Students

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.

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.

Alexander Del Farno, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, October 2022

Alexander Del FarnoAlex Del Farno is a first-year Ph.D. student who joined the HDFS department in 2022 to work with Dr. Lisa Eaton. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 2020. Alex’s research interests focus broadly on the well-being of sexual and gender minorities (SGM), primarily involving individuals with transgender experience. Specifically, Alex is interested in how SGM embrace sexuality in the form of sex positivity, sexual safety, and health, and the role these factors play in their identity. Alex intends to collaborate on projects in the SHINE lab under Dr. Ryan Watson.

Alex has been doing research with SGM populations since his undergraduate years. For most of his time at URI, he studied attitudes and behaviors regarding transgender-identifying individuals, as well as campus climate for the identifying students. At URI Alex’s research was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he graduated soon after. After graduation, he worked as a community behavioral health specialist for adults with severe mental illness and addiction. Subsequently, Alex served as a lead research assistant at Brown University working with trans-women at risk of HIV to foster support, sexual health, and PrEP education. Alex also volunteered with SHIP (Sexual Health Includes Pleasure) to encourage inclusive, medically accurate, and safe sex education for adults. He also became a certified HIV test counselor. Eager to continue his research and expand his knowledge in the field, Alex intends to make the most of his first and future years at UConn.

In his free time, Alex loves creative writing, cooking, and making art. He credits his family for his passion for helping, as both his mother and older sister are healthcare professionals. Alex spent two years learning and speaking Japanese, and his dream is to one day visit Japan.

Madeline Jones, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, September 2022

Madeline JonesMadeline Jones received her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Spring Hill College (AL) in 2019 with a minor in Philosophy. She graduated summa cum laude and was a member of various honor societies, including Sigma Alpha Nu. In addition, she was awarded the President’s Scholar Award in Biochemistry, a faculty-nominated award for a senior excelling in biochemistry. In 2022, she received her Master of Science degree in psychology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her first year, she was nominated for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant, and the next year, was awarded the Richard G. Neiheisel Phi Beta Kappa Graduate Award, awarded to a graduating master’s student from one of the classical Arts and Sciences curriculum.

Madeline joined UConn’s HDFS graduate program in 2022 to work with Dr. Eva Lefkowitz. Her general research interests are in understanding how sexuality and gender expression influence the development and maintenance of close relationships. Specifically, Madeline is interested in the relationship experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples, especially romantic ones, and how intersecting identities, such as political or religious identities, may impact these relationships. She hopes to improve discussion, understanding, and overall relationship quality and satisfaction.

Madeline began studying sexuality as an undergraduate student, but officially shifted career paths when she spent a year volunteering in the Sexuality and Secularity lab run by Dr. Dena Abbott and attended classes at Louisiana Tech University. From this work, Madeline, Dr. Abbott, and colleagues published a paper on sexual education in predoctoral internships.

In 2020, Madeline began a master’s program in psychology working with Dr. Hung-Chu Lin in her Developmental Science Laboratory. There, she assisted Dr. Lin and the lab in exploring adverse childhood experiences, sexual self-esteem, and romantic attachments. In addition, Madeline worked with Dr. Lin on her thesis on discrimination based on gender and sexuality. Specifically, she explored how men’s perceived non-conforming gender expression and sexual orientation affect social distance and what factors mitigate and exacerbate this effect. Madeline and Dr. Lin are in the process of publishing her thesis and continue to collaborate on projects related to romantic attachment and non-conformity.

As a new student, Madeline looks forward to actively participating in her lab and its multiple research projects. She is especially excited to work on projects related to the developmental aspects of sexual health and religious identity, LGBTQIA+ college students’ relational and general well-being, and romantic relationship development. In addition, she hopes to pursue a graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Lastly, she looks forward to teaching and getting involved on campus through leadership positions and graduate school activities.

In her spare time, Madeline enjoys exploring restaurants, watching movies, and attending local festivals and farmer’s markets. She looks forward to exploring Connecticut and New England’s food and trails. Upon obtaining her Ph.D., Madeline aspires to become a professor and continue her research on sexuality and gender in relationships.

Kaleigh Ligus blogs on Medicare, patient care and policy impact

Kaleigh LigusCheck out  HDFS grad student Kaleigh Ligus’ blog posts related to Medicare, Medicaid, policy impact, and more!

  • Ligus, K. (2022). Medicare Advantage improves patient-centered care efficiency for older beneficiaries. Read blog here.
  • Ligus, K. (2022). Medicaid expansion increased total physician visits but failed to bring in new physicians in early expansion states. Read blog here.
  • Ligus, K. (2022). AHRQ Advances the Mission for Relevant, Effective Population Data. Read blog here.
  • Ligus, K. (2022). Strategies for Maximizing Policy Impact. Read blog here.
  • Ligus, K. & Caplan, J. (2022). Policymakers Need to Hear from Experts. Do You Know How to Reach Them? Read blog here.

    Yuan Zhang, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, August 2022

    Yuan ZhangYuan Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate who joined the HDFS department in 2017 to work with Dr. Linda Halgunseth. She earned her B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Education from Shanxi University in 2011 and 2014, respectively. She earned a second M.A. in Psychology from Pepperdine University. Yuan’s research interests focus broadly on the development and mental health of individuals within minority communities (e.g., ethnic minority and sexual minority) and parenting and parent-child relationships within different cultural contexts. Specifically, Yuan is interested in the role cultural beliefs play in parenting children in China, the well-being of individuals with diverse backgrounds, as well as how acculturation experiences in the U.S. impact immigrant Chinese parents’ well-being, parenting, and child development. Over the past few years, she has been actively involved in multiple research projects on mental health, parenting, and parent-child relationships within diverse populations, including Chinese adolescents, LGBTQ+ college students, international students, as well as parents and children from immigrant families in the U.S.

    Yuan successfully defended her dissertation in July 2022. In her dissertation, Yuan explored the association between Chinese immigrant mothers’ parental psychological control and its association with the mothers’ acculturation experience, as well as their indirect association via parental psychological adjustment using data from over 200 Chinese immigrant mothers and their children ages 3-6.

    In addition to research, Yuan has actively sought leadership experiences within international societies. In 2019, she was elected through a competitive process to serve as a graduate student representative on the SRCD Asian Caucus International Scholars Network Subcommittee. Yuan continues to work in this capacity and has enjoyed collaborating with developmental researchers in ways that support and promote collaborations among international scholars across the world.

    After graduation, Yuan will be working as a Research Associate in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University. She will support Dr. Linda Halgunseth’s research activities that focus on parenting and parent-child relationships, as well as the developmental outcomes of children and adolescents, considering the critical role of cultural context.

    Hilal Kuscul, HDFS Grad Student Spotlight, July 2022

    G. Hilal Kuscul- Graduate Student Spotlight, July 2022G. Hilal Kuscul is a family and human development scholar whose research centers around the dynamics of low-income family environments and their influences on children and parents, particularly fathers. She studies the contextual factors that influence fathering and the effects of fathering behaviors on children. During her doctoral study at UConn, she worked with Dr. Adamsons, gaining experience in working with secondary data through projects using the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study and the Turkish Fathers Project. Her work is theoretically driven, primarily using bioecological and identity theory and framed by gender roles and cross-cultural perspectives. She strongly supports research-based policies and practice and uses her research to inform family-based prevention and intervention programs that promote resilience and wellbeing in parents and children.

    In addition to research, Hilal embraces teaching as a central privilege of her career. In her previous professional life, she had a rich experience teaching and mentoring adult learners in the nonprofit sector. She also received a college teaching certificate while at UConn to have a deeper grasp of teaching college students. In addition to teaching HDFS classes, she also worked as both program coordinator and facilitator for the Parenting Apart: Strategies for Successful Co-Parenting program, a state-certified program for divorcing parents coordinated by UConn’s Center for Applied Research in Human Development.

    Hilal expects to finish her doctoral degree in the Summer of 2022 and will be a visiting assistant professor of Human Development at the State University of New York in Oswego in the 2022-2023 academic year. This experience will provide her with new opportunities in teaching.

    Hilal likes to spend time with her husband, her college-aged sons, and friends. She loves to read books on ancient history and visit museums.