Mamta Saxena (PhD ’13), HDFS Alumni Spotlight, June 2024

Mamta SaxenaMamta is originally from India and moved to the United States in her late twenties. Before moving to the US, she received her master’s degree in child development from the University of Delhi and worked as a lecturer at MS University in Vadodara, Gujarat, as a consultant at IGNOU, and as a research assistant in the area of developmental disabilities at Lady Irwin College. After relocating to the US, she worked as a substitute teacher and afterschool director in California and a preschool teacher in Connecticut. These roles provided her with practical experiences and a socio-cultural systems perspective of the field.

In 2008, she joined the UConn HDFS Department. Under the supervision of Drs. Anne Farrell, Kari Adamsons, and Edna Brown, she completed her dissertation on the caregiving aspects of adult siblings of individuals with disabilities. Dr. Farrell also guided her in completing her fellowship – leadership education in neurodevelopmental and related disabilities (LEND) from UConn Health. She also worked with Dr. JoAnn Robinson to evaluate Early Head Start Programs which exposed her to field observations and coding as a method of study. After graduation in 2013, she was hired as a visiting assistant professor in UConn HDFS and taught undergraduate and graduate courses.

Mamta joined the State University of New York at Oswego Department of Human Development in 2016 as an assistant professor and was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2021. She teaches courses on lifespan development, research methods, program evaluation, internships, diversity, equity, inclusion, siblings and extended family, and mental health issues. She spearheaded the department’s standardization of methods courses to align course objectives, activities, and assessments for data-driven practices, and evaluation of courses. The initiative resulted in revisions in course objectives and activities that promoted student success regardless of differing instructor effects.

Mamta also serves as co-chair of the sibling relationship focus group at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) and as a program evaluation consultant for Sibshops – a program for siblings of individuals with disabilities. Her research includes mixed methods studies on sibling relationships and caregiving, caregiver’s mental health and caregiving patterns, program evaluation, and pedagogy. Her current research project aims to study trends in demands, family routines, coping, life satisfaction, and their influences on perceptions of stress in post-pandemic contexts. She was recently elected to chair the Family Science Conference 2025 in Costa Rica.

Mamta received the Best Presentation Award (May 2023) for her paper on  gender issues in navigating demands, family routines and stress during the pandemic at the World Conference for Women Studies in Singapore. She was also awarded the Cognella Innovation in Teaching Award for Family Science (Nov 2022) at NCFR.

Mamta has always been passionate about teaching and her experiences at both UConn and SUNY Oswego with students have encouraged her to experiment with innovative methods in teaching and have given her “big-picture thinking.” She continues to think of how teaching can be made more relevant, applied, effective, and efficient and mentor junior faculty to do the same. Ultimately, she would like to transition from a faculty to a leadership position in higher education that integrates DEISJ perspectives, curriculum development, and teaching/research on pedagogy. Mamta’s son is now in college and that leaves her with a lot of time for her hobbies, especially taking care of her vegetable garden in summer. When she is not teaching, she enjoys nature walks, gardening, cooking, sewing, and listening to podcasts on the neuroscience of meditation, focus, learning/motivation, and more.

Melissa Lovtiz (BA ’15), HDFS Alumni Spotlight, May 2024

Melissa Lovitz (BA '15)- HDFS Alumni Spotlight May 2024Melissa Lovitz graduated in 2015 with a BA in HDFS and a minor in public policy. At UConn, she participated in the HDFS honors program, which was a highlight of her undergraduate experience. The major’s small cohort of honors students and the individualized attention from her thesis advisor, honors advisor, and teaching assistants were unforgettable. Her experience writing an undergraduate thesis was a catapult into a lifelong journey of studying and teaching about families and children. Her honors research focused on family engagement in education and used approaches inspired by community-based research that highlighted parents’ voices. Nearly 10 years later, she is still researching this topic!

After graduating from UConn, Melissa earned her master’s degree in urban education policy at Brown University. In addition to coursework, she interned with a parent advocacy group at a local charter school and helped teach parents the skills to testify at public hearings about school choice. She also worked on challenging traditional ideas about parent engagement. Relatedly, she published a paper on  urban parents’ school engagement. Melissa also gained valuable experience as a research and teaching assistant in Education. The research skills she gained at UConn made her a competitive applicant for these opportunities. She presented about family engagement in education at a national conference in collaboration with her undergraduate and graduate mentors. She also was able to use her HDFS background to bring a unique lens to understanding education policy; she was not satisfied with only averages and statistics, but wanted to be mindful of children and families as individuals. This challenge was what solidified her path in HDFS-related jobs and education moving forward.

After receiving her master’s degree, Melissa worked as a research study coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. There, she learned from some of the best in the field – including Dr. Brazelton himself! – about supporting families and young children and the essential role of research in funding family and community programming and documenting child and family outcomes.

In 2018, Melissa joined the Tufts Child Study and Human Development Ph.D. program, where she worked with Dr. Ann Easterbrooks and Dr. Jayanthi Mistry to deepen her understanding of parenting and families. Her dissertation research focused on understanding the parent-teacher relationship in early childhood education. She used responses from teachers and parents to identify areas of convergence and divergence regarding their perceptions of that critical partnership. Her honors thesis advisor, Dr. Alaina Brenick, attended her dissertation defense, demonstrating the lasting relationships and advice she received from her UConn mentors. During her Ph.D. program, Melissa also developed a love for teaching. She moved from being a teaching assistant to a teaching fellow and finally to an adjunct professor at Boston College, strengthening her pedagogical skills and confirming her desire to pursue a career path in teaching in higher education.

In 2023, Melissa became a full-time HDFS faculty member at Queens College, where she can connect her passion for teaching and urban education with her vast knowledge and experience with HDFS. Melissa fondly remembers the compassion of her instructors and the relationships she built with faculty members at UConn – many of which are still strong today! She strives to be an approachable, caring, equity-minded educator and build authentic relationships with her students. Those relationships were so meaningful to her as an undergraduate, so she knows it’s important for her students, too!

Melissa lives in Queens, NY, with her two rabbits – Freyja and Oakley. She is a licensed foster care provider. She enjoys singing with her choir, attending Broadway shows, exploring green spaces around NYC, and finding unique coffee shops around the city. She is so proud of her time at UConn and grateful for all it inspired!

Suzanne Bartle-Haring, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, April 2024

Suzanne Bartle-Haring, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, April 2024Suzanne came to UConn with a BS in psychology from Penn State University hoping to become a therapist. She enrolled in the UConn HDFS master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy program. She selected the Marriage and Family Therapy degree because it meant she wouldn’t have to get a Ph.D. to practice. The irony of course is she did get a Ph.D. at UConn in Family Studies with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her time at UConn was foundational and challenging. She started the master’s program with no idea about HDFS or Marriage and Family Therapy and quickly, thanks to her professors, became immersed in both. She had worked in a research lab as an undergraduate but wasn’t passionate about research until taking the first research methods course in HDFS. From that she got the “research bug” and hasn’t looked back since. Although the thesis was optional in the MS program, she did a thesis, collecting her own data from multiple family members. She took courses with many of the professors, and Ron Sabatelli said he was particularly impressed with her work and asked if she would consider a Ph.D. She said yes, still not really knowing what she was going to do with her life. She completed the Ph.D. with Ron Sabatelli as her advisor, and Rob Ryder and Steve Anderson as her committee members. They were very supportive, and they wrote other manuscripts together. She had some publications when she completed her degree. She went off to “save the world” with research and got a position at a research contract firm in the DC area. She hated it, and through contacts at UConn, got the opportunity to be a visiting professor at Virginia Tech’s Falls Church campus in a Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program. As soon as she got back into academia and started to teach and mentor students, she knew she was where she belonged. Again, through contacts at UConn, she applied for and got her current position at The Ohio State University as a professor in their Couple and Family Therapy Program.

Suzanne has been with The Ohio State University for 32 years, she received tenure in 1997, and became a full professor in 2007. She became the program director for their accredited Ph.D. program in Couple and Family Therapy in 2003. Currently she holds this position and is working to have a new master’s program in Couple and Family Therapy accredited. Throughout her career she has published her research, taught courses at the undergrad and graduate level and supervised new clinicians. Whenever she starts a new manuscript she thinks about the lethal red pen of Steve Anderson and the comments and edits of Ron Sabatelli on her first few manuscripts at UConn. They taught her how to write, how to think and how to be critical of the literature. She has used those skills and passed them on to her own students. When she met Steve and Ron at conferences she would joke with them that they were now grandparents to her own students. Now she has her own “grandchildren” in terms of academic pedigree and she is continually grateful for the training she received at UConn. This training and her work culminated in her receipt of the 2023 Cumulative Contribution to Family Therapy Research Award from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Suzanne was honored to receive this award.

Suzanne will be retiring in the next few years and hopes to paint and travel. Her time at UConn seems like a long time ago, but it shaped her and provided the foundation for her success.

Amber Eddy-Martinez, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, March 2024

Amber Eddy- Martinez, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, March 2024Amber Eddy-Martinez, a 2020 UConn graduate with a B.A. in HDFS, showcased her commitment to underprivileged youth during her time at UConn, contributing over 300 hours to a church-run early learning center in Norwalk, CT. Her engagement extended to UConn’s Husky for a Day program, where she provided prospective students with insight into academic programs.

Post-graduation, Amber excelled as a Lead Infant/Toddler Teacher at Dartmouth College’s Childcare Center, integrating nature and seasons into curriculum development. In 2021 she relocated to Denver, where she thrived at The Beehive and The Wonder Academy. At these private early learning centers, she gained exposure to employment-based childcare dynamics. Amber embraced a new challenge when she became the Infant Program Supervisor at The Wonder Academy, a Reggio-Emilia school in downtown Denver. This position expanded her expertise in childcare logistics, encompassing staff management, parent communications, and billing.

In March 2023, Amber transitioned to Auraria Early Learning Center as Operations Coordinator, overseeing children ages 1-5 and managing diverse responsibilities like social media, supply procurement, staff onboarding, and newsletters. Her journey reflects a passionate commitment to early childhood education.

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.

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.