She grew up in Belleville, Michigan and earned her undergraduate degree in anthropology and sociology. As a 20-something year old college student, Gretchen Owocki began working as an assistant in a kindergarten setting, and suddenly, Gretchen Owocki had a clear picture of what she wanted to do.
Watching the dedicated kindergarten teacher highly engage her students, seeing the kids learning through play, and paying particular attention to the fact that the kids seemed pretty advanced in their reading inspired Gretchen. By the time she arrived at the University of Arizona for her master and doctorate degrees, Gretchen clearly knew that her life would be dedicated to early childhood education.
Gretchen’s time in Arizona, and subsequently in Michigan since she joined SVSU in 1996, has been spent researching how teachers facilitate literacy through play. Her study, teaching and “kid-watch” efforts have framed both her teaching and her research. Her first publication, “Literacy Through Play,” (1999) was an extension of her doctoral dissertation. The particular value of the publication is its ability to offer teachers real ways to use play to facilitate literacy learning. Professor Owocki observed that theoretically teachers “get it” and want to encourage and engage play, but practically speaking, they don’t always know what to do and how to do it; and therein lies the problem. This book, and her subsequent publications ---now seven in all --- has made her a leading scholar in the field of early education.
Though research occupies a great deal of Gretchen’s time and effort, it doesn’t occupy it all. She still manages to teach (both undergraduate and graduate) and is highly involved in the College of Education’s Literacy Center, a project begun in 2005 by Gretchen and fellow professor of teacher education professor, Susie Emond. At its inception, the reading clinic worked with about twenty at-risk readers from Carrollton schools, who were bussed onto campus for free-of-charge assessment and instruction. The partnership with Carrollton schools still exists, but the clinic has grown to a tuition-based, regional reading clinic. Now as a community resource, about 80 additional students are tutored at the reading clinic.
Reading specialist graduate students in the College of Education serve as the program’s tutors. Though the reading clinic has been highly successful, Gretchen’s wants more. “It nags at me,” she says. “I’d love to provide a lower cost to families, offer scholarships, even transportation and someday, be able to offer tutoring sessions out in the community.” Maybe someday, she dreams aloud.
In the fall of 2007, Gretchen was selected as a Braun Fellow, a newer University program designed to recognize and assist faculty who not only enjoy and excel at teaching, but who are scholars. Braun Fellows are rewarded $37,500 over three years to further their scholarly and professional activities. Gretchen plans to write another book, and use some of the funds to support the reading clinic she so dearly loves. Her efforts and financial support put her a bit closer to her dream.