The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Principal Investigator

Kathleen Arcaro

Kathleen Arcaro headshot
Professor, Environmental Toxicology
Family Research Scholar, 2012-13


Kathleen Arcaro studies breast milk to gain insight into the causes and development of breast cancer.  Breast milk can provide both a glimpse into the health of the breast and a record of a lifetime of environmental exposures.  Many persistent and biologically active pollutants concentrate in fat and are therefore present in breast milk. 

Dr. Arcaro’s research demonstrates that while the levels of pollutants of emerging concern, including synthetic musks, new flame retardants, and the plasticizer, bisphenol A are increasing in breast milk, the levels of banned substances including several pesticides and poly chlorinated biphenyls are decreasing.  The levels of pollutants in breast milk are of concern because they can affect the health of the baby and the mother.  Dr. Arcaro’s focus is on the health of the mother’s breast.  Importantly, breast milk also contains millions of cells that once lined the inside of the mammary gland.  The DNA of these epithelial cells can be altered by exposure to pollutants as well as by our diet.   During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Arcaro will develop a grant proposal for the project entitled, “Dietary Intervention to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk.” The larger aim of her research is to investigate how to reduce breast cancer morbidity and associated mortality, and the specific goal of this project is to determine whether a diet rich in a compound present in broccoli sprouts, sulforaphane, can reduce breast cancer risk.  Dr. Arcaro will examine the exfoliated epithelial cells in breast milk to assess how changes in diet can alter or reverse the chemical tags present on DNA that increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Harold D. Grotevant

Harold Grotevant headshot
Department Head, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Chair, Rudd Family Foundation
Family Research Scholar, 2012-13


Harold Grotevant's research focuses on relationships in adoptive families, and on adjustment and identity development in adolescents and young adults. His work has resulted in over 100 articles published in professional journals as well as several books, including Openness in Adoption: Exploring Family Connections (with Ruth McRoy, Sage Publications, 1998). 

He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the National Council on Family Relations. He directs the Minnesota / Texas Adoption Research Project, which focuses on relationships in adoptive families and contact between adoptive and birth family members. Dr. Grotevant is the Rudd Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Psychology and oversees the Rudd Adoption Research Program, which is affiliated with the multidisciplinary Center for Research on Families. During his time as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Grotevant will develop a grant proposal for the project entitled, “Adjustment and relationships: Young adult outcomes of adoption.” The study will explore the long-term impacts of adoption by examining the trajectories of adjustment, emotional health, relationship well-being, and family formation of young adults who were adopted as children compared with trajectories of non-adopted young adults. New understanding of these long-term outcomes will be important for professionals placing children for adoption, providers of post-adoption services, and policy makers concerned with determining the best interests of children.

Jerusha Nelson Peterman

Jerusha Nelson Peterman headshot
Assistant Professor, Nutrition, Framingham State University
Family Research Scholar, 2012-13


Jerusha Nelson Peterman’s current research focuses primarily on dietary practices in vulnerable immigrant populations, including refugees. Peterman is interested in documenting how immigrant experiences combine with the U.S. food environment to affect dietary practices, risk of food insecurity and diet-related health outcomes in immigrant families. She also works to develop nutrition education programs suited to the experiences and practices of immigrants and refugees.

Her past research has focused on Cambodian refugees, and current work examines language and coping strategies that low-income, multicultural families use when dealing with food insecurity. During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Peterman developed a grant proposal for the project entitled “Predictors and Dietary and Health Consequences of Food Insecurity in Immigrant Families in the United States.” Dr. Peterman assessed how immigrants’ personal and family characteristics, dietary practices, and biochemical and health outcomes are related to food insecurity. Dr. Peterman’s program of study contributed to the field of research on food insecurity and immigrant health by using a national data set to provide an assessment of how food insecurity is related to health outcomes in an immigrant context. The study also examined how generational differences between immigrant adults and children affected child and family dietary choices.

Nilanjana Dasgupta

Buju Dasgupta headshot
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Director of Faculty Equity and Inclusion, College of Natural Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2006-2007 & 2012-2013


Nilanjana Dasgupta's research focuses on prejudice, stereotyping, and the self-concept, with special emphasis on the ways in which societal expectations unconsciously or implicitly influence people's attitudes and behavior toward others and, in the case of disadvantaged groups, influence their self-concept and life decisions. She has examined these issues in relation to race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and nationality.

She is particularly interested in identifying how implicit bias might be reduced by changing the structure of local environments and, in contrast, how such bias might get magnified by specific negative emotions. Recently, one strand of her research has begun to identify what factors help members of disadvantaged groups become resilient to negative stereotypes and successful despite those stereotypes versus what other factors make them vulnerable to negative stereotypes.

In her second year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. Dasgupta developed a grant proposal for the project entitled, "The impact of same-sex peers on adolescent girls' interest in science and math." This grant proposal built on her prior work where she argued that although individuals' choice to pursue one academic or professional path over another may feel like a free choice, it is often constrained by subtle cues in achievement environments that signal who naturally belong there and who do not. Dr. Dasgupta used her theoretical model, the Stereotype Inoculation Model, to test whether contact with same-sex peers in science and math classrooms function as "social vaccines" who inoculate girls' academic self-concept against stereotype threat and increase their confidence and interest in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM). This project particularly focused on adolescent girls in middle school and tested whether attending a single-sex school versus a co-ed school had different effects on adolescent girls' interest in STEM, their identification with it, self-efficacy, performance and career aspirations. She also compared whether girls of color versus White girls responded similarly or differently to same-sex learning environments in STEM.

Elizabeth Krause

Elizabeth Krause headshot
Associate Professor, Anthropology
Family Research Scholar, 2011-12


Elizabeth Krause’s current research seeks to illuminate how families negotiate the terms of transnational capitalism and the novel models of social organization and practices that underwrite its dynamics in one region of southern Europe. Here, a demographic “crisis” of very low fertility collides with an economic “crisis” of globalization.

The “family” as a social unit has become politically charged. An industrial district in Central Italy serves as an ethnographic laboratory to explore how two populations contend with the structural inequalities, power dynamics and governing strategies of globalization. Her new project, “Tight Knit: Two Familisms in One Country,” focuses on relations between and within local Italian and transnational Chinese families in Prato, Italy, where small- to medium-sized firms predominate. Each of these populations has specific histories of flexibility and networking strategies moored in familistic regimes. The project seeks to understand how different varieties of familism persist or morph.

Current publications can be found here:

Jennifer Martin McDermott

Jennifer Martin McDermott headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Neuroscience and Behavior Program
Family Research Scholar, 2011-12


Jennifer McDermott’s research explores the role of early experience in relation to children’s cognitive and affective development. Her past work reveals that early adversity impairs physiological and behavioral indices of children’s self-regulation and that these effects can be partially ameliorated by improved caregiving conditions.

During her year as a Family Research Scholar, Dr. McDermott developed a grant proposal to unpack the effects of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors on the emergence of children’s regulatory behaviors in a project entitled “Social and Biological influences on the Development of Children’s Self-Regulation.” This proposal took a critical step towards defining, at the molecular level, the complex interplay through which caregiving experience directs the organization of neural systems implicated in self-control and helped inform novel invention approaches aimed at promoting regulatory skills in children at risk.

Heather Richardson

Heather Richardson headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2010-11


Heather Richardson studies the influences of heavy, episodic alcohol consumption (i.e. “binge drinking”) on neurological and behavioral development using rodent models. Early onset alcohol use is one of the strongest predictors of a lifetime prevalence of alcohol dependence and is associated with cognitive impairments and emotional dysregulation in adulthood.

Unfortunately, scientists have limited understanding of the exact connections between alcohol intake and various addiction-related structures in the brain. As a Family Scholar, Richardson explored these connections and their differences in male and female rats (the latter have been greatly neglected in past research). This research has the capacity to contribute greatly to understanding what drives binge drinking in male and female adolescents and how this risky behavior impacts mental health in adulthood.

Yu-Kyong Choe

Yu-Kyong Choe headshot
Associate Professor, Communication Disorders
Family Research Scholar, 2010-11


Yu-Kyong Choe’s research interests include interdisciplinary stroke rehabilitation, computerized treatment in aphasia and apraxia, augmentative and alternative communication, and individual differences in understanding speech. Her past research supports the use of interactive computer technology as a tool to improve language and cognitive function.

As a Family Research Scholar, Choe continued this research by looking specifically at the impact of new humanoid robotic technology on three specific outcome measures (functional recovery, quality of life and burden of care). In the initial phase of the study, she worked to develop a computer program that addressed speech-language deficits specific to individual stroke survivors. In the second and third phases, she installed this speech program into the robot and look at the impact of robot-mediated rehabilitation on arm functions as well as language and cognitive functions. In the future, hopes to introduce this technology to clinical and residential settings for more intensive and consistent intervention.

Rebecca Spencer

Rebecca Spencer headshot
Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Family Research Scholar, 2010-11


Rebecca Spencer is interested in the influences of sleep on cognitive function and development. Her most recent work suggests that the benefits of sleep on learning diminish with age that is unrelated to reduced total hours of sleep, and preliminary evidence suggests a possible connection with levels of fragmentation in the REM sleep stage.

As a Family Research Scholar, Spencer worked on several grant proposals to address the question of whether this age-related decline in sleep-dependent memory consolidation also extends to non-motor cognitive tasks, including emotional memory processing. This study has several important implications in the field of family research. First, it may improve the lives of older adults by helping family caretakers understand the benefits of healthy sleeping habits. Second, it may help middle-aged adults recognize and address the risks of sleep deprivation as a result of work, family, and other life stresses. Finally, it may help young adults appreciate the importance of adequate sleep as it relates to their performance at school, driving capabilities and other everyday cognitive and motor activities.

Nina Siulc

Nina Siulc headshot
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Rutgers University
Family Research Scholar, 2010-11


Political and legal anthropologist Nina Siulc’s research focuses on the impact of U.S. deportation practices on children and families. As a 2010-11 Family Research Scholar, Siulc studied the impact of new deportation policies on families in the northeastern United States. She looked at both children whose parents have been deported and noncitizen children that have been removed from the U.S. and returned to uncertain future in their homeland.

Siulc recently joined the faculty at Rutgers as an affiliated professor in the Program in Criminal Justice, as well as an assistant professor of Anthropology. She is finishing her first book, Unwelcome Citizens, which describes the experiences of Dominican adults who came to the United States as young children and were later deported after being convicted of crimes. In addition to studying how people adjust to life in the Dominican Republic after many years abroad, the book explores what freedom means to people who have experienced migration, criminalization, incarceration and deportation or who have been subjected to extreme forms of state intervention in their lives. In her new research project, “Children of the Crimmigration Era,” Siulc will study how parental deportation impacts the socialization and identity formation of the citizen children who remain in the United States.

Siulc frequently translates her research to public engagement and policy, through ethnographic filmmaking and working as a consultant on a number of immigration legal cases.