The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Search Google Appliance


CRF Announces 2016-2017 Student Awardees

Center for Research on Families student awardees

The Center for Research on Families is excited to announce the recipients of this year's student research grants and awards. This program provides support to undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines of study and acknowledges outstanding student research on issues related to families. CRF received an unprecedented number of applications for this year’s competition. Seven talented students received awards in five categories to support family research for a total of over $30,000 awarded! Keeping in the tradition of CRF, our winners come from a broad range of disciplines and departments. CRF has been providing students with funding for family research for nearly a decade, and is excited to announce its newest cohort:

This year, the CRF family Research Graduate Student Grant provided $5,000 to $10,000 family-related dissertation and pre-dissertation research. One dissertation and three pre-dissertation awards were given this year:

​Mahala Stewart, a Ph.D. student in the department of Sociology, was awarded a $10,000 dissertation fellowship. Mahala has a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies and a M.A. in Sociology from UMass Amherst. Throughout her graduate studies, Mahala has focused on issues of inequality within the intersections of American families and schools.

Under the guidance of her advisor, Professor Joya Misra, Mahala’s dissertation offers a new angle for interrogating social inequalities. She focuses on schooling logics across homeschooling families and their conventionally schooled counterparts. Through intensive interviews with white and black middle-class mothers of children who home school, and go to public school, her dissertation will investigate mothers’ raced schooling logics, and how they compare across school type. Despite the recent increase in the number of homeschooling families, debates focused on schooling inequities do not interrogate the rise in homeschooling, or how the choice to homeschool relates to inequalities seen across families.

Rodrigo Dominguez Villegas, a PhD student in the Sociology department, is receiving a $10,000 pre-dissertation award to continue his research on families who return to Mexico after living in the United States. Rodrigo’s mentor is Professor Jennifer Lundquist. Rodrigo’s primary research interests include international migration, economic development, and public policy analysis. He is also an independent consultant for the Migration Policy Institute in Washington D.C. where he has written policy reports on international migration in North and Central America, return migration, and Mexico’s migration policy.


​Gennarina D. Santorelli is a fourth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program, working under the guidance of Dr. Rebecca Ready.  Gennarina is receiving a $5,000 pre-dissertation fellowship award to continue her research on emotional regulation in cognitively impaired adults. Gennarina graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from Fordham University and received her M.S. in Clinical Psychology from UMass Amherst. Her research interests include the interplay of cognitive and emotional changes with aging, emotion regulation in older adulthood, and perceptions of emotion changes across adulthood.

Gennarina’s work over the next year will investigate the roles of executive function and emotion regulation in emotion reactivity in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Through this research, Gennarina hopes to promote public awareness of the emotional experiences of cognitively impaired older adults, especially among family caregivers, psychotherapists, and employees at supported living communities, with the ultimate goal of supporting improved care of this vulnerable population.

Yolanda Wiggins is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and Graduate Assistant to the General Education Council.  Yolanda is receiving a $5,000 pre-dissertation fellowship to continue her work on college experiences of black students and black families. Throughout her career, Yolanda has focused, published, and presented at national conferences and meetings on the experiences of black college students attending predominantly white colleges and universities.

Under the mentorship of Professor Naomi Gerstel, Yolanda will use this award to continue her exploration of the experiences of black college students and the ways in which the black family “reaches” into college. Using two complementary data sets – intensive interviews with 51 black women and men and a National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) experimental family module, Yolanda will investigate the ways in which black college students engage in a balancing act of academic responsibilities and family obligations. Yolanda’s research will uncover the strategies that black students employ in efforts to maintain family ties, their continued giving while away at college, and the pathways by which they succeed, or not, in degree attainment.


The CRF Family Research Travel Grants helps students attend national and international conferences where they present their research. One travel award is given in the Fall, and one in the Spring:

Emily Harrington, a graduate student in the Nutrition department, has received a travel award to fund her presentation at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego. Emily completed her Bachelor of Science degree, Summa Cum Laude, in Dietetics from SUNY College at Oneonta in 2013. In her graduate career at UMass Amherst she worked with middle school students in Worcester, Massachusetts investigating their intake, attitudes, and beliefs about fruits and vegetables. Guided by Dr. Lindiwe Sibeko, she designed and conducted focus groups and surveys with the students. The study results will be used to develop future initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable intake among the students and their families. Emily has recently defended her Masters Thesis and is currently working as a Nutritionist at a local WIC office, guiding children and parents to lead and establish lifelong healthy habits.


The CRF Family Research Honors Thesis/Capstone Award of $500 acknowledges outstanding undergraduate student research. One thesis/capstone was awarded this year:

Michael Lemieux is a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major, with a minor in mathematics. Under the guidance of Dr. Laura Vandenberg, he is examining female mice that were exposed to either17-α ethinyl estradiol (EE2) or bisphenol-S during gestation and the perinatal period.

Michael was awarded a $500 award for his research on the downstream effects that in utero exposure to xenoestrogens have on the uterine development of female offspring as they reach puberty. He is also investigating whether EE2 can be used as a model to study the effects that other exogenous estrogens have on the developing uterus.


The CRF Family Research Undergraduate Assistantship give funding to one undergraduate to work with a faculty member on a research project: 

Alexandra Santiago, an undergraduate honors student at UMass Amherst,  pursuing a degree in psychology on the neuroscience track. She is receiving a $3,000 undergraduate assistantship to work with Professor Rebecca Spencer to study the effects of napping on children’s behavior.  Alexandra will be working under the mentorship of Dr. Rebecca Spencer to investigate the relationship between daytime napping and inhibitory control in preschool-aged children. In addition to working in Dr. Spencer’s lab, Alexandra works as a mentor at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke, a resident assistant in Coolidge Hall, and a peer advisor in the psychological and brain sciences department.



For more information about the center for Research on Families and the Student Awards Program go to: