Author: Janice Berriault

Samantha (Guarneri) Kaishian, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, October 2021


Samantha KaishianSamantha graduated from UConn in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). As an undergraduate student she had two very formative experiences that started her on a path toward becoming a healthcare researcher. One was working as a research assistant with Dr. Keith Bellizzi, primarily focused on a study of breast cancer and quality of life. The second was working with Husky Sport, a community-campus partnership between the NEAG School of Education’s Sport Management program and nonprofits in Hartford’s North End, aimed at supporting youth development through sport and relationship building. After much reflection on these experiences, as well as guidance from two very influential mentors in her life, Dr. Bellizzi and Dr. Steven Wisensale, Samantha decided to pursue a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree.


Samantha attended the University of Maryland’s (UMD) School of Public Health to concentrate on health policy and be in close proximity to Washington, DC to work on Capitol Hill. As she began her health policy program, she quickly realized she was much more interested in studying the impact of health policy on individuals and the healthcare system than she was in actually drafting legislation. Samantha applied to an internship at Berkeley Research Group (BRG) in the Healthcare Transactions and Strategy practice, where she later took a full-time position following her graduation from UMD in May 2020.


Samantha and her team at BRG work to inform both investors and providers on how commercial payer dynamics, federal policy, and state policy impact healthcare businesses and the broader healthcare system. Since beginning work at BRG, Samantha has worked on over two dozen healthcare related mergers and acquisitions (M&A) across various healthcare sectors. She has also participated in multiple strategy projects with healthcare companies, including an eating disorder provider looking to expand their current business to address access to care issues and a non-profit healthcare data company looking to improve their business to help solve important life science and health policy questions. Samantha is very early on in her career as a healthcare researcher but is incredibly excited to see where it takes her

Sydney Klein, MA, HDFS Graduate Student Spotlight, October 2021

Sydney KleinSydney received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from SUNY Geneseo in 2019 and received a Master’s in Psychology from New York University in 2021. She joined the HDFS program in 2021 to work with Dr. Alaina Brenick to examine youth victimization and discrimination experiences in various contexts. Sydney is also interested in how media contributes to the development of stereotyping and discrimination, as well as how we can use media to combat the development of harmful and prejudicial beliefs toward various social groups.


At SUNY Geneseo, Sydney worked in a social cognition lab, examining explicit and implicit bias toward individuals with tattoos in hiring decisions, presenting this research at the 2019 Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Conference in Portland, Oregon. Sydney then developed her own individual project that combined her love of dance and social psychology. Experiences within the dance community led her to identify prominent stereotypes and discrimination in dance, and further motivated her to investigate the psychological bases for these biases. Sydney went on to present this work both at the 2020 SPSP conference and at NYU’s MA research conference, winning 3rd place in the poster competition. Sydney also worked as a lab manager and teaching assistant at Geneseo.


When Sydney arrived at NYU, she became curious about the origins of prejudice and discrimination toward social groups and joined the Conceptual Development and Social Cognition (CDSC) lab at NYU. For her master’s thesis, she performed a content analysis of the quality and quantity of racial representation, stereotypes, and status depictions in popular children’s media, and how children’s media consumption predicted their racial biases overtime. Sydney received NYU’s Model-Mentorship Grant in 2020 to conduct this research. In 2021, Sydney presented this work at the SPSP Annual Conference, and NYU’s MA research conference where she won 2nd place in the poster competition.


Looking ahead, Sydney is excited to join the HDFS family at UConn and begin participating in research that centers on taking an interdisciplinary and developmental approach!

Ryan Watson, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, October 2021

Ryan was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor effective August, 2021!


Ryan J. WatsonDr. Ryan Watson studies the health and well-being of sexual and gender diverse (SGD) youth and young adults. Coming from a family with no college graduates, he began his research career when he spotted a flyer that advertised a research opportunity. The flyer hung outside his classroom at UCLA, mostly covered over by spring break and fraternity advertisements. He figured research was important if he wanted to go to graduate school someday, and he might first pursue a chance to get involved in research before signing up to party for spring break.

After two years collecting data from children in intercity Los Angeles schools, Ryan found some preliminary evidence of health disparities among lesbian and gay kids. Specifically, it appeared that some gay kids had reported much more cyberbullying than everyone else (i.e., heterosexual kids) in a study he worked on, but there were too few gay kids in the study to draw any conclusions. This observation inspired him to further study SGD young people. One of his research mentors gave him the business card of a professor she had met in Europe while at a conference—and said to go study with him. Ryan put the card in his dorm room desk, re-discovered it a year later, and found himself completing his PhD in Human Development and Family Sciences with that same professor at the University of Arizona.

Ryan’s work has taken place in three countries: the US, Norway, and Canada. His dissertation, in part, compared Norwegian youth to U.S. youth. He was interested in whether or not young SGD people living in a country like Norway (where same-sex rights and marriage had been granted for many years) were better off than youth living in the US, where many of these rights did not exist. In Canada, Ryan completed his postdoctoral training, where he examined trends and disparities in health for both Canadian and US young SGD individuals.

Now Ryan focuses his scholarship on SGD youth and young adults, their relationships within family and school contexts, and their health experiences. For the past decade, he has employed quantitative techniques using large non-probability and representative datasets to better understand the mechanisms that drive well-documented injustices in health, school, and community experiences for SGD individuals. He currently serves as principal investigator on two NIH grants, both of which fund him to intervene in the health disparities facing young sexual and gender diverse young people.

In 2017, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, Ryan and his colleagues collected data from more than 17,000 SGD youth across the US. This project has resulted in more than 25 peer-reviewed publications, with another 10 currently under review. In 2022, Ryan plans to repeat this national survey– stay tuned!

Ryan’s research has been featured on CNN, NPR, Washington Post, Live Science, USA Today, and several other media outlets. He has leadership roles in the Society of Research on Adolescence and is a consulting editor for the Journal of Research on Adolescence, Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, LGBT Health, and AIDS & Behavior.

Outside of work, Ryan enjoys his bearded dragon (named Lizzo) that he adopted on day 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic (for company!). He was a collegiate bowler at one time, but now he just enjoys bowling for fun. Who knows, you might see him bowling with Lizzo on his shoulder someday in the future.