Montessori Geometry


Ceremony June 18 to celebrate first doctoral program at UW-River Falls

Doctor of Education program is one of first in Montessori education

June 9, 2022 – An affiliated researcher with the University of Kansas Center for Montessori Research will be the guest speaker at a ceremony June 18 recognizing the start of the first Doctor of Education degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Maria McKenna, Ph. D., who is also an associate professor of the Practice at the University of Notre Dame, will speak on the importance of expanding Montessori education into other disciplines and fields of study. 

“She [McKenna] has research experience both inside and outside of Montessori education and will share her knowledge,” said Kateri Carver, interim director of the Ed.D. Montessori program and director of the graduate Montessori Teacher Education Department.

The ceremony will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, at the Lydecker Living Learning Center, which connects the J.H. Ames Suites to the South Fork Suites building.

McKenna holds a joint appointment in the Department of Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling, and Society program. She is also a faculty fellow for both the Institute for Educational Initiatives and Notre Dame’s Poverty Studies Program. As a qualitative researcher with expertise in child-centered research, McKenna studies the philosophy of educational care and space, youth empowerment, and the social and cultural contexts of education related to equity and inclusion. McKenna serves as a conduit between the Montessori community and mainstream educational researchers in a variety of areas. She has been published in several academic journals and presses and serves on the editorial and review boards of various publications, including the Journal of Montessori Research.

The Ed.D. program in Montessori Studies at UWRF is one of the first such programs in Montessori studies in the United States.

During the ceremony, those who have helped start the program will be recognized for their efforts, Carver said.

“It really has been a community effort to bring this forward and to birth this doctoral program,” Carver said.

The hybrid program has 14 students from across the nation. The students will start their two-week residency at UW-River Falls on Monday, June 20. 

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved the program in February 2021. 

Montessori education methodology emphasizes the importance of dignity and respect for the individual and the potential for students to become the best people they can be and contribute to the world, Carver said. Integral to the philosophy is that no one is alone, and everyone is part of a community and a network that is part of the purpose.

Although the Montessori pedagogy and philosophy have been around for over 100 years, there have been very few doctoral programs in the world that have focused on the Montessori method of education.

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician, educator and innovator. She opened the first Montessori school in Rome in 1907. She graduated from medical school in 1896, one of the first female physicians in Italy. She opened a full-day childcare center in a poor inner-city district of Rome, the first of its kind. Using scientific observation and experience, Montessori designed learning materials and a classroom environment that fostered the children’s natural desire to learn and provided them the freedom to choose their educational materials.

David Travis, UWRF provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said he is thrilled UWRF is launching its first doctoral program.

“This allows UWRF to build on its strong reputation in preparing future leaders in the fields of education,” Travis said. “The new Montessori doctoral program at UW-River Falls is a landmark achievement in the history of this campus. Given that this university started as a Normal School focused on educating future teachers, it is appropriate that our first doctoral program is in the field of education.”  

UWRF started the Master Montessori Program in 2012. There are fewer than 10 university-based such programs in the nation. The program is accredited through the Montessori Accreditation Council of Teacher Education (MACTE). The university is one of only two public universities in the U.S. that offer Montessori teacher education programs.

During the summer residency portion of the program, Ed.D. students are encouraged to stay on campus as they will engage in networking events and cohort community-building activities.

Carver said starting the doctoral program and having the students on campus will be a wonderful opportunity for the campus and the River Falls community. 

“It is exciting to know the campus is so dedicated to innovation and undergraduate, master and doctoral level academics,” Carver said.

For more information about the new degree or the ceremony, email




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