The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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CRF Announces the Spring 2014 Student Family Research Grant and Award Recipients

The Center for Research on Families is excited to announce this year’s STUDENT RESEARCH GRANTS AND AWARDS recipients. This program provides support to undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines of study and acknowledges outstanding student research on family issues. CRF received an unprecedented number of applications for this year’s competition. Thirteen extremely talented students received awards in six categories. For more information, visit


The CRF Family Research Graduate Student Grant provides $10,000 for one year for students to work with faculty on research projects. Three pre-dissertation and dissertation grants were awarded:

Matthew LaClair is a second year Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program. He will use the CRF grant to complete a project examining how dysfunction within the sex steroid and the dopaminergic systems produce the cognitive and emotional symptoms of schizophrenia.  By better understanding the way these two systems interact, it may be possible to discover novel therapeutic treatments for these symptoms.  This project will be completed in collaboration with his advisor, Dr. Agnès Lacreuse (Psychology).

Samantha Schenck is a Ph.D. student in the Economics Department. Samantha will continue to work on her research with Dr. Lee Badgett (Economics), studying the effects of state-level laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Her primary research interests include the usage of family leave policies among non-traditional families and the effects of state laws that expand upon the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. She received her B.A. in Economics and Management from Wells College and a M.A. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts in 2008.

Sarah Miller is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. Her current ethnographic work explores the ecology of bullying, investigating the relationships between schools, families, and culture in youth aggression. Sarah’s research focuses on youth, gender, sexuality, and social inequality. Her other qualitative projects have studied community debates over adolescent sexuality and the role of slut-shaming and homophobia in girls’ bullying practices and gendering processes. Sarah has worked as a research assistant for Professor Amy Schalet, working on a study titled “Future of Sex Education & Advocates for Youth,” through the National Sexuality Resource Center, and the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality.


The CRF Family Research Travel Grants helps students attend national and international conferences where they present their research. One award was given for spring travel:

Jennifer Zenovich is a first year Ph.D. student in the department of Communication. She is interested in performance studies, feminist studies, and critical cultural studies. Her research focuses on gender as it is performed in post-communist Montenegro.  Jennifer’s essay,  “Gendered Inheritance: A Feminist Autoethnography of Montenegrin Private Property,” examines the familial relations that preclude women from owning property in Montenegro. She presented at the Westerm States Communication Association 2014 Conference in Anaheim, California last February.


The CRF Family Research Honors Thesis/Capstone Award of $500 acknowledges outstanding undergraduate student research. Five awards were given to the following students:

Margaret Hislop is a senior Sociology major at UMass Amherst with minors in both Education and Economics. After graduation she will be pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education at Simmons College in Boston. Margaret’s thesis, titled “Comparison of Parenting Advice after the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the Attacks of September 11,” is an in-depth content analysis of parenting literature in the years following each attack. She finds similarities between the two time periods in how parents and caregivers were advised to explain these events to children, and investigates how to best help children regain their feelings of security after each event. This thesis will help Margaret as a teacher to better guide students as they deal with any traumatic event in their lives.

Nicholas Otis is a Kinesiology and Nutrition double degree student with concentrations in Education and Global Society. He is fascinated by the social undercurrents that impact health, well-being, and opportunities for success. His honors research with Drs. Lorraine Cordeiro and Jerusha Peterman examines predictors of under-nutrition among rural and urban Tanzanian adolescents. After graduating, Nick hopes to return to Tanzania to disseminate the results and engage in dialogue with the communities from which the data came using a Laura Bush/UNESCO Fellowship.

Jarrod Stein is a senior Psychology/Neuroscience student in Dr. Rebecca Spencer’s Cognition and Action Lab. Since his freshman year, Jarrod has been researching age related changes in sleep-dependent memory consolidation. His recent interest in preschool-age naps has culminated in an honors thesis that examines the interactions of caregiver-child sleep behavior, mental health, and socioeconomic status. Passionate about both the humanities and the sciences, Jarrod is looking forward to pursuing a career in health care.

Shirin Hakim is a senior majoring in Public Health and is a student in the Commonwealth Honors College. Her senior honors thesis focuses on the impact of social services on the lives of the homeless. In the fall of 2013, Shirin established a patient-navigation program at the Craig's Doors homeless shelter in Amherst, dedicated to providing social service connections and case-management for homeless guests. She trained and directed 20 student advocates to provide assistance with food stamps, housing applications, resume building, healthcare, transportation, and more. She is currently working towards transforming this program into a course that will remain after she graduates. Upon graduation, Shirin plans to take a gap year and later pursue a career in medicine. She is passionate about providing equal access to healthcare to underserved communities, and plans to dedicate her life to this cause. 

Sarah Walsh is an undergraduate student studying Developmental Health through the Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) program. Her major looks at the interaction of ecology and biology in the context of children's health. She is using her CRF award to support her senior honors thesis, chaired by Dr. Karen Kalmakis (Nursing). Exploring research linking adverse childhood experiences to physical and mental health issues in adulthood, her thesis takes approach to illuminate what is currently being done in response to this research in two main areas: child care settings and policy. Linking the fields of medicine, education, psychology, social work, and community development, her thesis presents a much-needed analysis of current practices and policies within these contexts with the hope of furthering a new framework for early childhood care and intervention that more effectively reflects developmental science. She will be presenting her honors work in an oral defense in April 2014.


The CRF Family Research Undergraduate Assistantship enables undergraduates to study with faculty on a research project through a grant of $3,000. One award was given: 

Sean Higgins is a sophomore majoring in political science and legal studies.  This assistantship will enable him to work as a research assistant for Professor Bushouse (Political Science). Sean will be conducting research on the effects of economic recession on state budget appropriations for prekindergarten funding. He will analyze individual case studies by interviewing interest groups and state actors and collecting budget data in order to gain a concrete understanding of public policy surrounding prekindergarten funding. Sean says this project will allow him to gain knowledge regarding the policy process while having a positive impact on family and education policy.


The CRF Family Research Methodological Studies Grant allows students to participate in the CRF summer Methodology Program for no fee. 

Nan Zhou is a graduate student in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He works with Dr. Cheryl Buehler on several projects, including the influence of maternal employment on family and individual well-being, and the impact of interparental conflict on children and adolescent adjustment. He earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and master’s degree in developmental psychology from Beijing Normal University in China. As an undergraduate, he conducted studies on autistic children’s theory of mind as well as peer and family correlates of Internet addiction among Chinese adolescents. He shows particular interests and has special expertise in methodology and statistical analyses.  Until now, he has published several peer-reviewed articles out of these projects. The award will give him the opportunity to attend a workshop on analyzing development trajectories. 

Alyson Cavanaugh is a doctoral student in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services from the University of Delaware (2010) and a Master of Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2012).  Her dissertation will examine culturally-relevant coping strategies in the context of adversity (i.e., discrimination) for mental health outcomes (i.e., internalizing and externalizing symptoms) and academic engagement among Mexican origin adolescents. Alyson is also interested in examining protective and risk mechanisms that underlie coping, ethnic and racial identity processes, ethnic-racial socialization, cultural values, and developmental processes among immigrant adolescents and youth of color. The award will give her the opportunity to attend a workshop on analyzing development trajectories.

Nicholas Perry is currently a second-year graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral program at the University of Utah.  Prior to graduate school, he attended Vassar College, and then worked as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital.  His research interests focus on HIV and other health disparities in sexual minority populations.  Currently, he is interested in understanding relationship factors influencing HIV risk in same-sex male couples.  The award will give him the opportunity to attend a workshop on data analysis of complex longitudinal data.