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Spring 2015 Student Research Grants and Awards Announced

Students in research lab


CRF Announces the 2015 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 both 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. Sixteen talented students received awards in six categories to support family research for a total of nearly $50,000 awarded.

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

Shayl Griffith headshot

Shayl F. Griffith is a third year Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology working under the guidance of her advisor Professor David Arnold. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Clark University and her M.S. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Shayl’s research interests center on the social, emotional, and academic functioning of preschool-aged children. Her work over the next year will examine parent-child interactions around mobile technology and related implications for children’s outcomes.


Cassaundra Rodriguez headshot

Cassaundra Rodriguez is a Ph.D. student in the Sociology department and the managing editor of the journal of Gender & Society. Throughout her graduate career Cassaundra has concentrated and published on issues surrounding the intersection of family dynamics and the unique struggles faced by immigrants. Specifically, her recent research focuses on the issues and discourse surrounding Arizona’s anti-immigration Bill. Under the tutelage of Professor Joya Misra, Cassaundra will continue her immigration and family research for her dissertation. Through ethnographic research in the Southern California region, Cassaundra will investigate the characteristics of what are called “mixed-status” families, which are families that have members who have different immigration statuses. Mixed-status families are an under-analyzed group that faces unique and devastating challenges like fragmentation from deportation of one or more members of the family.

Mary Catanese headshot

Mary Catherine Catanese Mary Catherine Catanese is a Ph.D. candidate in Neuroscience and Behavior.  For past year, Mary has been researching the effects of chemicals on mice during pregnancy and the maternal period with Dr. Laura Vandenberg of the Environmental Health Sciences Department.  Under the guidance of Professor Vandenberg, Mary will be studying the effects of exogenous estrogens on maternal behavior and the maternal brain in mice. Estrogens are essential for maternal behaviors, but it is not known whether the addition of estrogens through contraceptives, medications, plastics, and other substances could affect mothers; in experiments involving rats, exogenous estrogens have produced conflicting results on behaviors that impact maternal-infant interactions.

The CRF Family Research Travel Grants helps students attend national and international conferences where they present their research. Five travel awards were given this spring:

Samantha Bernecker headshotSamantha Bernecker is a Clinical Psychology Ph.D. student whose research interest focus on interpersonal relationships and mental health. Working independently and with her advisor Professor Michael Constantino, Samantha has published over a dozen academic papers. For her travel award, Samantha will travel to New York City to present her paper Crowdsourcing Mental Health at the 27th annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Sciences. Her paper documents her novel intervention of providing therapy tools to individuals through online courses.

Joycelyn Faraj headshot

Joycelyn Faraj is a Ph.D. candidate in Nutrition with a M.S. in Nutritional Science, a B.S. in Human Nutrition, and a B.S. in Microbiology. She has worked as a research assistant on several studies focused on the nutrition, health and wellness of the mother during and after pregnancy. Under the guidance of Professor Alayne G. Ronnenberg, Joycelyn will be writing her dissertation on the relationship between nutrition and mental health in the U.S. female population. For her travel award, Joycelyn will be presenting her dissertation paper, titled Vitamin B6 Status is Associated with Depression among Women with Inflammation, at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston.

Alice Fiddian-Green headshot

Alice Fiddian-Green is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Promotion and Policy being advised by Professor Aline Gubrium, and is also the Program Coordinator for Project Baby Springfield. Her focus is on using participatory digital and visual research methods such as digital storytelling, photovoice, and body mapping to better understand racial disparities in birth outcomes and sexual and reproductive health. Alice will be presenting a paper titled Puerto Rican Latina Youth Coming Out to Talk about Alternative Sexual Health, at the International Communication Association’s Communication across the Life Span conference in San Juan.

Amanda Cremone headshotAmanda Cremone is a Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience and Behavior program working primarily on issues related to sleep and childhood. Amanda is concerned with issues and effects surrounding lack of sleep in children and adolescents and has researched this subject under the guidance of Professor Rebecca Spencer and Professor Jennifer McDermott of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department. CRF provided funding to Amanda to present Influence of a Mid-Day Nap on Response Inhibition in Preschool-Aged Children at the Society for Research in Child Development’s conference in Philadelphia.

Ellen Correa headshotEllen Correa is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication researching issues surrounding the cultural assimilation of immigrant families and its implications. Under the guidance of Professor Leda Cooks, Ellen will be writing her dissertation on the assimilation experience of her own personal family, who first immigrated to the United States two generations ago from Puerto Rico. Ellen has had to prepare herself for this project by analyzing the literature and methods required to accurately research a group that the researcher is so intimately connected to. As a result, Ellen has written an entire paper on the subject titled Employing Intimate Ethnography, Performance, and Dialogue to Craft a Reckoning of the Past for Lessons about the Future. She will present this paper at the annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan.

The CRF Family Research Honors Thesis/Capstone Award of $500 acknowledges outstanding undergraduate student research. Three graduating seniors received this award:

Avery Hennigar headshotAvery Hennigar is an honors student pursuing dual degrees in Psychological and Brain Sciences and Public Health with a certificate in Civic Engagement and Public Service. Currently, she works as a Communications Assistant at the Commonwealth Honors College, is a Teaching Assistant in the public health department, and has been a Research Assistant on the Work and Family Transitions Project for nearly 2 years with Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins. CRF is awarding Avery an award to work on her thesis which examines the relationship between breastfeeding preferences and practices and depressive symptoms in low-income mothers who returned to employment soon after their child’s birth.

Arya Mohanka headshotArya Mohanka is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration in Demography and Population Studies being advised by Professor C.N. Le, and is completing a certificate in Asian and Asian American Studies. Arya is interested in global low-fertility rates and investigating solutions to low rates through socio-cultural factors.  Arya received a capstone award for her thesis titled Pronatalist Influence on Reality Television Programming in South Korea, in which she analyzed the fertility-related messaging in South Korean reality shows.

Kelsie Mitchell headshotKelsie Mitchell is a Public Health major with minors in biology and anthropology being advised by Professor Gloria DiFulvio. Kelsie’s capstone project was inspired by her involvement with the UMass Citizen Scholar Program, in which she worked as an English tutor for UMass’s dining and custodial staff. Her thesis addressed policy and community organizing issues surrounding education for young English language learners in the Massachusetts public school system.  


The CRF Family Research Undergraduate Assistantship enables undergraduates to receive funding in order to study with faculty on a research project. Four undergraduate assistantships were awarded this year: 

Meghann Zapcic headshotMeghann Zapcic is a Psychology and Neuroscience student in the Commonwealth Honors College. With the CRF Undergraduate Assistantship, Meghann will be working with Professor Gerald Downes in his research lab administering and analyzing experiments conducted with zebrafish.  With Professor Downe’s guidance, Meghann will be writing her senior thesis on modeling autism with epilepsy in Zebrafish.  

Yelena Ravvina headshotYelena Ravvina is a Psychology and Public Health double major who has had the opportunity to work with Professor Harold Grotevant and Professor Rachel Farr in the Rudd Adoption Lab. This award will enable Yelena to continue her research on issues surrounding open adoption dynamics in families with mixed sexual orientations. After completing her research and graduating, Yelena plans to go to graduate school in counseling psychology and become an adoption therapist. 


Angela Essa headshotAngela Essa is Biology major with a Molecular Biology concentration. Angela is most interested in the molecular and pathophysiological basis of disease.  With this assistantship, Angela will be working with Professor Kathleen Arcaro analyzing the effects of a 12-week dietary intervention on key breast-cancer biomarkers. Angela hopes to find results that will allow her to create a dietary strategy for cancer prevention that is effective for most women.


Emily Reilly headshotEmily Reilly is a Psychological and Brain Sciences and Nutrition double major who is interested in the relationships between early social and physical environmental risk and childhood development. As a result of this assistantship award,  Emily will be working with Professor Jennifer McDermott in the Learning Lab to study the relationships between maternal stress and adaptive child cognitive outcomes.


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

Samantha Bernecker headshotIn addition to receiving a CRF travel award, Samantha Bernecker has received a Methodological Studies Grant to attend CRF’s Analyzing Intensive Longitudinal Data workshop this summer. Attending these workshops is crucial to Samantha’s research, which focuses on interpersonal relationships and mental health, as current methods used in interpersonal relationships severely limit the validity of research. The longitudinal data workshop will allow Samantha to more accurately and robustly analyze her research.


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