in a self-contained classroom (where every child in the class has a disability of some kind), and I’ll show you how to provide it in an inclusive setting,” Udell says with a glint in his eye that reflects both determination and excitement in the possibilities.

Why is inclusion important? Udell explains that in self-contained classrooms, children mostly interact with adults. Children in inclusive settings learn from the other students - when, where and how to use skills. And the other children in the classroom love helping - making sure everyone is included in all activities.


Laying a solid foundation for life-long learning


“There’s a great amount of learning that takes place from birth to 3 or 4 years old. That’s a time of maximum brain power,” Udell explains. He is drawn to this work because he wants to be someplace where he can have the maximum impact - laying a foundation for life-long learning.

Through his work with Oregon’s QRIS, Tom Udell has been very excited to work with child care providers from around the state, especially when they come back to him and say that the trainings have helped them become better providers.

“Working with the QRIS has been the culmination of different aspects of everything in my career. Helping to create the foundation is very cool.”

His hope for the future is that he gets to stay involved as Oregon’s QRIS continues to grow and refine its standards and procedures. 



Bloom where you're planted


The Udell family clumped together in the glass tube at the Newport Aquarium.

Tom Udell has been at WOU almost his entire adult life. He reflects on this as if wondering if he might have missed something by staying in one place for so long. There’s an old express: Bloom where you're planted. Udell has not only bloomed at Western Oregon University, he has found the ground fertile enough to have sprouted some amazing seeds of equity, inclusion, and respect throughout the state, and across the country.





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