Getting to know Institute Staff: Meet Dana


Dana Benzo is the Project Coordinator of the Institute’s higher education initiatives. We asked Dana to share some of her reflections about her work with us.

What is your current role? In your own words, how would you describe the work you do?

I am currently the coordinator of the higher education arm of the Institute. I oversee the credit-bearing Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate program (undergraduate) and Children’s Program Administrator Credential (CPAC) program (graduate) offered in partnership with the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS). I would say my primary function is to build the competency and capacity of the early childhood workforce through formal education, ongoing professional development, and high-quality relevant field experiences.

Who do you work most closely with at the Institute? What outside partners/organizations do you work with?

I collaborate with all aspects of the Institute, but work most closely with the New York Works for Children team, Career Development Services Center, QUALITYstarsNY team and the Pre-K Support team. Outside of the Institute, I work with the other early childhood faculty from CUNY’s Schools of Education; the NYC Department of Education, Division of Early Childhood Education; and numerous early childhood programs and professionals throughout New York City. I also work very closely with the New York State Association for the Education of Young Children (NYSAEYC) through my role of providing ongoing professional development to the early childhood workforce statewide. I deliver the NYS Trainer Institute, a 6-part series for providers of professional development; professional development sessions on the NYS Core Body of Knowledge and the NYS Pyramid Model, for the entire Early Childhood Education workforce; and the NYS Early Learning Guidelines, for those working directly with children. I also was involved in the revision of the Training and Technical Assistance Professional (T-TAP) Credential and creation of NYS Coaching Competencies.

What motivated you to work in the early childhood field?

I entered the field 23 years ago as a part-time aid at a preschool in Central New York because I loved children and working with them felt natural. I quickly realized a love of children was necessary but not sufficient to work effectively with young children and their families. I continued my education and moved my way up the career lattice from aid to assistant to certified teacher to director with children from birth through 6th grade. I’ve worked in parochial, public, private, and subsidized programs in upstate New York, Long Island and New York City. My experiences have motivated me to remain in the field. I have such a huge respect for children and all they bring to the world. I am motivated on a daily basis to find ways to provide all children with the most optimal environments, experiences, and interactions in which they can thrive.

If you could learn a new skill today, what would it be?

I am actually in the process of learning a new skill right now. I’m preparing to launch some of our CPAC courses online beginning in the summer 2016 semester. Therefore, I am currently enrolled in an intensive course to learn effective design and facilitation skills for teaching online.  

What brings you joy in your work?

Remaining curious and connected to the ground. I find in order to be the most effective in my work I need to spend time on the ground (literally) with children, families, teachers, and leaders. I know what I experienced when I was a teacher and leader but I need to know what is happening now – what are the struggles, successes, obstacles, and triumphs – so I can find ways to help, support, and celebrate with the early childhood professionals I work with. I love hearing from former students or programs I’ve worked with that express that my time with them made a difference, personally or professionally, and a difference in the lives of the children and families they serve. This motivates me to keep doing the work I do for children.

What do you want to be remembered for in your current role?

I would be honored if I was remembered as being someone who believed in the capacity of others – children and adults – and played a role in empowering them to meet their fullest potential. I would also like to be remembered as someone who wants nothing but the best for children. I’m often told I have very high ideals for the early childhood field, and I do, because children deserve nothing less.

If you had one piece of advice for a new early childhood teacher, what would it be?

Focus on building your knowledge, understanding, and application of child development. When this foundation is strong, it will become second nature and will be the basis to guide your practice. In your career, you will be asked to implement various programs and meet certain requirements and expectations. You will feel confused and overwhelmed, but if you remain grounded in your foundation of child development, you will be able to decipher the numerous “asks” and still do what is best for children. 

To learn more about New York’s Child Development Associate Certificate and Children’s Program Administrator Credential, visit


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