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Developmental Sciences

Developmental Sciences Student Perspectives

Sanchari BanerjeeSanchari Banerjee

I joined the Developmental Sciences program in Fall of 2016. Before coming here from India, I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and my Master’s degree in Social Work, which led me to a job on the education team of a non-governmental organization. I designed programs, worked with stakeholders, and conducted an exploratory study around challenges towards girls' education. This is where I realized my love for education research.

My research interests include using mixed methods to study temperament and peer engagement in early childhood through a cultural lens, which I am currently doing under the guidance of Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia. I am also co-teaching Personality and Social Development (EPSY 405), co-chairing the Graduate Student Conference Committee, and working on my dissertation. 

CurryKate 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.

Jeng_AmosAmos 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 learn by interacting and communicating with one another in educational settings. I am especially interested in placing these behaviors in a cultural context for minority student populations that are traditionally underrepresented in schools and existing education research. I currently work with Prof. Michelle Perry to understand and improve students’ experiences with help-seeking and help-giving in online 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.  

 Ananya TiwariAnanya Tiwari

I am a 3rd-year doctoral candidate in Educational Psychology, currently working with Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia. I study socio-emotional skills at the intersection of different identities across cultures. In this regard, I am looking at sense of belonging and self-esteem in rural adolescent girls in India who are prone to early marriage. My interests include conducting measurement analysis to modify tools, understanding conceptual psychological pathways, designing interventions, and evaluating programs in terms of impact and process. I also have a minor in Gender Relations in International Development and am the co-founder of the SwaTaleem Foundation (, a nonprofit that works with under-resourced public-school systems in India to enhance the educational outcomes of underrepresented adolescent girls using a human-centered design approach. I received the 2020 Illinois Innovation Prize; 2020 Fred S. Bailey Fellowship – YMCA; 2020 Due and Ferber International Research Award; and the 2019 Illinois International Achievement Award, among others. I am also the current program coordinator for the American Evaluation Association’s Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) program.  

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