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Julie Bullard 2011 Montana Professor of the Year

March 2, 2012

Bullard’s prestigious award follows two of her colleagues, Professor of Education Delena Noris-Tull, who was the 2010 Montana Professor of the Year, and Professor of Geology Rob Thomas, the 2009 Baccalaureate Colleges U.S. Professor of the Year.

The Professors of the Year awards are administered by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. The Carnegie Foundation and CASE have been partners in offering the U.S. Professors of the Year awards program since 1981. The organizations select state winners from top entries resulting from a judging process based on the nominations of faculty members by colleges and universities throughout the country.

For the third time in as many years, the University of Montana Western has a Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year.

For Bullard, who began at Montana Western in 1989, her teaching journey started as an older sister growing up in the tiny town of Malta, Mont.

“From my earliest memories I loved teaching,” Bullard explains. “I was the oldest child and I would set up a school and play teacher with my siblings. I also became a student helper at my elementary school and created plays, movies, songs and read books to the younger children starting when I was 10 years old.”

Eventually, Bullard took her passion for childhood education from a small, multi-generation school in Malta to Montana State University in Bozeman. There, in 1975, she earned a degree in child development. She was soon employed by the Billings Women’s League, working as a house parent for abused and neglected children. Displaying the tenacious compassion that would become the hallmark of her career, Bullard soon found the most difficult work was also the most important and fulfilling.

“Of all the jobs in my life that was the one that was the most heartbreaking but also at times it could be the most rewarding,” Bullard says of her early work. “I saw change within the children.”

Bullard then traveled back to northern Montana where she worked several years at Northern Montana Head Start before pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in early childhood and history and social science from Northern Montana College (now Montana State University-Northern) in Havre. While earning her master’s degree she also worked part time preparing future teachers in the Havre Head Start and Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy reservations to obtain the Child Development Associate national certificate. While at Northern Bullard also worked as a graduate assistant tracking the university’s graduates and teaching undergraduate courses.

Bullard earned her master’s degree in 1987 and immediately began teaching grades five through eight at the Cottonwood School in Havre, applying techniques she learned in the early childhood education program. While at Cottonwood she incorporated individualized, hands-on activities like survival skills and other natural world exercises.

“Of all the jobs in my life that was the one that was the most heartbreaking but also at times it could be the most rewarding,” Bullard says of her early work. “I saw change within the children.”

The hands-on approach to education Bullard applied at Cottonwood proved to be apt preparation for the next phase of her career at Western Montana College of the University of Montana (now Montana Western). Bullard came to the Dillon campus in 1989 and immediately took over the university’s fledgling, grant-funded early childhood education program.

The grant money would run out two years after Bullard’s arrival and the institutionalization of the program became critical. True to form, Bullard soon oversaw the program’s institutionalization and under her watch the Montana Western Early Childhood Education program grew from three to nine field sites across Montana. The program now offers a one-year certificate, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree and a minor leading to a teaching certificate endorsement.

Furthering her own education, Bullard earned her doctorate in education from Montana State University in 1996. Throughout her student life Bullard never took her focus off of early childhood education. Her dedication to the field and intuition into the importance of early childhood education proved to be ahead of her time.

“We’ve always known in early childhood that birth to age eight were critical years, but the rest of the world is now also beginning to realize that,” Bullard explains. “It is an extremely rapid period of brain development, physical skills and language.”

Describing the period of early childhood development as predictive of a child’s future, Bullard cites modern scientific research corroborating early childhood methods.

“Modern brain imaging shows the brain actually begins to prune what is not used,” she adds. “If a child is not being stimulated it actually changes the structure of the brain and it can’t be made up later. If we can intervene and provide rich experiences during these ages we can prevent future issues and problems.”

Bullard’s own research has contributed to the work of national boards and the publishing of several books.

Bullard’s book, “Creating Environments for Learning, Birth to Age Eight,” was published in 2010 by Pearson Publishing. It has sold nearly 8,700 books to date and will soon be translated for use in China and Taiwan. She has also worked with My Education Lab to develop a series of educational labs to be published in 2012. The lab, “My Health, Safety and Nutrition,” will be taught as a course nationwide.

Bullard of course also keeps herself busy teaching a variety of early childhood education courses at Montana Western, including assisting students with on-site labs at Montana Western’s Curious Minds childcare center. Bullard also continues to administer the early childhood program’s statewide sites, which includes regular physical visits to every site.

H. Jeffrey Jensen, another of Bullard’s students, describes her as “the Mother Theresa of Early Childhood.”

While the breadth of her work speaks for itself, it is her students and peers who can most fittingly attest to the impact of Bullard’s work.

Cathy Jackson, a Montana Western student, calls nominating Bullard her “greatest privilege.”

“It was Dr. Bullard who believed in me, inspired me and taught me to become a great teacher of young children,” Jackson wrote in her nomination letter for Bullard. “She develops and supports her students; she challenges her students; and she believes in her students.”

H. Jeffrey Jensen, another of Bullard’s students, describes her as “the Mother Theresa of Early Childhood.”

Bullard’s counterpart at Montana State University, MSU Early Childhood Project Director Libby Hancock, called Bullard “a brilliant and visionary leader and an extremely gifted mentor.”

In her nomination letter, Delena Norris-Tull, Bullard’s colleague and fellow Montana Professor of the Year awardee, spoke to the specific impacts of Bullard’s work accomplished at Montana Western and across the state.

“Montana is the fourth largest and the third most sparsely populated state in the nation,” Norris-Tull wrote. “During the time that Dr. Bullard has been a professor at Montana Western, she has been the guiding individual in developing a statewide delivery model to provide nontraditional undergraduate students in remote areas of the state opportunities to complete an undergraduate degree.”

Norris-Tull also credits Bullard with increasing retention and completion rates of students in her program and in pioneering Montana Western’s innovative block scheduling program, Experience One.

Under Experience One students take, and professors teach, one class at a time, three hours per day over an 18-day period (one block). By taking four blocks in a semester students earn the same amount of credits as in traditional scheduling models. This intensive, focused learning provides unique opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning, a technique Bullard has applied to teaching since growing up in Malta.

“I feel like receiving the award is not just a recognition of me but of all our faculty and all the hard work we do,” Bullard concludes.

“It’s really wonderful to be a professor at a university where there is a common belief in experiential learning,” Bullard says of Montana Western. “It is an integral part of early childhood education and it inspires us all to be better teachers.”

As for her particular recognition as the top professor in the state, Bullard says she feels credit is also due to her fellow faculty members.

“I feel extremely honored and humbled to receive this award. I think the faculty at Montana Western are exemplary. I feel like receiving the award is not just a recognition of me but of all our faculty and all the hard work we do,” Bullard concludes.

With three Professors of the Year awards since 2009, all at Montana Western certainly have much to be proud of.


The University of Montana Western, located in Dillon, Mont., is an innovative institution nestled in a scenic valley in the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Montana. The campus Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) for student enrollment is approximately 1,289. Montana Western has over 60 FTE faculty members, features small classes for all students and has been recognized for excellence by U.S. News and World Report. Montana Western’s small size and focus on education innovation have earned it the reputation of being a place where faculty and staff choose to collegially and creatively make a difference in the education of students. Montana Western is the first and only public four-year college in the nation to use block scheduling in which students take a single class at a time. This immersion learning program facilitates increased opportunities for experiential types of learning.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is an independent policy and research center that supports needed transformations in American education through tighter connections between teaching practice, evidence of student learning, the communication and use of this evidence, and structured opportunities to build knowledge.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a professional association serving educational institutions and the advancement professionals at all levels who work in alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing and other areas.