Author: Janice Berriault

Ciara Collins, HDFS Graduate Student Spotlight, September 2023

Ciara CollinsDr. Ciara Collins, LMFT is currently a Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation Associate at Abt Associates. She started at Abt in June 2020 as a Senior Analyst and was recently promoted to Associate. At Abt, Ciara works on a variety of research and technical assistance projects in the child welfare and housing spaces for clients such as the Administration for Children and Families, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state of California, and not-for-profit philanthropical organizations in California. Her work includes a mix of project management; proposal management and writing; and qualitative and mixed methods data collection, analysis, and writing. She has also provided trainings for multiple project teams on what trauma is and how to implement trauma-informed and equitable practices. Related to this expertise, she was recently asked to join the Abt IRB as a consultant for incidents related to mandated reporting and a task force to embed trauma-informed approaches in all Abt projects.

During her time at UConn, Ciara utilized quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches for evaluation and intervention studies, obtaining a Quantitative Research Methods Certificate in 2020. She managed research and evaluation projects in the areas of early childhood experiences and education, home visiting programs, school-based trauma initiatives, fatherhood programming, and college prep programs for high school students in foster care. Clients included Head Start grantees; community social service agencies; and state agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Office of Early Childhood. She has presented findings from these research projects at national and international conferences and published multiple papers (with Professor Beth Russell) and a book chapter (with Professor Preston Britner).

Ciara recently defended her dissertation on subjective well-being and decision-making processes for youth with experience in foster care. She plans to continue investing her time both in and outside of Abt in research, policies, and interventions that support children, youth, and families involved in the child welfare system. To that end, she has been part of a research team for the past 3 years evaluating two college campus support programs in Georgia for students with experience in foster care. She recently accepted a journal article on this topic that will be published in Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. She will also be leading a webinar on the findings from the evaluation in November as part of the National Research Collaborative for Foster Alumni and Higher Education’s webinar series.

Jennifer Cecarelli, BS ’91, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, September 2023

Jennifer CecarelliJennifer Cecarelli graduated from UConn in 1991 with a BS in HDFR, and a concentration in Early Childhood Education and Development. As a passionate educator, Jennifer was excited about working with young learners and their families at the beginning of their educational journeys. After graduating from UConn, Jennifer began her career as a well-prepared early childhood educator (thanks to an amazing experience with the UConn Child Labs), while pursuing an MS and certification in Elementary Education at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). While working toward her MS, Jennifer was the Assistant Director of the Yale Law School Early Learning Center (YLSELC) in New Haven, and her thesis project was to lead the YLSELC through their inaugural NAEYC accreditation.

After receiving her MS from SCSU, Jennifer simultaneously began her elementary teaching career with the Middletown Public Schools and worked as an Early Childhood Education Consultant for over 20 childcare centers across Connecticut. As a consultant, Jennifer worked with early childhood programs on staff development, enhancing curricula and adult/child interactions, and providing workshops for families raising children. For the past 27 years Jennifer has worked as an elementary educator in the Middletown Public Schools, earned her National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and her Sixth Year Certificate from SCSU. Jennifer has also served the Middletown Public Schools as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) coach, a TEAM Mentor for new teachers, and a cooperating teacher, fostering the development of many student teachers and interns in her classroom. Jennifer was recognized as the Connecticut PTA Elementary Educator of the Year in 2020.

Jennifer had the honor and privilege of serving her community as a member of the North Haven Board of Education from 2013-2022. Her experience as both an educator and a parent brought a unique perspective to the Board, as did her unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion in all areas of the educational experience.

In 2022, after an intensive year long program, Jennifer earned her Parent Coach Certification from the Parent Coaching Institute. Working with families raising children has been at the heart of Jennifer’s work since her time at UConn, and to date remains one of her greatest joys and privileges.

Jennifer credits her time in the UConn School of Family Studies with helping her to discover her lifelong passion and hone her skills so that she may always be of service to others as an educator, coach, and collaborator.

Kaleigh Ligus (PhD ’23), HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, Sept 2023

Kaleigh LigusKaleigh Ligus recently completed her Ph.D. in HDFS, with a specialization in Adulthood, Aging and Gerontology. Her career began at the UConn Health Center on Aging in 2015 and she has since dedicated herself to serving older adults living with chronic disease. Kaleigh completed her Master’s in HDFS in 2019. Shortly after, she joined the Ph.D. program under her advisor, Dr. Keith Bellizzi.

Kaleigh successfully defended her dissertation on rural aging in June. In her dissertation she used secondary data collected by the National Health and Aging Trends Study to analyze chronic disease self-management and health outcomes in over 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries. She found novel results, that she hopes to publish soon, of how aging-in-place impacts health outcomes and further highlights demographic nuance among older rural Americans.

Driven by a dedication to understanding how policy impacts health outcomes, Kaleigh broadened her professional horizons by working in two external positions during her graduate school career. Kaleigh served as the Greg O’Neill Policy Intern for the Gerontological Society of America in summer 2021 and served as the inaugural Health Policy Fellow at AcademyHealth in summer 2022. Over these two summers, she worked with like-minded community collaborators and political leaders to advocate for health policy change.

Kaleigh is excited about her next steps. She recently joined the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) as a Social Science Research Analyst. In this role she will work on developing, implementing and evaluating new CMS patient care models aimed at improving Medicare beneficiaries’ health care experiences and health outcomes.

During her down time, Kaleigh can be found running around the state, gardening, embroidering, and slowing down to cherish life’s journey with her husband and family.

Mary Kate Kerrigan, HDFS Staff Spotlight

Welcome To HDFS, Mary Kate Kerrigan, Educational Program Assistant!

photo of Mary Kate KerriganMary Kate grew up in Madison, Connecticut, and had thought of UConn as her dream school since she was a little girl. Her mother attended UConn, so Mary Kate had grown up on all things UConn, including basketball games, tours around campus with her mom, and of course, trips to the Dairy Bar. Mary Kate started her own journey at UConn in 2019, and completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychological Sciences, with a minor in HDFS.

During her time as an undergraduate student, Mary Kate was a member of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society in Psychology. She was their first Social Media Manager, before taking on the role of Vice President. In 2022, she took a position as a Student Administrative Assistant for the UConn Department of Psychological Sciences. In this role, Mary Kate realized she had a passion for working in human resources and business administration.

In February of her senior year, Mary Kate enrolled in UConn’s School of Business for her master’s in Human Resources Management. She intends on pursuing the dual-degree program, which would also offer a master’s in business administration. In her new role as a graduate student, she is most excited about the opportunity to learn more about a field she has not previously taken classes in. She believes that being a grad student herself will help her empathize with the graduate students she works with in HDFS, and hopes to be even better at her job, sharing that perspective with them.

When she is not at work or doing coursework for her graduate program, Mary Kate can be found spending time down by the shore where she grew up, on Cape Cod, or going on weekend trips with friends to areas like Boston or New York City. Some of her favorite hobbies include painting, reading, walking, and doing puzzles.

Caitlin Lombardi, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, September 2023

Caitlin was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor effective August, 2023!

Caitlin Lombardi

Caitlin Lombardi is an applied developmental psychologist. Her program of research falls at the convergence of social policy and child development with an overarching goal of understanding how social policy can best promote children’s healthy development and family well-being. She employs quantitative techniques using large nationally representative surveys of children and families to investigate central contributors to individual differences in children’s development and mechanisms within communities, schools, and families that explain differences in children’s cognitive, language, socioemotional, and health outcomes. In her recent work, she also utilizes mixed methods approaches to integrate quantitative and qualitative data. All of Caitlin’s work is informed by social science theories, which recognize strengths within individuals and families and the influences of social stratification and proximal and distal environmental characteristics on developmental processes. Taken together, her research seeks to document the processes through which socioeconomic and sociocultural experiences influence children’s development to inform social policies and programs that seek to support children and families.

Caitlin grew up in Maine and attended the University of Vermont (UVM) where she received a B.A. in English and Psychology. While at UVM, she was a rower on the crew team, tutor in the writing center, tour guide for the admissions office, and intern at the Vermont Commission on Women. Her interest in research and the role of policy in child development was sparked through the undergraduate honors program, where she wrote her senior honors thesis on educational inequalities in the K-12 schooling system. Following her undergraduate degree, she was a staff assistant and then a legislative staffer for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in his Washington D.C. office. In this position, she met with constituents, wrote correspondence, and drafted statements on health and social policy issues. Her interest in conducting research to inform these policies drew her to graduate school. She subsequently completed a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College (BC), and then remained at BC for an additional two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow.

In 2016, Caitlin joined the UConn HDFS department as an Assistant Professor. At UConn, Caitlin teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on child development, policy, and research methods. She serves as a faculty member of the Early Childhood Program committee, which runs the Early Childhood Specializations (ECS) program. Caitlin is the Co-Chair of the Science and Social Policy Committee of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and is an Associate Editor for Applied Developmental Science. Funded by the federal government, the state of Connecticut, and private foundations, her research focuses on early care and education and children’s school readiness, the contributions of home environments to income-based achievement gaps, and the role of social policies in the health and development of children and families.

Outside of work, Caitlin enjoys spending time with her husband, Scott, and their three energetic children, ages 10, 8, and 5. She loves outdoor activities, especially time at the beach.