Some of Our Current ISHD Ph.D. Students

Wai Ying Vivien Yiu
Vivien’s research interests include culture, social change, parenting, children's socio-emotional development, and peer relationships. Specifically, her research explores the ways in which social interactions serve as a mediator between cultural values and children's development. She is interested in studying the impact of social change in China on parents' and peers' response to children's socio-emotional characteristics, as well as the influence of social change on children's adjustment outcomes.

Vivien is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a B.A. in Psychology, Education, and Applied Developmental Psychology.

Sean Plaskett
Sean’s research interests are rooted in the intersectionality of the academic disciplines of psychology & human development and how they can be used to inform teaching and education more broadly through effective mediations and interventions for underserved and underrepresented student populations, specifically from minority and low-income backgrounds. His ultimate career goal and focus is to integrate elements of positive psychology and culturally relevant pedagogy to promote the optimal development and subsequent high academic achievement of students from these prescriptively disadvantaged backgrounds and maladaptive academic contexts.

At Penn GSE, Sean currently serves as the lead research coordinator for a college mentoring study under the direction of Dr. Michael J. Nakkula, project manager and research adviser to the annual cohort of master’s students, with an expressed interest in his work and research on optimal youth development. This study assesses the program efficacy and implementation of the PHENND “Next Steps” college mentoring model designed to serve first generation, low-income college students in their transition, acclimation to, and intended graduation from five universities in the Philadelphia area: Cabrini, Kutztown, Millersville, Temple, and the University of the Arts.

Sean also serves as a senior research advisor and clinician on the Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race (EMBRace) Project, an intervention designed to equip African American children ages 10-14 and their caregivers with the tools and skills to healthily and effectively cope with/respond to racially stressful situations in school and in life. Under the leadership and supervision of Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, the EMBRace Project is one of among many programs being implemented through the Racial Empowerment Collaborative, which works to promote racial literacy in schools and communities serving students of color.

Sean is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.S. Psychology, 2011) and Penn GSE (M.S.Ed. Human Development, 2016). He is currently enrolled as a doctoral student in the ISHD Ph.D. program at Penn GSE. Sean is an educator by profession, having taught for four years through Teach For America as a math & science instructor in Houston, TX, grades 6-9, and served as an after-school program director through the EducationWorks nonprofit service provider at the John H. Taggart School in south Philadelphia for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Jeein Jeong
Jeein’s research looks at children’s cognitive and social development and its relation to their education. Specifically, Jeein has been conducting research on how young children come to understand learning and teaching, and how this emerging understanding impacts their learning and behaviors. One of her recent research projects looked at how children understand what learning is and when people need and want to learn knowledge, and how such judgments are related with their own learning and behaviors. Through her research, she wants to examine how human beings grow as self-directed learners who can evaluate and plan their own learning, and how education helps this process.

Jeein received her B.A. in Early Childhood Education and Educational Studies from Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea, and an M.S.Ed. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from Penn GSE. Before starting her Ph.D. in ISHD at Penn GSE, she taught young children in a kindergarten and a preschool in both South Korea and the U.S. Talking and playing with children always inspires her to make connections between research findings and educational practices.

Lingjun Chen
Lingjun is interested in contextual influence on child and adolescent social and emotional development, especially the role of family, peer group, social change, and culture. Currently, she is working on a project focusing on peer group influence on Chinese adolescents.

Lingjun graduated from Peking University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Philosophy in Philosophy. After that, she pursued a Master’s in Education at Harvard University.

Before she came to Penn GSE, she worked as a curriculum designer and a teacher in English literature. In her spare time, she also enjoys doing some mentoring work. Lingjun looks forward to inspiring more people through mentoring, teaching, and research!

Laronnda Thompson
Laronnda is a doctoral student whose research interests concern how the messages expressed in text, in particular those used in classroom practices for literacy development, influence notions of self-and-other, self-esteem, as well as self-efficacy. More specifically, using the lenses associated with (Interpretative-)Theory of Mind, she looks into the development of perspective-taking and empathy as related to classroom exposures. Further, Laronnda is particularly invested in how these findings can be utilized to improve: (1) curricula standards or recommendations, (2) teacher-student relationships and learners' sense-of-belonging in schools, and (3) aspects of intercultural relationships and understandings.

With the guidance of her mentor and advisor, Dr. Douglas Frye, Laronnda's current research project looks into the meaning early elementary school children make from divergent narratives of the same character and how young children might apply such meanings to the construction and understanding of their social world(s). Laronnda has also worked with her co-mentor, Dr. Michael Nakkula's research project pertaining to academic achievement and the development of Upstander identities in a school setting utilizing the Facing History and Ourselves framework. Also with Dr. Nakkula, Laronnda investigates hermeneutics to understand how a text can be utilized as a mentor.

Laronnda began her time at Penn GSE in the M.S.Ed. Reading/Writing/Literacy program before transitioning to the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development Ph.D. program to develop a different set of tools to address literacy-related questions. Prior to coming to Penn GSE, Laronnda worked for different non-profit organizations, including the Salvation Army. Laronnda earned her B.A. in Communications from Temple University as well as her M.A. in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph University.

Nneka Renee Ibekwe
Nneka is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods division at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. She is also a graduate research assistant at the Field Center for Children’s Policy Practice and Research. Her research focuses on identifying pathways towards optimal social-emotional and academic development for children from disadvantaged populations. In her current research with Dr. Sharon Wolf, Nneka is applying quantitative methodology to assess the risk and protective factors that children experience across two ecological levels—family and school—to understand what contributes to school readiness outcomes across a set of five developmental domains. 

Prior to Penn GSE, Nneka worked as a manager for the Center for Education Policy Research and as a graduate teaching fellow for Harvard University. She taught courses and conducted research related to Risk and Resilience, Diversity in Cross-cultural Counseling, and Child and Adolescent Development. As a social worker in east Los Angeles and New York City, Nneka worked with children and families involved in the child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice systems. She holds an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Prevention Science Research and an M.S.W. from Columbia University School of Social Work. In her undergraduate studies, Nneka majored in Sociology and African American Studies and was a NCAA Division I volleyball player at the University of California, Davis.

Jinsol Lee
Jinsol is a Ph.D. candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development program in the department of Human Development and Quantitative Methods at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Broadly, her research interests center on children’s and adolescents’ socioemotional development and its role in social, school, and psychological adjustment. She has collaborated on multiple book chapters on children and adolescents across cultures, including topics of loneliness, social change, and child-rearing attitudes. She has also worked on projects in international development research on literacy development and educational assessment. Her primary advisor is Dr. Xinyin Chen, with whom she is currently working on projects examining peer group interactions and play behaviors.

She earned her B.A. in Psychology and Education at Mount Holyoke College with her Massachusetts Teacher Certification and Licensure, and an M.Ed. in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Fatima Zahra
Fatima is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development with specialization in International Education and Development. Her research focuses on the multidimensional nature of inequalities in education, health, gender, environmental sustainability, and economic development, and evaluation of related programs and policies. Her expertise includes use of quantitative, mixed, and qualitative research methods to investigate the reasons for inequalities and ways to improve current education and public programs and policies. Her dissertation project examines the role of non-formal education in learning equity and productivity among female and male farmers in northern Bangladesh. Fatima is currently co-leading a research project on global education and health inequalities to determine the major factors contributing to inequalities for children, women, and men in the world.

Fatima is the co-founder and director of the International Development Evidence for Action Series (IDEAS). The vision for the program is to engage Penn’s community of students and scholars in policy research and discussion in the areas of education, poverty, environment, health, and international affairs affecting the global community and to create integrated knowledge based on an informed understanding. She currently co-chairs the Information and Communication Technologies for Development Special Interest Group at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).

Previously, Fatima worked as a researcher and evaluation specialist on various international projects concerning children’s education and health, the use of mobile technologies for education, skills development among adolescents, parental education, community involvement, and citizenship education in Bangladesh, El Salvador, Uganda, and the U.S. Fatima has worked with organizations such as Save the Children International, Glasswing, BRAC and UNESCO, and with the Ministries of Education of Bangladesh and Uganda. Fatima has a B.A. and M.A. in English and Applied Linguistics, an M.S.Ed. in International Educational Development and will earn her Ph.D. in December, 2017.

Rui Fu
Rui is currently a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development in the Human Development Quantitative Methods Division at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. Her research interests center on examining the contributions of diverse social contexts to children’s and adolescents’ social, school, and psychological adjustment and development. She explores the importance of diversity in social contexts primarily in populations that are historically subordinate, under-studied, or at-risk. One line of her research investigates how the synergistic experiences of immigration, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and cultural values contribute to Asian American children’s socioemotional behaviors and adjustment. In another line of research, she is interested in variations in the developmental processes of social behaviors and school performance, including social competence, overt and relational aggression, self-control, and academic achievement, in Chinese and North American societies. In general, her work suggests that children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors and their functional meanings are constructed by diverse social contexts, and that diversities at the personal, group, and sociocultural levels are an integral part of human development.

Additionally, in her role as the early scholar representative in the steering committee of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Tri-Caucus (composed of African American, Latino, and Asian caucuses), she works closely with the president and other committee members to help ensure the diversity in its membership and to foster resource sharing and collaboration among scholars in studying the healthy development of ethnic minority youth and their families. Her long-term goal is to help minority and underprivileged children and adolescents to achieve better social and psychological wellbeing through promoting diversity in human development and through translating empirical findings to practice and policy.

Jung Hwa Choi
Jung Hwa’s research focuses on examining how individual and contextual factors, both independently and conjointly, influence social, academic, and psychological adjustment of children. In particular, Jung Hwa is interested in cultural influence on family and peer relationships and how it explains the variation in child development.

Jung Hwa received her B.A. in Education from Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea. Prior to Penn GSE, she worked for the Middle School Diversity Project and the Culture and Minority Mental Health Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Janay M Watts

As a new, first time mother, Janay has her daughter on her brain literally every moment of every day. As a result, she has found herself particularly interested in the ways mothers take care of themselves, understand themselves, and make sense of their identity/new responsibilities with a child. Currently, Janay is interested in exploring the ways Black and Latina women experience family planning (or choosing not to have a family), pregnancy, the postpartum period, motherhood, and their daily lived experiences in their various ecologies. She is interested in examining the alarming current rates of infant mortality and maternal mortality in the United States, with Black women/children specifically being the most at risk, to identify solutions. Janay seeks to explore critically the intersections of identity, health, family, race, gender, and sexuality in the lives of Black/Latina mothers to better understand how these mothers are treated in the world and the various ways they navigate that treatment. Ultimately, she seeks to offer a humanizing methodology that approaches and considers the culturally specific contexts mothers of color may be experiencing. 

Through the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), Janay is currently working on developing ideas around the topics identified above. She is also a part of a developing film project where she and her partner, James Garrett, are capturing the work of Dr. Howard Stevenson and the team, as they train educators and implement P.L.A.A.Y. at Binghamton High School in New York. In the spring of 2018, Janay will be developing pilot studies both for racial literacy training for Black undergraduate students and her emerging dissertation work.

Janay is originally from Stockton, CA and graduated from Lincoln High School in 2006. She went on to study Sociology and African American studies at Princeton University. While at Princeton, she was named a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, and also received the departmental prize for best thesis presentation. After graduating from Princeton in 2010, Janay taught preschool through Teach for America in the Bay Area, and went on to work in a variety of corporate positions in and out of educational contexts. After four years working, Janay decided to pursue her master's degree in the Social and Cultural Analysis of Education at California State University Long Beach. During her time at Long Beach, Janay became interested in the parenting practices of Black mothers who were also organizers in the Black Lives Matter Movement. As a result of her research and academic/personal achievements, Janay was named a Sally Cassanova Pre Doctoral Scholar, received an award to conduct summer research through the Office of Special Research Projects at CSULB, and was invited to present/speak in various academic spaces. While studying at Cal State Long Beach, Janay served as a volunteer and restorative justice coordinator (for Reed High) for the California Conference for Equality and Justice. Before coming to Penn GSE, Janay was an organizer, activist, and emerging scholar working with youth in Long Beach, Stockton, and Sacramento, CA.