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.

Jessica Dunn, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, August 2023

Jessica DunnJessica graduated Magna Cum Laude from UConn in 2012 with a B.A. double major in HDFS and Sociology. While studying at UConn, Jessica was involved in Community Outreach activities such as Habitat for Humanity, volunteering with the American Red Cross, serving as an active student member of the Office of Early College Programs Advisory Board, and a student employee in the UConn Early College Experience (ECE) Office. During high school, Jessica enrolled in a UConn HDFS course through the UConn ECE Program which sparked her interest in the field and provided her a head start on her degree. Not only did her experience through UConn ECE guide her to choose HDFS as a major, but it was also the foundation for her future and career in providing equitable access to higher education.

After graduating, Jessica was hired as the Registration Coordinator for UConn ECE where she developed and maintained student registration processes for over 11,000 students annually who were enrolled in UConn courses during high school. After 5 years in this role, Jessica was hired as the Assistant Director in the Office of Early College Programs and the Director of Student Enrichment for UConn ECE. Jessica continues to oversee student registration for the program and develops and implements engaging academic enrichment opportunities for high school students. Jessica is committed to promoting enrollment growth and accessibility through development of new academic opportunities and financial support to CT high schools and students in need. Jessica has presented at national conferences and to the Connecticut State Department of Education, as well as represented UConn ECE at regional conferences, high school forums, and educator workshops. Jessica is dedicated to the mission of providing access to, and preparation for, higher education. She attributes her drive and passion to her UConn HDFS background and the opportunities she was given with the UConn ECE Program.

Outside of her work at UConn, Jessica is a member of a Connecticut high school residential boarding program which serves a diverse population of teenagers from more than 17 states and 28 countries. Jessica is an on-campus dorm parent where she lives with her husband and three children. She is fortunate to be able to work with high school students in multiple capacities across her roles, and values providing direct care, support, mentorship, and most importantly an educational experience outside of the classroom to the students she lives with. Teaching students tolerance, the value of diversity, and interpersonal skills are included in the high school mission and align strongly with Jessica’s core values and goals in life.

Lois Sadler, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, June 2023

Lois S. SadlerLois S. Sadler, PhD, RN, FAAN is a Professor at the Yale University School of Nursing and Yale Child Study Center. Dr. Sadler received her BSN from the University of Massachusetts and her MSN from Yale University School of Nursing. She received her PhD from the UConn School of Family Studies in 1997.

Dr. Sadler came to UConn with a background in clinical practice and teaching. She was looking to enhance her knowledge of research methods and theories that would help her to more effectively serve the young families she cared for as a nurse. In the PhD program she learned to view the world in new ways to understand the critical intersection of nursing, health, human development, family theory, and social/structural determinants of health. Dr. Sadler relied heavily on the lessons learned in her doctoral education as she continued her professional career after completing her degree. She especially appreciated the mentoring from her dissertation committee chair and members: Drs. Anderson, Sabatelli, and Thomas, and she has endeavored to pass along this wisdom to her own students and mentees.

Since completing her PhD, Professor Sadler has taught at the master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral levels, including course content in the areas of family studies, child and family development, pediatric health promotion, adolescent health, qualitative research, research ethics, intervention development, philosophy of science, and knowledge development in nursing science. She has practiced clinically as a pediatric nurse practitioner and has conducted research with adolescent parents and young families in diverse communities, school settings, home visiting, and primary health care settings. At Yale University School of Nursing, she has held a variety of academic leadership positions in addition to her research and teaching roles. Dr. Sadler’s NIH-funded research encompasses the transition to parenthood among adolescent parents and their families, adolescent pregnancy prevention, health equity, pediatric sleep, and evaluation of specialized support programs for young parents and children. In 2001 Dr. Sadler co-founded the home visiting program, Minding the BabyTM.  Along with colleagues and community partners, she tested, adapted, and implemented the program in the US, Scotland, England, Brazil, and Denmark.

Gary Steck, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, May 2023

Gary SteckGary graduated from UConn in 1988 with a masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and a bachelors from the School of Family Studies in 1986. He was introduced to HDFS, then called HDFR, at the Waterbury campus before switching his major while attending at Storrs. As an undergraduate he was permitted to take several graduate classes which piqued his interest in becoming a therapist. He was a research and graduate assistant and fondly remembers his days in his office near the Child Labs. 

Gary’s career interest has been working in non-profit, urban settings with underserved populations. He attributes much of his success to the training and mentoring he received at UConn. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Wellmore Behavioral Health, a Waterbury-based provider of child, adolescent and adult mental health and substance abuse recovery and support services operating ten sites throughout western Connecticut. Wellmore is the Mobile Crisis Intervention for western Connecticut. He was among the early responders to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and helped develop the recovery plan. He is active with charitable, educational and professional organizations in Connecticut, serving on the Board of Directors of several local non-profit organizations as well as having chaired the Board of the Connecticut Community Provider Association (now known as the CT Nonprofit Alliance). He has also served on dozens of local and statewide committees and taskforces regarding early childhood education, mental health, addiction, child abuse and public health policy. He is frequently invited to testify or speak on issues related to child abuse, serving people with disabilities, as well as substance use disorders and mental illness. Gary is grateful for the lifelong personal support he’s received from UConn staff and for the service of dozens of alumni who have joined him at Wellmore.

Katherine Velez, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, April 2023

Katherine VelezKatherine Velez received her B.A. in HDFS with a minor in Women Studies in Spring of 2010. She was involved in Zero Tolerance, a student activities organization and participated in the production of The Vagina Monologues. During her time at UCONN, she completed an internship at St. Luke’s Lifeworks (now Inspirica), working at their women’s shelter. She also participated in a mentorship program with middle school children through the Stamford Public Education Foundation. This experience helped cement her interest in working with vulnerable populations and encouraged her to think about plans for after graduation. Her advisor, Dr. Annamaria Csizmadia, and professors were integral and supportive of her decision to pursue a social work master’s degree.

After graduation, Katherine earned her master’s in social work with a clinical concentration from Fordham University. During her time at Fordham, she started working as a case worker at a local nonprofit, Person to Person, providing emergency assistance programs part time. She completed an internship with the White Plains Youth Bureau where she developed an after-work program for at risk youth in an immigrant community. She also completed her clinical internship at Norwalk Community Health Center where she provided individual psychotherapy to clinic patients. Upon completing her MSW, she started working full time for Person to Person and was promoted to Case Work Manager as the organization grew and branched out to a bigger catchment area.

In 2016, Katherine began working as a Research Coordinator at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in the Pediatrics Department. She had the privilege of working in several clinical trials within her department, including working with mothers and children in the NICU at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and running mother-child groups in preschool settings. At CUMC, she earned the required hours toward her clinical license and is now a fully licensed social worker in the state of CT.

Today, Katherine is the Veterinary Social Worker at Cornell Veterinary Specialists in Stamford CT where she works with clients and supports staff in the day-to-day human issues that arise within the veterinary field and the human-animal bond. She is also in private practice.

Katherine’s time at UConn helped her realize her goals of becoming a social worker. The staff and professors she met along the way forever impacted her life and the trajectory of it. It is because of these relationships that she was able to succeed and was prepared to pursue a master’s degree. She will forever hold the UConn community in her heart and is grateful for her time in the HDFS program.

Annelieses Lapides, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, March 2023

Anneliese LapidesAnneliese graduated from UConn in 2020 with a B.A. in HDFS and a B.S. in Biological Sciences. As a pre-med student who hoped to become a pediatrician, she added an HDFS major in order to foster an understanding of physical, social, and emotional child development. By pursuing HDFS, she was able to emphasize the multidisciplinary human side of medicine. Anneliese is currently in her third year of medical school at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont (LCOM) and is completing her clinical rotations at the school’s Connecticut Campus in Norwalk and Danbury. She plans to apply for pediatrics residency in September, and will either focus on primary care, developmental/behavioral pediatrics, or pediatric oncology. She also is interested in medical education and mentoring.

Anneliese’s other passions include social justice and advocacy for racial equity, including working to dismantle systemic racism that has led to health inequities and understanding the social determinants of health. She developed this passion while taking Research Methods in HDFS. During her time in medical school, she served as her class representative on the Medical Education Antiracism Task Force. In December 2020, she co-founded a local non-profit in her hometown of East Lyme, CT: the Southeastern Connecticut Organization for Racial Equity (SCORE). She currently serves as the group’s Director of Community Engagement. The organization has worked to provide scholarships for graduating high school students of color, presented to the town Board of Selectmen to discuss racism as a public health crisis, and worked with the Board of Education on their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Anneliese is dedicated to using her platform as a future physician to ensure that everyone has equitable access to healthcare, and believes that pediatrics is a great place to enact social change to break harmful systemic cycles.

Andrea Lopez Salazar, HDFS Alumni Spotlight, February 2023

ANDREA LOPEZ SALAZAR Andrea Lopez Salazar is a researcher, educator, and leader with a history of working in the K-12, higher education, and nonprofit sectors. Andrea graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2014 with a B.A. in Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She credits her experience at UConn as fundamental to instilling a love of and curiosity for the social sciences. During her time at UConn, Andrea was engaged in research, particularly on projects related to ethnic-racial socialization among Black and Latinx families. She was the recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award, OUR Travel Award, and the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Research Experience (SHARE) Award.

After graduating from UConn, Andrea worked at the Stamford Public Education Foundation in Connecticut where she managed the organization’s flagship mentoring program. Currently, she works at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center where she conducts and publishes research on advising reform among first-generation college students and students of color. She is working on an IES-funded longitudinal, mixed-methods project to study the personal support networks of first-generation college students over their first and second year.

Outside of college access and equity, Andrea is very passionate about community-based research, arts education, and multilingualism. She works as an ESL teacher at Columbia’s Community Language Program and has taught and tutored students from all over the world. Most recently, Andrea received a prestigious award from the American Education Research Association to lead a project on the experiences of predominantly limited-income Latinx families in a music education program during the COVID-19 shutdown. The study was funded by the association’s Education Research Service Projects program, an initiative created to encourage education researchers to offer their pro bono expertise to educational organizations, institutions, or other community groups. She presented at the National Association for Music Education last fall and is looking forward to publishing her findings in English and Spanish this year.

Andrea holds an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) from Teachers College, Columbia University.

In her spare time, Andrea enjoys swimming, playing piano, and learning new languages. She speaks Spanish and French and always enjoys experiencing new cultures!