Author: Janice Berriault

Rebecca Puhl featured in UConn Today, and Nutrition Insight

Rebecca PuhlProfessor Rebecca Puhl was featured in UConn Today describing a new educational website she developed to educate healthcare professionals about weight stigma and strategies to improve supportive patient care. https://today.uconn.edu/2024/02/rudd-center-launches-supportive-obesity-care-website/

Rebecca was also featured in Nutrition Insight in an article, WeightWatchers flags “food noise” as roadblock to healthy weight: https://www.nutritioninsight.com/news/weightwatchers-flags-food-noise-as-roadblock-to-healthy-weight.html

Sihui Lyu, HDFS Graduate Student Spotlight, February 2024

Sihui LyuSihui is a first-year PhD student working with Dr. Beth Russell. Originally from China, Sihui obtained her master’s degree in clinical psychology at the Jinan University in Guangzhou, China.  After graduation, she worked as a research assistant at the Department of Psychiatry at First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University. During this period, she explored the association between emotion, cognitive function, and neurobiology in adolescents with depression, as well as a digital intervention based on brain plasticity in patients with mood and/or cognitive symptoms. Through research and work with clinical populations, she gained experience in structured diagnostic interviews, psychological and cognitive assessments, individual and group cognitive behavior therapy, and non-pharmaceutical intervention. Driven by her concern with the increasing number of adolescents with mood disorders at outpatient clinics, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, she began to focus on adolescent developmental psychopathology. She is quite interested in research on the mental health and well-being of children and their families.

Currently, Sihui is continuing to pursue research in adolescent development, mental health, prevention and early intervention. She hopes that in the future, her research and findings will be applied to benefit individuals, families, communities, and public health practices, thereby helping more people. Personally, mastering work-life balance is also one of her important goals!

Coming to UConn to study was Sihui’s first experience traveling abroad. It was also a brave decision she made to pursue her academic dreams and love. Sihui is very grateful for how fortunate she has been to meet supportive and warm professors and friends here! Out of work, Sihui enjoys watching comedy shows, doing yoga, and chatting with friends and family.

Jessica Gagnon ’20, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, February 2024

Jessica Gagnon, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, Feb 2024Jess Gagnon graduated from UConn in 2020 with a B.A. double major in HDFS and Psychology. While studying at UConn, Jess was involved with grassroots organizing through UConn Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG) and worked with first year students through the Honors office. Although initially unsure of her career path, Jess was inspired by the introductory HDFS class she took as a first-year student that introduced her to the broad range of possibilities within the helping professions.

Through HDFS, Jess gained an incredibly valuable foundation in human development that prepared her for a career in social work. During her senior year, Jess used her HDFS Honors thesis to conduct interviews with activists at UConn, eventually focusing on the diverse pathways that lead people to volunteer their time to causes that matter to them, as well as the factors that can so often to burnout.

After graduating from UConn in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jess moved to Boston to pursue her Master of Social Work from Boston College. She interned with Project Place, where she worked as a case manager with clients in South Boston who were facing homelessness, addiction, and mental illness during the pandemic. This experience, combined with her HDFS background, led Jess to focus the rest of her education on public health and healthcare.

When Jess graduated from Boston College, she was hired by her second-year internship placement, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to rebuild an onsite volunteer program amid the pressures that the pandemic has placed on healthcare facilities.

Since starting her career at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Jess has had the privilege of developing and implementing programs with 100+ volunteers per week. Now a Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW), Jess is passionate about building impactful programs and welcoming communities where people can use their authentic selves to help others.
She works closely with healthcare professionals throughout the Institute to identify opportunities for volunteers to contribute to Dana-Farber’s mission of providing supportive, patient-centered care to people with cancer and their families. Jess credits her time at UConn with helping her develop the knowledge and drive to build a career in healthcare.

Hilal Kuscul, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, February 2024

Hilal KusculDr. Hilal Kuscul is a scholar in the field of Human Development and Family Sciences, bringing over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to her work. She has been deeply involved in the development, implementation, and evaluation of parenting, literacy, and women empowerment programs within the nonprofit sector. This extensive experience served as a catalyst for her pursuit of a doctoral degree in Human Development and Family Sciences.

Hilal earned her Ph.D. in 2022 from the UConn HDFS Department. During the 2022-2023 academic year, she served as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Human Development Department at SUNY Oswego. Since the Fall of 2023, Hilal has served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of HDFS at UConn Waterbury. In this position, she passionately integrates her practical knowledge and academic expertise into courses covering a broad spectrum, including Adolescent Development, Parenting and Parenthood, Close Relationships, Men and Masculinities, Family Policies, and Family Interaction Processes.

Rooted in her past work with under-resourced families, Hilal’s research delves into the dynamics of low-income family environments, examining their profound impact on both children and parents, with a specific emphasis on fathers. Her theoretical framework is grounded in bioecological and identity theories, contextualized by considerations of gender roles and cross-cultural perspectives. Throughout her doctoral studies at UConn, she collaborated with Dr. Kari Adamsons, acquiring expertise in analyzing secondary data from sources such as the Future of (Fragile) Families and Child Well-Being Study, along with data related to Turkish Fathers.

As a developer of several education-based interventions, Hilal is an advocate for evidence-based educational interventions. She is deeply committed to informing family-based prevention and intervention programs, aiming to promote resilience and mental well-being in both parents and children. Hilal’s work also aims to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding. She aims to translate academic insights into accessible language, ensuring that complex concepts become relatable to students and diverse learners across a range of programs.

Hilal has two sons, currently in the phase of ’emerging adulthood’ and enjoys spending time with them and her husband. She has a passion for watching true crime series and reading books on history and mythology. Whenever the opportunity arises, she also likes to visit museums and libraries.

Candi Nwakasi, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, January 2024

Candi NwakasiDr. Candi Nwakasi is gerontologist who joined UConn HDFS as an assistant professor in August 2023. He is also an affiliate faculty of the Africana Studies Institute and a member of the UConn Cancer Survivorship Research Program. Candi’s work is based on using research, practice, and teaching to inform efforts geared towards addressing inequities in the aging and health experiences of minoritized people within and outside the US. His research program includes cancer survivorship and support access, cognitive health/decline and caregiving, and health care access in disadvantaged populations. He is also the co-founder of Black in Gerontology and Geriatrics (BIGG), a non-profit that is making efforts to amplify Black voices and elevate Black scholars and practitioners in the field of Aging. They recently received a 5-year NIA award to expand their work in the United States.

Across his career, Candi has combined work experience in public health care delivery, pharmaceutical, non-profit, and academia. He was initially trained as a Biochemist, before earning his Public Health master’s degree in the United Kingdom, and a Ph.D. in Social Gerontology from Miami University of Ohio. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern Indiana, working on a dementia workforce improvement program targeting rural Indiana, before joining Providence College as a tenure-track Health Sciences Assistant Professor in 2020 (during the pandemic).

Currently, Candi is investigating sociocultural factors influencing cancer survivorship experience in Black and Latinx populations. He is also collaborating on projects to identify psychosocial and environmental determinants of cognitive decline in older Black adults, psychosocial support access in aging/older Black cancer survivors, mental health seeking in Black cancer survivors, and understanding motivations for caregiving. Candi is a strong believer in mentorship and appreciates the power of mentorship in minoritized student and scholars in academia.

Beyond work, Candi enjoys watching soccer, playing soccer, playing video games (especially soccer), and discussing soccer. He is a second-generation Arsenal FC of England fan. He also loves to hang out with friends and family.

Amanda Sather, HDFS Graduate Student Spotlight, January 2024

Amanda SatherAmanda is currently a first-year PhD student working with Dr. Kari Adamsons. She is originally from Seattle but moved to Phoenix to attend Arizona State University (ASU) for her undergraduate degree. In May 2023 she earned a B.S. in Political Science and Psychology from ASU. During her undergraduate studies, she worked in several child development labs where she became interested in child and adolescent development. In addition, she worked in a lab examining family relationships, leading her to become fascinated by parent-child relationships and their contribution to children’s and adolescents’ developmental outcomes. For her honors thesis, she studied parent-child emotional synchrony and its association with early adolescents’ internalizing and externalizing psychopathology. Through her research labs and her honors thesis, she gained experience and knowledge about research examining parent-child relationships.

At UConn, Amanda has continued to further her understanding of parent-child relationships and child development. Specifically, she wants to conduct research examining the role of parent-child relationships in children’s and adolescents’ mental health and risk taking, with particular interest in substance use and abuse, delinquent behaviors, anxiety, and depression. In addition, she is interested in how parents’ behaviors contribute to these adolescent outcomes. In the future, she plans to continue studying predictors of adolescent substance use and other mental health outcomes. Ultimately, she aims to conduct research that can have real-world implications for families and adolescents.

Outside of school work, Amanda typically spends her time watching sports. She is a huge Seattle sports fan, so she will often spend her free time watching games on TV. In addition, she loves to read books for fun and spend time outdoors.

Michael Munoz (’01), HDFS Alumni Spotlight, January 2024

Michael Munoz ('01)Michael knew at a young age he wanted to work to create greater access and opportunity to corporate America for individuals from underrepresented groups. Through his previous work with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Connecticut and their various Diversity and Inclusion training programs, Michael saw the importance of creating spaces of belonging and inclusion for all. While at UConn, Michael was able to engage in classes that taught the sociological and anthropological components of Human Development in underrepresented communities that became the backbone of his career in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

While at UConn, Michael was active with UConn Hillel, the ADL, and the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center. In his senior year, Michael secured an internship in Diversity & Inclusion at the Phoenix Wealth Management Company in Hartford. Upon graduating from UConn in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in HDFS, Michael was able to leverage his degree and his internship at the Phoenix to land a job as a Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator at ESPN where he helped to build ESPN’s D&I programs from the ground up. Michael helped launch various employee resource groups, ran the Women’s Leadership Development Program and various hiring, mentoring, and retention initiatives for the company.

Michael has maintained a focus on building greater inclusion and equitable systems within large companies like MassMutual, EY, and Aetna. Today, Michael leads Global DEI efforts for the Marketing organization at Google. Michael’s focus is to ensure leaders are held accountable for real change; Google Marketing builds a team that looks like its users and fosters belonging for all; and builds a body of work that challenges the status quo. Michael also holds an Executive Masters in Human Resource Management from Cornell (‘17) and serves on the Board of Directors for UConn Hillel and the ADCOLOR organization.