Author: Janice Berriault

Samantha Shaak, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, December 2022

Samantha Shaak, PhDSamantha Shaak (formerly Goodrich) graduated with her Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies from UConn in 2011 and went on to complete her Doctorate degree in 2014. She was drawn to the program because of the perspective it provided in understanding the interaction of personal and environmental influences on people’s development over time. During her time at UConn, she focused on prevention and intervention, program evaluation, and quantitative and qualitative data analysis. She had the opportunity to work with HDFS faculty on research evaluating child welfare, foster care, home visiting, and other social programs throughout the state of Connecticut and through the Center for Applied Research for Human Development. Core to this work was partnering with the agencies and organizations implementing programs and initiatives, including the Department of Children and Families, Supportive Housing for Families, Child FIRST, Jumpstart, and others.

As Samantha finished her degree and time at UConn, she was interested in continuing to work on applied, translational research outside of the academic environment. She accepted a position as a Senior Research and Evaluation Scientist in the Department of Community Health at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) in Pennsylvania. In this position, Samantha continued her program evaluation work, applying her Human Development and Family Studies perspective to health-related issues. Many of the influencers of social outcomes are also influencers of health outcomes, which led to her working on evaluations of a pediatric asthma program, a TimeBank, and a program for super-utilizers of the healthcare system. 

In 2015, Samantha was invited to participate in the Rider-Pool Foundation Collective Impact Fellowship. This experience broadened her perspective to not only understand the impacts of a particular program but also the systems in which the program operates. This led to more of a focus on cross-sector approaches to build community, using data to inform and mobilize community change. Still focusing on partnerships, this work requires cross-sector collaborations between the healthcare system and community and governmental agencies, fostering trusting partnerships to address social needs. She is now the Director for Community Innovation & Evaluation at The Leonard Parker Pool Institute for Health at LVHN, working full time on creating systems-level changes to address deep-rooted social influences on health.  Samantha and her husband live in Allentown, PA and recently welcomed their second daughter into their family in May.

Fanwen Zhang, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, December 2022

Fanwen ZhangFanwen Zhang is a first-year Ph.D. student who joined HDFS in 2022 to work with Dr. Sara Harkness, with broad interests in culture, parenting, and social-emotional development. Specifically, she is interested in how culture influences parents’ beliefs and practices in social-emotional development, especially in Asian culture. In addition, Fanwen is interested in the current development and evaluation of social and emotional learning programs in cross-cultural settings.

Fanwen earned her B.S. in Psychology and Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) from Penn State University in 2020. In 2021, she received her M.Ed. degree in Prevention Science and Practice from Harvard Graduate School of Education. After graduation, she worked as a research assistant at Parent-Child Dynamics Lab at Penn State, where she helped conduct a research project, Parent Regulation, Engagement, Stress, and Health (PRESH). She conducted study sessions with families and was trained in Mindware data collection, hair/saliva cortisol collection, and the Trier Social Stress Test. Also, she collaborated with colleagues to analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted parental stress, which can, in turn, affect children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors. In addition to working at Penn State, Fanwen also worked on developing literacy-related curriculum materials for elementary-aged students and teachers at READS Lab at Harvard. Although Fanwen has been involved in research across multiple disciplines, an enduring theme is her interest in parenting and cross-cultural research. She hopes to start her research, expand her knowledge, and strengthen her research skills in her future years at UConn.

In her free time, Fanwen enjoys DIY, cooking, and exploring nature. Her current projects include a 1000-piece puzzle, bead bracelets, and a LEGO castle. She is a cat lover and loves cuddling with her cats, Grigio and Nera.

Marianne Legassey, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, December 2022

Executive Director and Instructor in-Residence, Child Development Labs

Marianne LegasseyMarianne was a student in the HDFS Early Childhood concentration in the late 90’s. As an undergraduate at UConn she discovered the Child Development Labs and found her calling as a teacher of very young children. While an undergraduate student at the Child Labs, she worked with infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families under the guidance and supervision of the professional teaching staff. Marianne had found her place at UConn and her home away from home.

Marianne worked for Early Head Start and the Manchester Early Learning Center in the beginning of her career before finding her way back to the UConn Child Labs in 2004 as a member of the Professional Teaching Staff in the Infant Program. While working, Marianne earned an M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Eastern Connecticut State University.

Marianne continued working as a Master Teacher in the Preschool program at the Child Labs. As a classroom teacher Marianne focused on community and relationship building. Marianne and her family moved to Mansfield to continue to develop stronger ties to the community where Marianne’s children attended the Child Labs. As a member of both the UConn Child Labs and Storrs/Mansfield communities, Marianne found her rhythm in community engagement, taking part in school and town groups with the goal of supporting children and families.

In summer 2022, Marianne became the Executive Director of the UConn Child Labs. In this role Marianne plans to continue building community within the Child Labs and the broader UConn and Storrs/Mansfield communities. Marianne continues building ties between the Child Labs and other departments within the university community as well as the town of Storrs/Mansfield. Marianne plans to focus on social justice, anti-bias and anti-racist work with the professional staff, college students, children and families at the Child Labs. Marianne is a member of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee within the public school system working to support anti-racist, anti-biased, welcoming policies and practices within the local school district.

Marianne and her husband Allen, their two children Ben and Amelia, and their dog Truffle have made Storrs/Mansfield their home. The children have gone through the local school system, starting at CDL as young infants and rising into the local middle and high schools. The entire family is engaged with the community through youth sports, school leadership and social justice movements. Marianne’s hope for her children as well as all the children and college students at the Child Labs is that they know their worth and value to the community and work to build and live in a society that is just, and supportive of all its members.

HDFS Welcomes Kelsey Hammermann, Educational Program Assistant

Kelsey HammermanKelsey Hammerman grew up in Windsor, Connecticut, and completed her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History, with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies here at UConn in 2017. During her time here as an undergrad, she worked in Dining Services, in ResLife as a Resident Assistant, Game Room Monitor, and Student Supervising Assistant, and as a Public Programs Facilitator at the New England Air Museum. It was this latter experience, combined with classroom volunteering and mentoring, that inspired her to pursue education as a career.

In 2018, Kelsey joined Teach for America, an AmeriCorps program that places prospective educators in hard to staff positions. After a brief summer of training in Houston, Kelsey was placed in Payette, Idaho. For two years, she had the privilege of teaching first grade in a small, rural community. And while she knows Idaho is home to the famous potatoes (it is, after all, on the state license plate) the most surprising thing about Idaho was that the region she was in instead had a plethora of onions and beets, many of which ended up on the roadside when trucks would turn.

After the completion of her commitment with Teach for America, and in the middle of the global pandemic, Kelsey made the decision to move back to Connecticut in 2020 to be closer to family. She started work as a first grade math and science teacher and greatly enjoyed her time with her students. At the same time, many of the people she went to college with started working in Higher Education and Student Affairs, a field that Kelsey had never considered as a career possibility but aligned with her interests and strengths. So, seeking a different work environment, Kelsey made the leap from teaching to college admissions at Goodwin University in East Hartford. She most enjoyed getting to know many of the students she enrolled.

While she enjoyed and excelled in admissions, she continued looking for a long term career that better aligned with her interests. So, when the position to work for HDFS at UConn opened up, she jumped at the opportunity to apply. When Kelsey isn’t at work, she is completing course work toward her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from Boise State University–and is expected to graduate May 2023 after many long years– meeting up with friends over reality television, or pampering her two cats, Lewis and Clark.

Roni Lang chosen as NASW Worker of the Year 2022

Roni LangRoni Lang, HDFS adjunct professor at the UConn Stamford campus, was recently selected as the National Association of Social Workers- Connecticut Chapter- as Social Worker of the Year for 2022. Roni shared the following Maya Angelou quote which she said guides her professional life: “success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” Sounds like Roni is really living her motto – Congratulations Roni!

Ashley Dyer, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, November 2022

Ashley DyerAshley Dyer graduated from UConn in 2019 with a B.A. in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Early Childhood Development. While at UConn, she was very fortunate to be involved in many club organizations and mentorship programs such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Preparing African American Students to Sustain Success (PASS) Program, Sisters Inspiring Sisters, and volunteer work through her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Inc. Her participation in these activities fueled her passion for working with children and families. She started at UConn wanting to be a sports medicine doctor and was on the pre-kinesiology track. As she went through her college career she quickly realized that that was not her true calling and ended up switching her major a few times. It was only when she took her first intro class in HDFS that she was hooked on a major. It was the HDFS 1070 course (Individual and Family Development) that really sealed the deal for her! It not only helped her learn a lot about herself but also led to her passion of finding a way to make an impact in families’ lives outside of the classroom.

After she graduated, Ashley became an Early Intervention Service coordinator with a nonprofit organization under the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health (MDPH). In this position, she was able to help the families of children from birth to three years old learn about child development and resources within their area for children with developmental delays. While working at MDPH Ashley was grateful to get into the world of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, through working with these same children. Two years later, she became a registered behavior technician and moved back to Connecticut where she now works with school-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neuro-diverse developmental delays.

Being part of the HDFS community at UConn not only gave Ashley a sense of belonging but also allowed her to explore her interests to find out who she wanted to be and do in this world! To all those who may have thought about taking an HDFS course but are unsure… do it! You may never know what impact it might have on your life as it did on Ashley’s. She is forever grateful to UConn’s HDFS department and advisors for allowing her to find her purpose and true calling!

Sabrina Uva, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, November 2022

Sabrina UvaSabrina Uva earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Sciences from UConn in 2022 with a double minor in Psychology and Gerontology. She graduated Summa Cum Laude and was a member of various honors societies including Phi Beta Kapa, Psi Chi, and Alpha Lambda Delta. In addition, she served as the President of the Student Government Association at the UConn Stamford Campus. She was awarded the Cohen Scholarship for enhancing community due to her leadership accomplishments. Specifically, she worked in a coalition of legislators to pass a bill on menstrual equity and led an initiative that provided free menstrual products to the campus community. Sabrina is passionate about creating inclusive communities and plans to continue her efforts through policy and research in the Human Development and Family Sciences doctoral program.

Sabrina started her graduate studies working on anti-racism research with her advisor, Dr. Annamaria Csizmadia. Broadly, Sabrina focuses her research on understanding the implications of racial bias for college students’ mental health outcomes. She is pursuing this research interest by conducting a study to examine if protest and activism combined with pandemic-related stressors might affect college students’ psychological and academic adjustment. She is also interested in understanding social media’s role when engaging in these activities. She has submitted her work to present to professional organizations including the Society for Research in Child Development and the Society of Research on Adolescence.

In addition to her research, Sabrina is interested in utilizing emerging technologies for the social good. She currently serves as the Lead of Writing for the NASA Big Idea Challenge finalist team. In her work with the team, she applies human development frameworks to understand how to use advanced technology to foster therapeutic advancements and inclusive communities. In addition, she worked in an entrepreneurial business leadership academy to create an impact project, focused on utilizing technology to facilitate projects and creative ideas among students, especially students with neurodivergent backgrounds. Sabrina is excited to bring her interdisciplinary background in innovation, policy, and research to the HDFS graduate program.

Dilara Yaya-Bryson, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, November 2022

Dilara Yaya-BrysonDilara Yaya-Bryson is an early childhood education (ECE) scholar. In the Fall of 2022, she moved to Connecticut to join the UConn HDFS department as an Assistant Research Professor (i.e., College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research and Teaching Scholar). She has been in academia for nearly fifteen years. Prior to coming to UConn, she worked as a graduate research assistant and lecturer in different universities in the United States and her home country, Turkey.

Dilara’s interest in educational research started in 2008, after receiving her undergraduate degree in elementary education and teaching. While dreaming of academia, she began her graduate school journey with a master’s program in educational administration at Hacettepe University, Turkey. During this period, she realized that educational administration scholars heavily focused on elementary education and onward. This realization lit a question in Dilara’s mind: “How about early childhood education?” Therefore, in 2012, she decided to pursue a doctorate in early childhood education (ECE) at the same university and infuse her administrative perspective into ECE research. Dilara’s research centers on how to improve the quality of ECE, emphasizing research, policy, and practice intersections.

“Quality” is an umbrella term for Dilara’s research, which covers a range of parameters and policy considerations, including ECE classroom environment, workforce qualifications and professional development, administrative quality, and equitable and inclusive settings. For her first doctoral dissertation, she aimed to highlight the policy gaps in quality assurance of ECE settings in Turkey and inquire about successful examples abroad. The Scientific and Technologic Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) awarded her with an international doctoral scholarship. She came to the United States in 2015 as a visiting scholar to collaborate with professors at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Greensboro. For a year, she collected data to look into a well-established Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) in North Carolina. During this process, she visited several ECE centers to observe classrooms and interview teachers, center directors, and state QRIS consultants. She also had the chance to join graduate classes and better understand the graduate school system in the US.

After a productive year and meeting wonderful mentors, she returned to UNC Greensboro as an international student in 2017 to pursue her second doctorate in HDFS. This time, she framed her dissertation study toward analyzing a US-based nationally representative dataset to explore Head Start classroom quality, workforce experiences, and policy connections. In 2021, she received her doctorate in HDFS with a minor in educational research methodology.

Throughout graduate school, Dilara also worked as a research assistant in various research project teams on ECE teacher preparation and professional development, quality measurement of ECE settings, dual-language learners in Head Start settings, and Montessori education. In addition to her research experiences, she has assisted, taught, and co-taught undergraduate courses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in ECE settings and human development. Dilara is thrilled about new research collaborations at UConn, focusing on effective infant and toddler services and policies. She also will be teaching human development to UConn undergraduate students.

Outside her professional life, Dilara loves traveling, daily meditative walks, whispering her orchids to bloom quickly, cooking (and eating!), watching comedy shows from the 1990s and 2000s with her husband, and virtual coffee dates with her parents overseas.