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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.


Bethany HoffBethany Hoff

I am a 6th-year doctoral candidate in Developmental Sciences and I am planning to defend my dissertation in March 2021. Before coming to Illinois for graduate school, I attended Whitworth University and graduated with a B.A. in Psychology. In my research, I investigate processes of intentional self-regulation during adolescence from a positive youth development perspective. My dissertation provides preliminary evidence on goal focus—whether an individual focuses on the process or the outcome of a goal—in adolescence. I typically rely on quantitative methods to conduct my research. Email: 

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 include the learning behaviors and outcomes of minority student populations that are traditionally underrepresented in schools and existing education research. I am especially interested in investigating the influence that culture and communication have on the learning process for these students. I currently work with Prof. Michelle Perry to understand and improve students’ learning experiences in online STEM courses.

In my free time, I enjoy trying new recipes, going for walks, and playing the piano!


Taiylor RayfordTaiylor Rayford

I received my B.S. from the Ohio State University and I am a current graduate student at the University of Illinois where I work under the guidance of Dra. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia. Broadly speaking, my research interests include sense of belonging, identity development, and intervention development.  I strive to produce research that improves the educational experience for historically marginalized students.

I enjoy trying new foods, music, poetry, and warm socks. When procrastinating, I especially enjoy online shopping and binge-watching new shows.

Madison SewellMadison Sewell

I’m a second-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 civic engagement behaviors such as volunteering and activism during adolescence and young adulthood. 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. 


Shiyu Sun photoShiyu 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.