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Developmental Sciences

Developmental Sciences Student Perspectives

Picture of Grad Student Kate Curry

Kate Curry

I came to the Educational Psychology department for my PhD after a career in education. I became interested in the experiences of both teachers and students through my experiences teaching collegiate level ESL at the UIUC and the University of Denver, as well as teaching elementary students in Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia. My research focuses on the influence that early elementary teachers have on their students’ motivation and mindset through feedback and teaching practices. As a lifelong educator, I am committed to helping both teachers and students to improve their classroom experiences. I am currently working with Dr. Michelle Perry to understand how online professional learning opportunities using video can help teachers to reflect on their teaching practices to improve their students’ academic outcomes.

Grad Student AJ Espinoza

AJ Espinoza

I joined the Developmental Sciences division in the Fall of 2023 after obtaining my B.A. in Psychology at the University of Michigan and after serving for two years as a College and Career Adviser through Americorps. Through these experiences, I cultivated an interest in the positive development of adolescents of color. I currently work with Dr. Aixa Marchand and my current research interests are centered around critical consciousness (CC) development among adolescents, with a specific focus on CC development among mentors such as teachers and parents. I am also working to understand how the classroom serves as a space where CC development occurs bidirectionally between teachers and parents. 

In my spare time, you can find me trying out new recipes, playing video games and guitar, and daydreaming on a picnic blanket in the park!

I would be more than happy to connect with you if you have any questions about my research or EPSY via Twitter (@theaberjohn) or my email


Picture of Grad Student Amos Jeng

Amos Jeng

I joined the Developmental Sciences program in Fall of 2020 after having previously obtained a B.A. in Cognitive Science and Philosophy from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. I developed a passion for the field of educational psychology after taking relevant coursework, conducting human development research, interning for the Educational Testing Service, and working at an after-school academic program. Ultimately, the reputation, rigor, and supportive culture of Illinois’s Educational Psychology department drew me to this doctoral program.

My research interests concern how students of diverse socio-cultural backgrounds develop connections and support one another in higher education settings. I am especially interested in using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to examine how interactive learning behaviors such as help-seeking and help-giving emerge from one's socio-cultural context. I currently work with Prof. Michelle Perry to understand and improve students’ experiences with help-seeking and help-giving in introductory STEM courses.

In my free time, I enjoy trying new recipes, going for walks, and playing the piano. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the program or my research. 


Taiylor RayfordTaiylor Rayford

I joined the Developmental Sciences division in the Fall of 2020 after obtaining my B.S. in Psychology at The Ohio State University. My work as an undergraduate research assistant, a DEI student manager, and personal education experiences led to my interest in education research and passion for education reform.

I am working under the advisement of Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, and my current research interest aims to understand how expectations and past experiences affect the development of belonging among students of color. I am also working to identify how Black graduate students understand and develop a sense of belonging to their degree program. I use quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods in my research.

Outside of academics, I enjoy music, poetry, watching football, traveling, cooking, and eating. On a warm sunny day, you can catch me outside tending to my plants and cherishing the weather.

I would love to connect with anyone who would like to talk about the program or my research.

  • Email:
  • Twitter: @TaiylorRayford

 Taiylor’s Course Recommendation:

  • EPSY 578: Qualitative Inquiry Methods
  • EPSY 581: Applied Regression Analysis
  • EPSY 590: Sense of belonging of Diverse Populations
  • EPOL 564: College Student Development


Madison Sewell

I’m a third-year doctoral student in Developmental Sciences. I came to graduate school after working in a variety of educational contexts including a gifted-and-talented summer program in Arkansas, a high school in the Czech Republic, and an urban elementary school in Dallas, Texas. Throughout these experiences, I became interested in learning more about social, emotional, and behavioral (SEB) skills and their relationship to positive youth development. I currently work with Dr. Chris Napolitano, and my research interests include how SEB skills influence academic achievement and civic engagement behaviors such as volunteering, activism, informal helping, and voting during adolescence and young adulthood. I am also interested in how civic engagement can influence the development of SEB skills. I use quantitative methods in this research.

In my spare time, I enjoy reading and audiobooks, training for marathons, international travel, and hiking in the U.S. National Parks. If you’d like to connect, please reach out to me via email.  

Shiyu Sun photo

Shiyu Sun

I joined the Developmental Science division for my Ph.D. in Fall 2020.  I got my B.A. in Psychology from the University of Washington in 2017 and my M.S. in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania in 2020. My current research interest is mainly on international students' sense of belonging to the university and in the United States. I am working with Dr. Nidia Rudas-Gracia to understand what sociocultural factors would affect international students' belongingness and their psychological well-being. I would like to use both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate this issue. 

In my spare time, I enjoy reading, traveling, and watching documentaries.  


Picture of student Hou XieHou Xie

I joined the Developmental Sciences program in 2023 Fall. My research interests revolve around the development of identity, purpose, and meaning during adolescence and emerging adulthood, as well as the design, implementation, and evaluation of intervention programs that support such development. Besides this, I’m also passionate about exploring the cultural nuances of identity, purpose, and meaning development in different social contexts.

Before joining UIUC, I completed my master’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania, dual majoring in Human Development and Quantitative Methods. However, as an undergraduate student, I earned a bachelor's degree in Drama, TV, and Cinematic Arts from the Communication University of China. I have also worked as an editor and director for children’s radio drama and a user researcher for an online pre-K education platform. These previous experiences have shown me that life is full of serendipity, making it hard for us to predict our future selves. But it is this uncertainty that ignites my passion for studying human beings.

Apart from being a graduate student, I enjoy reading non-academic books, watching documentaries, listening to music, playing flute, and practicing guitar.


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