ECYD instructor recognized by college and Minnesota State
Sharon Bergen, PhD, an Early Childhood & Youth Development (ECYD) instructor at Dakota County Technical College, has been honored as the Minnesota State Board of Trustees Outstanding Educator representing DCTC for 2023–2024. BOT Awards for Excellence acknowledge and provide system-wide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement of the state’s public college and university teaching and service faculty.
Outstanding Educators from across the state will be recognized by the Board of Trustees at a luncheon in April 2024. During the event, the Board will further recognize a subset of Outstanding Educators by presenting them with the statewide Educator of the Year award.
“I struggle to think of myself as ‘outstanding’ because there are so many talented educators at DCTC,” Sharon said. “I tend to think of myself as one hardworking educator among many in our outstanding faculty. I am honored to be selected and very humbled by the praise.”
Michael Berndt, DCTC and Inver Hills Community College president, was delighted to select Sharon as the college’s Outstanding Educator for this year.
“I have had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Bergen about early childhood education and the challenges our students experience in their educations,” President Berndt said. “Through the Outstanding Educator process, I came to more fully appreciate her commitment to creating inclusive classrooms for her students, and to modeling good teaching in how she designs her courses.”
Sharon began teaching at DCTC in 2010. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from Capella University. She also holds an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from Concordia University and a B.S. in Child Development and Family Life from Minnesota State University Mankato.
ECYD courses Sharon designs and teaches at DCTC include:
- Introduction to Early Childhood Education
- Child Growth and Development
- Health, Wellness, and Nutrition
- Guiding Young Children
- Learning and Creativity in Early Childhood
- Child and Family Relations in a Diverse World
- Observation and Assessment
- Children with Differing Abilities
- Practicum I & II
- Language and Literacy Development
- Leadership in Early Childhood Organizations
Sharon’s professional involvement at DCTC and beyond includes service on the Academic Affairs and Standards (AASC) Committee, Minnesota State Standards of Effective Practices (SEP) Update Workgroup, Minnesota Department of Human Services – Parent Aware Standards Revision Workgroup, and the Child Care Aware of Minnesota TEACH Advisory Committee. She co-chaired ACCESS/E-lect from 2020 to 2023.
Before arriving at DCTC, Sharon served as the executive director of the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC) and Minnesota School Age Care Alliance (MnSACA) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and earlier as the training and resources associate director at the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies in Washington, D.C. She served as the senior vice president of education and training at the Knowledge Learning Corporation in Portland, Oregon, from 1998 to 2008.
Sharon’s direct experience in early childhood education includes service as the director of children’s services at the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, district manager at the Children’s Discovery Centers of America, and center director at the Magic Years Learning Centers and Children’s World Learning Centers.
“I believe that all students can succeed, and that each student will take their own path in doing so. My job as an educator is to help each student use their assets to make the most of their experience at DCTC to reach their personal, academic, and career goals.”
Sharon Bergen, PhD
Early Childhood & Youth Development Faculty
Minnesota State BOT/DCTC Outstanding Educator 2023–2024
Dakota County Technical College
More about Sharon…
Sharon graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, Class of 1979. Sharon graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, Class of 1979. She and her husband, Jamie, reside in Apple Valley with their “spoiled” labradoodle, Cooper. Sharon and Jamie’s grown daughter, Megan, lives with her family in Shakopee.
In her free time, Sharon keeps busy as an avid reader, runner, paddleboarder, and novice pickleball player.
“Most people are surprised to hear that I am also a long-time stock car racing fan!” she said.
One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:
Sharon Bergen • Q & A
What motivated you to choose early childhood and youth development (ECYD) as your career focus?
Early in my college experience I had a chance to work with children in an art program. That really sparked my interest in working with children. The work is so fun, and every day is different from the one before it. And, in your heart you know you are making a big difference in each child’s life and also in your community.
What do you love most about teaching ECYD courses?
I really appreciate how hard the students work and how dedicated they are to becoming skilled early childhood professionals. Many of the students start the program unsure about their abilities, but they gain confidence each semester and watching that growth is really a privilege.
What advice would you give college students who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children?
Don’t take short cuts! While working in the profession is a great way to gain experience, nothing beats well-rounded academic preparation over the long term. Take your time, get your degree, and along the way, try out a wide variety of things. The early childhood profession is much bigger and more varied than most students realize. Your college years are a wonderful time to try out differing approaches and roles!
What are the most important traits students need to be successful ECYD teachers or human services professionals?
When I ask students, parents, and even other educators about the traits needed for success with children, I typically hear “patience” first. And, while patience is essential, I would say perseverance matters most. The ability to “stick with it,” even when you don’t see immediate gains, is not easy, but it is critical when working with children or their families in any capacity.
Three words that describe you as an early childhood education professional:
DEDICATED. ACTIVE. THOUGHTFUL.
What are the most challenging aspects of your work as an ECYD instructor of teachers and program managers?
For me, the most challenging aspect of teaching at a technical college is that each student is truly an individual. No single learning strategy is going to work for all students and often students have a variety of challenges that they are navigating while focusing on academic work.
As an educator I can control my own ability to be creative and to search out new methods, but I cannot control the life circumstances that impact each student. Interesting, this is also one of the most gratifying aspects of teaching—the creativity and individualization required to be successful with each student is a professional challenge and also provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
What is your favorite branch of ECYD education and why?
I’m not sure if this qualifies as a ‘branch’ of early childhood education, but I do really enjoy teaching the portions of our classes devoted to history, theory, and philosophy. These topics might sound boring, but in fact ECE has a rich and often times controversial history that reflects world events and social changes. And, since many of my students come to our program with little background in these areas, I have the chance to ignite a new area of interest in them.
What is the most important lesson working with children has taught you about life?
We often say that educators learn as much as they teach and working with children will certainly reinforce that belief. Working with young children teaches you patience, humility, and a sense of humor very quickly. But perhaps the most important lesson you learn working with children is to focus on relationships and ignore a lot of small things.
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
I have been very fortunate over the years to work with hundreds of dedicated professionals in the early childhood profession and now in higher education. I think the person who influenced me the most professionally would be Dr. Elana Yalow, who was my supervisor and mentor for many years during my career. She never accepted anything less than excellence and always insisted that you could do more than you thought you could. Her high standards and her belief in my ability to meet them, were incredibly motivating.
If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?
Naturally there is a long list of “wouldn’t it be great if…” wishes for the world, but fundamentally I think if we could change our focus to respecting children and the importance of a safe, happy, and healthy childhood, we would solve a lot of the world’s other challenges.
Have a big heart?
Make a lasting difference in the lives of children. Prepare for a variety of roles such as teacher, paraprofessional, center director, parenting coach, child life assistant, and much more!
Enter the field right away after earning your degree or transfer to a bachelor’s program.
Take a hand — open a mind — change a life. It all starts in Early Childhood & Youth Development at DCTC.
Sharon Bergen • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Right now it is pickleball because it is new to me, and I’m just learning the sport
- Place you would most like to visit: Florence, Italy
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: A hot lap around Talladega Motor Speedway
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Finish my lake house 2) Travel 3) Build interactive children’s libraries
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Book—All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Time period you would explore if you could time travel: The time between WWI and WWII in Europe
- One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Peace of mind
- Your national bird if you were your own country: My country would not have a national bird—birds make me nervous 😊
- Dream occupation: Architect
- Person you would most like to meet: Pablo Picasso
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Watercolor painting
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Apathy
Learn more about Early Childhood & Youth Development at DCTC by contacting:
More about Early Childhood & Youth Development at DCTC
The early childhood and youth development field provides a wide variety of career opportunities. According to Minnesota State CAREERwise, the employment outlook for preschool teachers in Minnesota is projected to grow 19.1 percent between 2020 and 2030, or very much higher than the statewide average for all careers.
Degree, diploma, and certificate options
This A.S. degree program prepares you for transfer to an early childhood teacher licensure program. You learn about child development, guidance, professional relationships, nutrition, health and safety, cultural sensitivity, and techniques for promoting learning in young children.
This program is available online and most courses are also available in the classroom. Courses meet Minnesota Department of Human Services educational requirements for teachers in a childcare setting.
This A.S. degree program delivers a broad scope of knowledge and skills necessary for working with or on behalf of children and families in a variety of non-teaching career fields such as human service agencies and services, home visiting, coaching, early childhood management, and child life.
You learn about child development, guidance, professional relationships, nutrition, health and safety, cultural sensitivity, and techniques for supporting children and families in a variety of settings, including therapeutic sites.
This program is available online and most courses are also available in the classroom. This degree is designed for you if you are seeking to transfer to a four-year institution to obtain an advanced degree. Courses meet Minnesota Department of Human Services educational requirements for teachers in a child care setting.
This A.A.S. degree program prepares you for employment in a variety of early childhood and youth settings. Students learn about child development, guidance, professional relationships, nutrition, health and safety, cultural sensitivity, and techniques for promoting learning in young children.
This program is available online and most courses are also available in the classroom. Courses meet Minnesota Department of Human Services educational requirements for teachers in a child care setting.
This diploma program prepares you to work in a childcare center or preschool as a lead teacher or in a family childcare program.
This certificate program prepares you to work in a childcare center or preschool as a teacher or in a family childcare program.
Early childhood and youth development professionals work with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children/youth, and children with differing abilities in homes, schools, and community centers/agencies. Other career options include child advocacy and social service. Child life assistants may work in clinical and nonclinical settings with young children or youth who have special health needs.
Potential job titles
- Preschool Teacher
- Child Care Teacher
- Family Child Care Provider
- Social Service Agency Specialist
- School District Paraprofessional
- Child Life Assistant
- Head Start Teacher
- Home Visitor
- Program Director
Participation in any ECYD award program requires a clear Minnesota Criminal Background Study.
Elementary School Teachers
Teach school children in first through sixth grades.
This career that pays above the statewide median salary of $50,436.96 annually
Median: $64,362 annually
High: $80,541 annually
Seven-county Twin Cities metro
Median: $65,111 annually
High: $81,311 annually
In Minnesota, there are 23,330 workers employed in this very large career., which is currently in very high demand and seeing high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate in the state is 6.4 percent.
There will be a need for about 18,844 new Elementary School Teachers to meet market demand between 2020–2030. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.
SOURCE: Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (November 20, 2023)