Current doctoral students

The Doctoral Student Association organizes the Applied Child Development Seminar Series, an intellectual forum on topics related to applied child development research.

PhD student biographies

Amy Clark

Education: B.A. in History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill M.A. in Bilingual and Multicultural Education, University of Colorado, Boulder

Interest areas: Bi-literacy development and translanguaging with Spanish-English emergent bilingual children; using culturally relevant texts to develop reading comprehension and oral discourse

Dissertation title: A Classroom-Based Case Study of Literature Discussions with Emergent Bilingual Children

Additional information: Currently Amy is conducting research about teachers’ instruction using culturally relevant texts and its impact on students’ reading comprehension and language use. She is also an adjunct instructor in Erikson’s Bilingual/ESL Certificate Program and a clinical teaching supervisor in Northeastern Illinois University’s bilingual and bicultural education program. Her other experiences include 12 years as a Spanish-English dual language primary grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools.

Kate Connor

Education: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies Erikson Institute, Master of Science in Child Development

Interest areas: Workforce development and supports, partnerships with parents, and relationship building within the context of communities

Hannah Douglas

Education: B.S. in Family and Child Development, Texas State University M.A. in Early and Elementary Education

Interest areas: History of education, intersectionality, and special education

Dissertation title: Braided Lives: Jewish American girls, public schools, and progressive education

Additional information: Hannah is an adjunct instructor in the Early Education Department at Triton College. Her other professional experiences include teaching at Head Start, working at an accredited child development center, and working as a program evaluator. Hannah is interested in promoting and improving the teaching of history of education.

Mary K Frese

Education: B.S. Psychology (University of Illinois Champaign Urbana) B.A. Philosophy (University of Illinois Champaign Urbana) M.A. Developmental Psychology (Loyola University Chicago)

Interest areas: Early intervention and prevention, parent-child interaction, training for family support staff

Ilana Dvorin Friedman

Education: B.S. in Sociology, Minors in Education Studies, History, and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University M.S. in Child Development, Erikson Institute

Interest areas: Gender discourse in the early childhood classroom, gender beliefs of early childhood educators, Jewish early childhood education, professional development of early childhood educators, family and community engagement, foundations and history of American schooling

Dissertation title: Gender Role Beliefs of Teachers in Orthodox Jewish Early Childhood Programs

Additional information: Ilana is a doctoral candidate at Erikson Institute and Loyola University. Ilana has been an adjunct instructor at a variety of programs over the last seven years, including Erikson Institute, The Blitstein Institute of HTC, Oakton Community College, and Harold Washington College. Ilana previously worked as the Early Childhood Coordinator at an early childhood center.

Erika Gustafson

Education: B.A., Eastern Connecticut State University M.S. in Human Development and Social Policy, University of Utah

Interest areas: Early Childhood policy, teacher preparation and development, parent-child interaction, play, culturally-relevant pedagogy

Additional information: Erika recently relocated to Chicago after living in Salt Lake City for five years, where she worked in a variety of child care roles, including Early Childhood Program Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake, early childhood/elementary teacher in a private program, and student teacher supervisor at the University of Utah’s Child and Family Development Center laboratory school, while completing her M.S. Currently, Erika works as a research assistant on the West Chicago Collective Impact Study.

Rebecca Halperin

Education: B.A. in Sociology, Minor in Applied Developmental Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles. M.S. in Early Childhood Development with Specializations in Infancy and Administration, Erikson Institute

Additional information: Rebecca is currently working in the Early Development Instrument program at Erikson Institute and also teaches as adjunct in the Infant/Toddler Certificate Program. Rebecca is originally from California and moved to Chicago a decade ago to pursue her master’s degree. She is now beginning her doctoral work with two small children in tow. Prior to beginning her doctorate, she was a parent ambassador for the Jewish United Fund and has many years of experience in infant and toddler programming, with roles ranging from assistant teacher to education coordinator. She also has a background in early childhood systems and collaboration work, and she is passionate about policy and advocacy.

Missi Jacobson

Education: B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign M.S.W., Concentration in Children Youth and Families, Specialization in Management, Washington University, St. Louis

Interest areas: Strengths-based and identity development research for individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Additional information: Currently, Missi is a doctoral research assistant with the Early Math Collaborative at Erikson assisting with the development of video data analysis instruments. Her other professional experiences include teaching early childhood, working for a family resource agency, and working as a counselor/supervisor/program coordinator for a residential summer camp.

Sabrina Altagracia Mendez

Education: A.A. in Psychology, Miami Dade College B.A. in Psychology, Florida International University M.S. in Mental Health Counseling, Florida International University

Interest areas: Latino child development, Dominican children and families, normative development, parent-child interactions, infant mental health, social-emotional development, higher education

Additional information: Sabrina is a third-year doctoral student. Prior, she was an infant mental health therapist in Miami working with children and families involved in child welfare. Sabrina was a licensed mental health counselor trained in the evidence-based Child-Parent Psychotherapy therapeutic model. She was also an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Florida International University teaching a variety of psychology courses. Sabrina worked with Erikson Professor Linda Gilkerson, PhD, as a program coordinator in the Trauma-Informed Early Intervention project and a research assistant for the implementation of the Fussy Baby Network® in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Currently, she is a full-time professor in Truman College’s Human Development and Education department. Sabrina’s research area is developing and presently focused on the normative early child development of Dominican children with special focus on socialization practices of Dominican families.

Mary Quest

Education: B.A. in Early Childhood Education with IL teacher licensure, Concordia University Chicago M.A. in Early Childhood Education, Concordia University Chicago

Interest areas: Teacher preparation, early childhood professional development, engaging adult learners, the Reggio Emilia approach, human development

Additional information: Mary is currently teaching human development at Erikson Institute and also taught child development for the RYB project with Erikson in Beijing, China. She works on the Family Child Care Project at Erikson, which involves the creation of the Town Square IL website and online professional development for family child care providers. Mary is a founding member of Cultivating the Early Years, a network for progressive early childhood educators. She has provided professional development and workshops for teachers, parents, professionals, and students at a variety of conferences, including NAEYC, PEN (Progressive Education Network), the Chicago Public Libraries and AATE (American Alliance for Theatre and Education). Mary taught full time in the early childhood teacher preparation program at Columbia College Chicago. Prior to that, she taught preschool and kindergarten for 12 years. She has also been adjunct faculty at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois; Concordia University Chicago; and Pacific Oaks College.

Michelle Saulnier

Education: B.S., Boston University M.S., Boston University

Interest areas: Early intervention, early childhood trauma, policy and procedure, adoption and foster care, prevention

Additional information: Michelle is a Boston native who has lived and worked as an occupational therapist in San Diego and Philadelphia. She moved to Chicago to pursue a doctorate in Child Development at Erikson. She works as a research assistant on a project training therapists to work with young children who have experienced trauma. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and baking.

Lauren Solarski

Education: B.A., DePaul University M.S., Northwestern University

Interest areas: Empowering educators, improving professional development, coaching, the whole teacher approach, early math teaching and learning, culturally-relevant pedagogy, early childhood STEM

Additional information: Lauren currently serves as a coach, professional development facilitator, and research assistant for Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative, while also teaching courses in Erikson’s Child Development and Teacher Education programs. Lauren coordinated the Early Childhood STEM Working Group resulting in the report Early STEM Matters: Providing High-Quality STEM Experiences for All Young Learners. Previously a kindergarten teacher and her school’s Early Childhood Team Leader, Lauren was a 2014 Illinois State Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

Kandace Thomas

Education: B.A., Wesleyan University, Middletown Connecticut M.P.P., University of Chicago

Interest areas: Mindfulness as intervention strategy, intergenerational trauma, trauma-informed services and systems, diversity-informed practice, infant mental health, program evaluation, social policy and systems impact on families

Dissertation title: Trait Mindfulness and Self-Care as Buffers of Intergenerational Trauma Transmission

Additional information: Kandace is a sixth-year doctoral student working on her dissertation. She is studying how mindfulness characteristics, or traits, and self-care strategies are conditions that will reduce intergenerational trauma transmission within families. As part of her studies, she works to integrate mindfulness practices in Chicago public schools. While pursuing her doctoral studies, Kandace works as a senior program officer at the Irving Harris Foundation, where she helps build developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed equitable systems of care for young children and their families. Kandace is a co-creator of the Diversity-Informed Infant Mental Health Tenets, 10 guiding principles outlining equity standards in the infant mental health field, and facilitates local and national workshops on the tenets. Kandace’s other experiences include policy and program development work on behalf of under-resourced families and communities.

Colleen Wilson

Education: B.A., University of Pennsylvania M.S.W., University of Pennsylvania M.S.ED in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development, University of Pennsylvania

Interest areas: Social-emotional development, early childhood trauma, complex trauma, risk and resilience, early intervention, parenting interventions, humor development, humor as a protective factor

Additional information: Colleen moved to Chicago from Philadelphia, where she previously worked as a clinical social worker and clinical research coordinator, to pursue a doctorate in Child Development at Erikson. She works as a research assistant on a project evaluating home visiting programs. She is most likely currently listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Xiaohan Zhu

Education: B.A. in Bilingual Broadcasting, Zhejiang University of Media and Communications M.S.ED in Education and Social Change, University of Miami

Interest areas: Linguistic development, parent-child interaction in multi-culture families, early intervention, identity development, socialization

Not featured

Dana Keiser

Lindsay Maldonado

Michelle Saulnier

Kate Varey