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Introducing 2020-2021 Student Awardees












Dissertation Award Recipients


Bi-sek Hsiao, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Nutrition, 2021 

Mentor: Dr. Lindiwe Sibeko

Award: Dissertation Award

Research Topic: Breastfeeding as a Protective Factor for African American Women

Bio: Bi-sek Hsiao is a PhD candidate in Nutrition in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Under Dr. Lindiwe Sibeko, Bi-sek’s dissertation research examines the ways that breastfeeding interacts with stress from multiple sources (e.g. neighborhood deprivation, discrimination, interpersonal violence, food insecurity, pregnancy stress) and the potential for breastfeeding to improve health outcomes for African American families.​

Research Description: African American/Black families in the US suffer a pervasive burden of maternal and child health inequities. The postpartum period is a critical transition period when exposures to protective factors such as breastfeeding can have long lasting effects on the health of mothers, children, and future generations. This research will expand the knowledge of protective factors that build resilience and resistance to disease. Breastfeeding’s potential to intervene in the chronic stress pathway can improve the trajectory of health for future generations, and reduce population gaps in health, especially for African American families. ​

Sarah McCormick, College of Natural Sciences, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Developmental Science, 2021

Award: Dissertation

Mentor: Kirby Deater-Deckard, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research Topic: Understanding the Neural Mechanisms and Family Processes supporting Social-Cognitive Development in Early Childhood                     

Bio: Sarah McCormick is a PhD candidate in Developmental Science. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kirby Deater-Deckard, Sarah’s research focuses on the development of social cognition within family systems. Her dissertation will examine the influence of family mental-state language use on neural activity underlying  internal mental states that motivate outward behavior.

Research Description: Understanding the neural mechanisms and family processes supporting social-cognitive development in these critical preschool years has enormous potential to improve communication and functioning within families, especially those struggling to understand and overcome differences in social behavior and cognition. Sarah’s research will investigate the influence of family language use of such phrases as “I know” and “she feels”, on the development of young children’s ability to understand internal mental states and how they motivate behavior.  A more thorough understanding of the influence of proximal family factors in the early development of social cognition may lead to potential avenues for early intervention.

Merika Sanders, College of Natural Sciences, Psychological & Brain Sciences, 2020

Award: Dissertation Award

Mentor: Dr. Rosemary Cowell

Research Topic: The Underlying Neural Mechanisms of Memory and the Nature of Memory Impairment

Bio: Merika Sanders is a PhD student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rosemary Cowell, her research investigates the neural and cognitive mechanisms of visual perception and memory in the human brain. Past projects have examined visual object processing in healthy subjects to test a theory of brain damage-induced amnesia. Her dissertation investigates the shared parts of the central nervous system that underlie visual perception and memory for novel objects and scenes.

Research Description: The theory of memory being tested challenges some widely accepted notions about the nature of cognitive deficits in memory and perception seen in Alzheimer's disease, related disorders such as head injury, stroke, alcoholism, as well as cognitive changes associated with healthy aging. Memory formation, retention, and retrieval are essential to establishing and maintaining one’s relationships. When an individual has a memory disorder, relationships are often strained. Merika’s research aims to address this impact by understanding the mechanisms of memory, which in turn informs us of the nature of memory impairments. The results of her current experiment indicate that memory loss may not be universal across all types of information. If memory for certain types of information is preserved, the knowledge can be used to develop new compensatory strategies that allow affected individuals to still engage in critical bonding experiences that rely on memory. 


Methodology Workshop Scholarship Recipient 


Christina Rowley, College of Natural Sciences, Clinical Psychology, 2024

Award: Methods Scholarship 

Mentor: Maureen Perry-Jenkins

Research Topic: Stress and Ethnoracial Composition of Parent Dyads 

Bio: Christina Rowley is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology program, working with Dr. Maureen Perry-Jenkins. Her research interests involve the unique challenges facing multiethnoracial (MER) families and how factors within and between intersecting cultures influence children’s socioemotional development. Her research aims to identify whether disparities exist in perceived and biological indicators of stress for MER compared to monoethnoracial (MoER) families, as well as identify modifiable sources of stress, such as low social support, during early parenthood. 

Research Description: Christina’s research investigates how context, such as, socioeconomic status, ethnicity/race, family dynamics, community and family support, influence families’ mental health..This research has studied the experience of conflict, stress, and social support in MER families with the goal of using these findings to inform early parenting interventions. Christina will study how these relational outcomes influence the socioemotional development of the multiracial child and she will implement evidence and community-informed early interventions to improve family outcomes.


Travel Award Recipients


 Youngjoon Bae, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, 2021

Award: Travel 

Mentor: Mark Pachucki, Sociology

Research Topic: Weight Loss in Socially Isolated Elderly Men and Women in Korea​                 

Bio: Youngjoon Bae is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. Under the mentorship of his advisor, Dr. Mark Pachucki, Youngjoon’s research addresses how social isolation such as living alone and low levels of social contacts shapes eating behavior and weight changes in older men and women differently. By analyzing the Health and Retirement Study data and the Korean Longitudinal Study of Aging data, his dissertation will contrast a higher probability of frailty among older Korean women in social isolation and a higher likelihood of obesity among older American men in social isolation. As a potential mechanism of the trends, he examines the literature on traditional gender roles and norms in food preparation among older men and women who live alone.

Research Description: Socially isolated older adults seem to be likely to experience malnutrition and this may result in serious levels of weight loss which can be a risk factor of morbidity and mortality. However, there is no clear evidence of the association between social isolation and weight changes. Youngjoon’s research will clarify this association to inform policymakers to design targeted support programs to prevent health problems associated with dangerous levels of weight changes among older adults in single-person households. This study is particularly important in that COVID-19 has deteriorated social isolation in older adults living alone.

Melise Edwards, College of Natural Sciences, Neuroscience and Behavior, 2024

Award: Travel Award

Mentor: Agnès Lacreuse

Research Topic: The Role of Estrogen in Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Bio: Mélise Edwards is a PhD student in the Neuroscience and Behavior program in the College of Natural Sciences. Under the mentorship of her advisor, Dr. Agnès Lacreuse, she explores changes in gene expression with age in a nonhuman primate. With an interest in age-related cognitive decline, she explores areas of the brain susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Mélise is also interested in the neuroprotective role that sex hormones such as estrogen may play in cognitive functioning. 

Research: Estrogen has been shown to have a number of beneficial effects on cognitive processes by acting in brain regions such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. These two areas of the brain support tasks involving memory and executive functioning and their interaction is essential for cognitive processes. Mélise’s research explores sex and age-related changes in estrogen gene expression by analyzing these brain regions. Her project seeks to understand the relationship between estradiol and cognitive performance in aging male and female animal models. Women have been shown to be disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s Disease and it has been suggested that the menopausal depletion of estrogens may be a risk factor, contributing to cognitive impairment. By understanding the relationship between estrogens, sex, age and cognition, she hopes that  pharmacological interventions can be designed to improve the quality of life for those affected.

Olivia Laramie, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Public Policy, 2020

Award: Travel 

Mentor: Satu Zoller, Public Policy

Research Topic: Assessing Pure Water for the World’s Menstrual Hygiene Management Program in Honduran Schools

Bio: Olivia Laramie is a Masters of Public Policy and Administration candidate in the School of Public Policy. Olivia partnered with Pure Water for the World (PWW), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to travel to their office in Trojes, Honduras and conduct a program evaluation of their Menstrual Hygiene Management program. The program evaluation co-authored by Olivia was presented and published by the International RAIS Conference for Social Sciences and Humanities hosted by Johns Hopkins University. 

Research Description:  Young girls are often unprepared for their first menses due to a lack of education and shame regarding discussions about menstruation in the household. This lack of information leads to hygiene related illnesses, fear, poor nutrition choices, embarrassment, school absence and dropout, a higher occurrence of teenage pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and increased migration for job opportunities. Olivia’s research, focused on PWW’s Menstrual Hygiene Management program that was implemented in 2016 in rural and homogenous communities in Honduras where there is shame, stigma, and falsities surrounding the topic of menstruation. Olivia hopes that her findings will inform policy change with the goal of improving the quality of health and mental wellness of young girls worldwide.