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University of Oregon announces executive director for Ballmer Institute

Katie McLaughlin is the UO Ballmer Institute's new executive director.
University of Oregon
Katie McLaughlin is the UO Ballmer Institute's new executive director.

An institute promising to transform higher education’s impact on a major challenge facing the state and the country has taken a key step toward that goal.

The University of Oregon announced Tuesday the first executive director for its new Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health.

Katie McLaughlin, a Harvard University professor and clinical psychologist, will take the helm of the institute in August. UO expects to welcome its first undergraduate students to a new Portland campus this fall.

“I am passionate about developing strategies to support the wellbeing of children and adolescents and ensuring that families have the tools they need to thrive,” McLaughlin said in a statement. “The vision of the Ballmer Institute — to promote the behavioral health and wellness of children and adolescents through the early detection and prevention of mental health problems — is profoundly resonant for me. The Ballmer Institute will provide an unprecedented platform to stimulate innovation in youth behavioral health at a moment when new approaches to intervention and service delivery are desperately needed.”

The new institute was made possible by a more than $425 million donation last year from Steve and Connie Ballmer of Ballmer Group Philanthropy. Steve Ballmer is a former CEO of Microsoft, and Connie Ballmer is a UO alumna and former trustee.

Oregon and the country as a whole are suffering from an acute shortage of services and providers in mental and behavioral health. The Ballmer Institute’s hiring of McLaughlin comes as leaders across law enforcement, education and housing are calling for increased focus on improving behavioral healthcare in the state. Gov. Tina Kotek and Oregon legislators have made the issue one of a few key priorities this legislative session.

McLaughlin is currently Director of the Stress and Development Laboratory at Harvard.

“She is one of the most consequential and influential psychologists working in the area of child behavioral health right now,” Janet Woodruff-Borden, UO’s acting provost and executive vice president, said of McLaughlin in a statement. “So that allows us to rapidly move the Ballmer Institute model – perfected in Oregon — and then to be the vanguard for the rest of the country.”

The institute will feature a new undergraduate child behavioral health major which the university expects to graduate more than 200 students annually, once it’s fully up and running.

According to UO, the program will be the first of its kind at the bachelor’s level.

The university expects program graduates to complement existing behavioral health professionals, such as psychologists and social workers, by filling jobs such as behavioral health aides and case managers. The degree can also be a stepping stone for graduate programs in areas such as school counseling and nursing, according to UO.

The new undergraduate degree program promises to include partnerships with Portland Public Schools and other school districts as well as health care providers. University officials want those settings to help give students more than 700 hours of in-the-field experience as part of their training.

The Ballmer Institute is creating an entirely new workforce and undergraduate program to address the needs of children and families. Opportunities like this for real system change rarely arise,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

The institute is technically up and running already, under an interim director. It began this fall offering a remote, three-course, graduate-level certification for K-12 educators on children’s behavioral health.

The institute will be housed primarily at a new UO Portland campus, located at the former Concordia University campus in Northeast Portland.

Along with the Ballmer Institute, the new campus will also be home to programs that are currently in Portland’s Old Town, including some of UO’s master’s programs in journalism, business and architecture.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell
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