When Marilyn Krajicek, EdD, RN, FAAN, was a young college student in Omaha, NE in the 1960s, a worldwide movement was underway to change the perception and treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. The movement, led by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, took a “bold new approach” to addressing the needs of the neglected population.
Marilyn Krajicek, EdD, RN, FAAN
Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into new programs to educate, serve, and deliver humane care to people with intellectual disabilities. Those efforts eventually led to the formation of the U.S. Special Olympics in 1968. While Shriver carried the torch, the young Marilyn chose to be a soldier for the cause, a champion for the intellectually disabled.
After 50 years on her watch, teams of healthcare workers, childcare providers, nurses, doctors, researchers, and parents around the world now work together to ensure children with intellectual disabilities step out of the shadows and into their potential. But it’s nearing the end of her watch. Marilyn is retiring from the University of Colorado College of Nursing at the end of February after a lifetime of fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.
What launched her incredible journey? Ask Marilyn about the source of her passion, and she’ll tell you she can’t recall any particular moment. Nor did her altruism stem from any self-interest; she was not the mother or sibling of someone with intellectual disabilities.
“I can’t remember why I was always interested in helping children with special needs and complex medical issues. I just had the knowledge about it and an exposure in my degree (post-master’s certificate handicapped children and families) and there was a need to help. So, I did,” said Dr. Krajicek, professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing.
The first, First Start
Today, the 81-year-old is a renowned national and international expert of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From 1968 until 1985, Marilyn signed on to work with JFK Partners at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. JFK Partners is designated as Colorado's University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program. The center leads the way in evidence-based interdisciplinary clinical care, education, research and community partnerships to enrich the lives of children, youth, and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities and special health care needs. Marilyn was a perfect fit.
“I listened to the physicians who told me to ‘build a great team, surround yourself with smart people to work in partnerships and make a difference,” she said. ”Listening to them was the best thing I did.”
Marilyn worked alongside people like Dr. Gerri Steinke to create curriculum to train child care providers and preschool personnel how to properly take care of infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities and chronic conditions. The program was called First Start. The duo took it state by state, nationwide. Marilyn later wrote several books about the First Start philosophy.
National Resource Center
In 1995, Marilyn created the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education (NRC) at the CU College of Nursing. The NRC went on to create several standards-based resources to promote health and safety in child care and early education, including childhood obesity that the Center for Disease Control uses today to set national guidelines. Marilyn served as director of NRC until 2021.
In 2013, Marilyn worked with Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, RN, chair of the Maternal Child-Health Division, to create and oversee a dual-degree program. It allows students to earn a doctor of nursing practice from CU College of Nursing and simultaneously earn a master of public health from the Colorado School of Public Health. Until recently, Marilyn co-chaired the program with Dr. Harpin.
Early in her career, Marilyn mastered the art of writing and obtaining grants to conduct new research and encourage nursing students to enter the field of caring for people with disabilities.
In 2015, she earned a grant and became program director for the Achieving a State of Healthy Weight report for the National Center for Health, Behavioral Health and Safety at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Pushing for progress
In other various roles, Marilyn also led efforts to care for children with special health needs, further pediatric nursing leadership, promote good oral health care for children, implement child care research, study the health and education needs of children with disabilities and chronic conditions, and improve the quality of life for at-risk infants.
“I’ve had wonderful experiences and I would never trade it. It was all part of my life. I learned a lot from physicians, nursing colleagues and faculty. I’ll miss them.”
For students entering nursing school, she offers some advice.
“Nurses and practitioners need to work with families and children with disabilities and develop a knowledge base. That’s a real strength. We need more people in the field who have a passion for them,” Marilyn said. “You also need to learn how to write grants and get funding.”
What’s next? Maybe some traveling, maybe not. She’s not sure. Marilyn does know she still has more to contribute.
About Marilyn in the words of friends and co-workers
“Marilyn, don’t stop making trouble! The consequences typically benefit everyone.”
-Gerri Steinke, PhD, NRC evaluator, CU College of Nursing research associate,
LEND and UCEDD evaluator, JFK Partners, senior clinical instructor, CU SOM
From Dr. Gerri Steinke - Marilyn’s career was dedicated to improving the quality of life of children, especially young children in out-of-home care and children with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She developed the First Start curriculum, a train-the-trainer model to prepare child care programs to safely care for children with special health care needs. She trained successive cohorts of nurses and graduate nurses to better serve this group of children by earning successive federal grants for pediatric nursing leadership in special needs.
Marilyn was the program director for one of the first dual-degree programs in the nation for DNP-MPH education of advanced practice nursing. She collaborated with Kathy Shaw, Scott Harpin, retiree Marilyn Stember and Lori Crane to launch the program.
Perhaps the signature, lasting achievement of her career was as director of the NCR from1995-2021. We also maintained of a national database of child care licensing regulation which soon became the gold standard for providers. Finally, during Marilyn’s tenure as NRC director, we were asked to support the Obama era effort to prevent obesity.
“Marilyn, Thank you for your support and guidance over the years. You have climbed the mountain, now enjoy the view! Also, may I please have your full title and credentials?”
From Dr. Kristine Gauthier - I first met Marilyn as a PhD student at CU in 2010. Given our shared backgrounds, I was introduced to her and she served as my PhD advisor. I was hired as faculty in 2014 and continued to partner with Marilyn as a colleague, co-instructor and through various faculty roles. I started working with her and the NRC in 2021.
Marilyn has a way of getting answers and isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way. She won't hesitate to pick up the phone rather then send an email, will walk into an office to start a discussion, and will get parties connected to start a conversation. I will miss her daily rounds on the 4th floor of the college where she pops into offices to get her questions answered and visit with staff and faculty.
I will miss her network of connections - she knows someone for everything. I will also miss her dedication to children's health, safety, and wellbeing. She truly is a champion for children.
“You have made a lasting impact on nursing and the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities.You have touched more lives than you realize. You have accomplished a rewarding and successful career.You have enriched my life! Now is the time to rest, be healthy, and do the things you have wanted to do but did not have time for.”
-Wendy M. Nehring, RN, PhD, FAAN, FAAIDD professor East Tennessee State University College of Nursing
From Dr. Wendy Nehring - I met Marilyn at an annual nursing division meeting of the American Association on Mental Retardation (today it’s known as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities). I remember specifically the meeting in the mid-to-late 1980s when the meeting was in Los Angeles. I was thrilled that Marilyn, a leader in the field and the author of books and articles that I had read for school, talked to me. I had just started in my PhD program.
Through the years I got to know Marilyn much better, and we became colleagues and close friends. She was a wonderful mentor to me. Marilyn was a co-sponsor for my induction into the American Academy of Nursing in 2001. Throughout time, we have written articles and the first three editions of the Scope and Standards of Practice in this specialty. I have been a consultant for her on her grants and she has been the same for me.
Dr. Nehring and Dr. Krajicek, late 1990s
Dr. Krajicek with Dr. Nehring 2001
Marilyn is legendary in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her scholarship and service to the field and to individuals and their families whom she has known over the years is exemplary. She is one-of-a-kind and it has been my tremendous privilege to work with her and call her friend.
Besides sharing her immense knowledge and skills in pediatrics and developmental issues with children to countless students at all levels, both nursing and interprofessional, Marilyn has brought in millions of dollars in program grants that has elevated the status of the nursing school. She has also impacted the community, region, state, and nation with her scholarship accomplishments.
“Marilyn brings an important perspective to our faculty meetings; a historical or a wizened point of view. She always contributes and leaves us with something to think about. I will greatly miss the respect for our institution and the history she carries with her.”
Dr. Scott Harpin has known Marilyn nearly 20 years. In early 2000, he was at the University of Minnesota helping to develop graduate pediatric nursing specialties as a part of a HRSA Maternal Child Health Nursing Training grant, while Marilyn was doing the same thing in Colorado. They got to know each other during annual meetings. Then, in 2011, because of that connection they had from before, Scott took a job at the University of Colorado College of Nursing, recruited by Marilyn. Soon thereafter, she became his boss and mentor.
“She has so much institutional knowledge. She knows academic politics, how to walk the line and takes care not to offend others, and how to troubleshoot difficult issues. She taught me how to do all of that here,” said Harpin, associate professor at the College of Nursing and chair of the Maternal Child-Health Division.
In 2013, they partnered up again to team-write a federal nursing education grant to create a dual-degree program focusing on advanced public health nursing with the Colorado School of Public Health and CU Nursing. Scott and Marilyn co-directed the program.
“There’s a whole cadre of people, leaders, working in healthcare who were educated in our programs by her,” Harpin said.
Scott believes Marilyn will leave an undeniable legacy of caring for children. She helped build a program for Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialists, where alumni have been caring for children with cancer, those living with disabilities, and other chronic health issues. In her role as a JFK Partner faculty, Marilyn is an international expert working with children who are living with intellectual disabilities.
While some may perceive Marilyn as tough as nails, Scott finds her compassionate and nurturing.
“When I’ve had some hard or stressful days in the office, I could always go up to her office and chat. I knew she would always take the time to talk calmly through it, help me take a step back and look at the big picture. She is very caring of others and wants junior faculty to be successful and stay with us at CU Nursing,” he said.
Marilyn has also worked hard to keep the university alumni involved, from mentoring students to helping with graduate student projects. For all of her commitments and talents, when Marilyn retires, Scott will miss her wisdom and unique perspective the most.
“Marilyn was always innovative. She was never stuck in the ‘Well, we don’t do it that way.’ For Marilyn, it was always, ‘How are we going to make this work?’
I wish her well, will miss her, and hope we stay in touch as we both move into retirement.”
Dr. Cordelia Robinson Rosenberg, PhD, RN, goes way back with Marilyn. Around 1974, they met in Omaha, Nebraska during a national network meeting of the John F. Kennedy Child Development Center.
That’s where Cordelia learned about Marilyn’s interest to take her First Start curriculum nationwide. Cordelia applied and brought the program to Nebraska. After Cordelia moved to South Carolina in 1988, she implemented First Start there too, working closely with Marilyn the entire time.
Years later after Cordelia moved to Colorado, the two teamed up on another grant. For that, they worked with community colleges across Colorado to implement First Start. The training was offered to child care providers who cared for children with special needs and complex medical issues.
“Marilyn’s First Start curriculum was remarkable and made a long-lasting impact. She’s been a tremendous leader nationally within nursing on children with disabilities,” Cordelia Robinson Rosenberg said.
“It opened up the possibility of child care for everyone. Before that, providers were afraid of the responsibility and liability of taking care of disabled children. No one was sure who could administer medicine or execute various procedures. And in every state, the rules were different.”
Eventually, the government asked Marilyn to run a national center that would work through all of those issues. So, in 1994, Cordelia and Marilyn shared a co-program directing role for the Paraprofessional Pre-service Personnel Preparation for Early Intervention using the First Start model for the U.S. Department of Education.
“Marilyn was the type of person who saw a problem and went after it. She fully embraced nursing as a profession and helping families with disabled children or kids with medically complex issues,” Cordelia said.
“She’s an intense person. She identifies a need and is totally passionate about it and motivates others to be a part of it. I admire her commitment.”
“Marilyn’s impact has been her constant commitment to child care, especially her work with disabilities.”
From Dr. Skiba - In 1989, I was recruited to the University of Colorado College of Nursing. Marilyn was my division chair. It was a difficult transition moving here from the East coast and from a different academic environment. I contemplated leaving but Marilyn suggested we go to dinner and chat. She gave me the best advice. “Find your niche, develop it by getting grant money, stay focused, and choose your battles at work.” It guided my academic life.
Marilyn was my mentor when it came to grant writing. She was quite successful at securing funding. She was my guide to writing successful grants and because of her guidance, I was successful in bringing in millions of grant dollars to fund my health care informatics projects.
Marilyn started as my division chair, then became my mentor and friend.
Marilyn’s impact has been her constant commitment to child care especially her work with children with disabilities. Marilyn always brought together interdisciplinary teams. She did this way before the trend of team science. One of her most impactful contributions was the establishment of the NRC. She is known nationally and internationally because of her commitment to child care.
"Wishing her the very best in retirement.”
-Ruth O’Brien, professor emeritus, University of Colorado College of Nursing.
From Ruth O’Brien - I was a faculty colleague of Marilyn’s at the College of Nursing since 1989. Although I am retired, I continue to keep in touch with her on a monthly basis.
Dr. Marilyn Krajicek is a nationally known educator for children and families with disabilities and chronic conditions. She consistently sought and attained federal funding to establish the NRC at the college. Her expertise in this area will be greatly missed.
Thank you for sharing your stories about Marilyn!
We encourage you to post well wishes to Marilyn on our online Kudo Board.