April 2022 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Radosveta Dimitrova

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Dr. Radosveta Dimitrova, a developmental and cross-cultural psychologist at Stockholm University.  

1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I think most developmental scientists like me are fascinated by the opportunity to uncover and research intriguing aspects of human development to find ways of sustaining positive development, thriving and success in various populations. Researching underserved, underprivileged, and marginalized communities using global, international, and cross-cultural perspectives has been of the utmost importance in my work. I am deeply grateful and fortunate to be in a privileged position that allows me a modicum of academic freedom and to learn from culturally diverse populations globally despite professional challenges.

2. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work?

I have been honoured and grateful to have had many exceptional mentors. The first and most significant person is Cynthia Garcia Coll who mentored me when she was at Brown University. She was always unconditionally supportive in the midst of challenges and hard times. Fons van de Vijver at Tilburg University, the Netherlands - an exceptional scholar and mentor, recently deceased, was another role model and academic exemplar with his Dutch modesty, being truly supportive and always available for his collaborators. Both Cynthia and Fons deeply inspired my work on Roma minority populations. They helped me persist in this line of research that has brought me many professional achievements and rewards. I have been privileged as a mentee of Laura Ferrer-Wreder at Stockholm University, Sweden - a leading scholar in acculturation, prevention, and intervention. Laura is a true friend, and as a collaborator, exceptionally reliable, competent, and professional. Through my work and international travels across the globe, I have been able to connect with many other great folks from multiple disciplines who also deeply inspired my work.

3. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief. 

Most of my projects were quite global and multidisciplinary in nature, involving 30 to 70 countries in major continents across the globe. Grounded in the traditions of developmental science, some of these projects focused on diversity and acculturation using a global perspective; ethnic minority (Roma) youth across Europe; emerging adulthood, Positive Youth Development (PYD) across cultures, etc. These projects have allowed me to expand existent knowledge to relevant aspects of human development and thriving globally and in highly vulnerable populations across culturally diverse settings. It is hard to summarize a major finding from all projects. But in addition to the advancement of theoretical and empirical knowledge related to human development, measurement, policy, and practice in global contexts, when looking at under-researched contexts and populations, the mainstream theory and research may seem inapplicable as new avenues with unexpected insights emerge. 

4. Your one wish for the study of human development

I wish there was global equity with resourceful and supporting contexts for people to thrive in their societies; this applies to both the populations we have been investigating as scientists and our fellow colleagues and scholars who may lack such contexts to study human development.

5.  A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

“You are a blessing in my life”

About the researcher Dr. Radosveta Dimitrova is a developmental and cross-cultural psychologist with main research interests on positive development, acculturation, migration, identity, indigenous and vulnerable ethnic minority (Roma) communities, and adaptation of measures for use in different cultures. She has research and teaching experience in leading universities across the globe and international collaborations in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America. She has primarily published in human development, cross-cultural and international psychology, emerging adulthood, child and family studies, and assessment by also serving major organizations and editorial boards of leading journals in other fields. In various global collaborations and organizations, she has systematically researched and provided service to vulnerable populations and fellow scholars in underprivileged contexts.



Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto
SSHD Publicity & Diversity Science Initiative Committee

February 2022 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Meenal Rana

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Dr. Meenal Rana, Associate Professor of Child Development at the Humbolt State University.

1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I was always fascinated by human uniqueness, diversity of experiences, resilience in face of adversities, and development of self. The quest to study these concepts scientifically and systematically drew me to the field of human development.

2. Did you have a mentor or researcher who had substantial influence on your path or on your work?

I have been very fortunate and grateful to have extraordinary mentors in my life, such as Drs. Tom Luster, Deborah J Johnson, Desiree Qin, and Miles McNall. I learned many important lessons during my interactions with them. I highlight a few here.

I would like to honor the memory of Dr. Luster’s mentorship, who unfortunately passed away in 2009 during my doctoral studies. I had come to believe I was the only student that he had until his funeral when so many of his students shared similar experiences to mine. I was astonished to realize that he gave each of his students undivided attention such that each one of us felt special (at the time, he had 19 doctoral and even more masters students). As a faculty in the department of Child Development at Humboldt State University, I have adopted his model of being fully present for my students and colleagues. He encouraged me to ask four questions for the betterment of my scholarship: “What is the research question?” “Why am I interested?” “How am I going to answer the question?” and finally “So what?” The “so what” part is important for mainly two reasons: 1) Is it novel? 2) How it is going to benefit the field?

Drs. Johnson and Qin emphasized the importance of creating a niche of like-minded scholars and professionals. Their work on social justice issues, advocacy for children and families of minoritized backgrounds, and decolonizing human development inspire my current scholarship and advocacy. Both of them work with research teams of brilliant graduate and undergraduate students, modeling the multi-tiered mentoring and connecting them with their alumni like myself and others in the field. Dr. McNall, who is a community researcher shared many important lessons but the one that stuck with me the most is, “As a researcher, always approach the communities with the utmost respect. Ask positive questions that highlight their strengths instead of trying to find problems.” 

3.  You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.

My research, local and international, includes identity development among minoritized adolescents and young adults, including Sikh youth in immigrant families, Latina mothers in college, and school youth in India. During my graduate program, I have worked with Sudanese Lost Boys—the unaccompanied refugee minors who were resettled in Michigan. I utilize lifespan, ecological, intersectional, and resilience frameworks in my work. Most recently, I am drawn to trauma research, which I incorporate in my teaching and advising/mentoring (Dr. Bruce Perry’s and Dr. José Bowen’s scholarship). The three areas of my scholarship include:

  1. Examination of ethnoreligious identity formation among Sikh immigrant youth and their parents' socialization practices: Due to their outward identity markers (i.e., turban and beard), Sikh men and boys are subjected to religion-based discrimination and harassment in workplaces and schools that has implications for ethnoreligious identity formation. Since the 9/11 attack, increased Islamophobia and mistaken identities have affected the health of both Sikh and Muslim communities in the United States. Sikh immigrant families negotiate their ethnoreligious identities and adapt their socialization practices by balancing safety and enculturation processes. Sikh immigrant communities provide socio-cultural and human capital to build ethnoreligious resilience and to support the family’s socialization processes.   
  2. Youth-adult partnerships, identity exploration among youth through engagement in environmental and social justice issues in India: This project started as a collaboration with a non-profit organization in India, Environment and Social Research Organization (ESRO), where we utilized the Youth-Adult Partnerships (Y-AP) model to engage school youth in India. In collaboration with adults, youth were given the responsibility to create awareness in their communities about various social and environmental issues. I provided consultation on various programs, ideas on activities, and different models of engaging school youth in these issues; the ESRO team implemented the Y-AP model in 18 different schools over 2 years. We learned that Youth-Adult partnerships (Y-AP), especially through collaborative decision-making in community work, promoted a sense of self-efficacy, responsibility toward their communities, civic engagement, academic outcomes, and positive identity among youth. Based on this foundational work, in 2018, with a federal grant, I created a collaborative partnership (interdisciplinary, intercultural, and international) among Humboldt State University, Lady Irwin College, New Delhi, and three non-profit organizations in India. Seven students and two faculty members from HSU traveled to India and collaborated with the Indian partners (8 college students from India, faculty partners, and NGO partners) to work in two rural communities of North India.
  3. Resilience, identity exploration, and belongingness among Latina student parents in higher education: Utilizing the lifespan perspectives, intersectionality, and resilience frameworks, the current study examined the experiences of eight Latina mothers, between ages 22 to 29 years. The Latino population is growing exponentially in the United States, more specifically in the state of California. While there are many studies undertaken on Latino students on campus, fewer studies focused on Latina student mothers in higher institutions. In this research, Latina student mothers on our college campus identified risk and protective factors while navigating their education and motherhood. Our study contributes to the limited studies on student parents, more specifically Latina student mothers.

4.  Your one wish for the study of human development

I would like to see the field of human development continuing to become more inclusive with diverse worldviews, voices, frameworks, and methodologies. We have made progress over the years (e.g., Diversity Science Initiative) but we have a long way to go to enrich the field.

5.  A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

Mentoring is a reciprocal process in which both, the mentor and the mentee, engage in a mutually respectful and meaningful relationship, remain curious, learn from one another, and agree to disagree--a creative space for the mentee to shape their unique path and continue this same obligation for future generations. 

About the researcher

Dr. Meenal Rana is an Associate Professor in the Department of Child Development at Humboldt State University. Rana regularly teaches many classes in growth and development including Life Span Development, Methods of Observation, Parent-Child Relationships, Children and Stress, and Structure and Content of Children’s thinking, Professional Development, and Academic Internships. Prior to her appointment at Humboldt, Dr. Rana was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and Human Development at Brown University (2012-2013). She received a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Michigan State University. Dr. Rana’s research interests include 1) examination of ethnoreligious identity formation among Sikh immigrant youth and their parents' socialization practices, 2) youth-adult partnerships, identity exploration among youth through engagement in environmental and social justice issues, specifically in India, and 3) resilience, identity exploration, and belongingness among student parents in higher education. In her leisure time, she likes to read, cook, and walk in the magnificent Redwood forests.  

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

August 2021 Researcher’s Window: Jen Agans

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Jen Agans, Assistant Professor of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at the Pennsylvania State University.

1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I originally wanted to work directly with youth as a middle school teacher or afterschool program provider. Based on my own experiences participating in and coaching youth circus programs (yes, I can juggle and ride a unicycle), I knew it was possible for these contexts to help youth thrive and I wanted to be part of that. However, I caught the research bug as an undergraduate psychology major at Macalester College, and asked a professor what might account for the positive outcomes I’d seen in youth circus programs. She told me to go get a PhD and find out myself, so here I am.

2. Did you have a mentor or researcher who had substantial influence on your path or on your work?

Two mentors stand out as particularly influential in my work, one practitioner and one researcher. Jackie Davis was my first circus coach, and became a mentor and friend as I grew up and began coaching and working with youth myself. It’s thanks to her that my research is grounded in lived experiences of positive youth development in action. It’s thanks to Richard Lerner, my doctoral advisor, that I know how to conduct that research and situate it within the theoretical frameworks of human development. 

3.  You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.

Although I began my research career with specific questions about a particular type of youth program, I have since broadened my work to explore the ways in which recreation, especially involving physical activity, contributes to well-being for adolescents and young adults, seeking to describe, explain, and optimize (Baltes, Reese, & Nesselroade, 1977) pathways to active lifestyles. My research spans a variety of contexts, from high school sport and summer camps to out-of-school time programs and leisure time physical activity, and encompasses various of aspects of well-being, including self-perceptions, mental health, purpose in life, and positive youth development. While there have been many interesting research findings from these projects, the aspect that I think is most important to the study of human development is actually in the research process and the ways in which I interact with practitioners in my work. Asking research questions that are relevant for practice, collecting data in collaboration with youth programs that can benefit from the study results, and maintaining relationships with practitioner colleagues are essential to my research program. I have also published papers about my research-practice partnerships, sharing insights to help others engage in this type of work. Here, a key finding is the importance of engaging in partnerships that are mutually-beneficial, which requires the researcher to care about the needs of the program not just pursue their own research agenda.

4.  Your one wish for the study of human development

I wish for better integration of research and practice. Our current system (at least in the United States where my work is based) for research training and funding often prioritizes basic research or applied/translational projects that are driven by the researchers’ interests without creating space for input from practitioners, and practitioners rarely receive training or support for engaging with research. However, human development takes place in real-world contexts, facilitated by programs and front-line practitioners. If our work is to have any impact on human lives it must be relevant and accessible. I believe the best way to ensure that happens is for researchers and practitioners to work more closely together and learn from each other.

5.  A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

I learned from my own mentors the importance of supporting mentees in pursuing their own unique paths and I try to implement this approach in my mentoring as well. A mentor can’t provide a map for a mentee, but they can be a source of support on the mentee’s self-determined journey. 

About the researcher

Jen Agans is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at the Pennsylvania State University. Prior to working at Penn State, Jen earned her PhD in Child Study and Human Development from Tufts University and served as the Assistant Director of the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) at Cornell University. Her research focuses on how youth and young adult physical activity and recreation can support positive youth development and well-being, with an emphasis integration across research and practice.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

February 2021 Researcher’s Window: Cynthia García Coll

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Dr. Cynthia García Coll, a former President of SSHD, the Charles Pitts Robinson and John Palmer Barstow Professor Emerita at Brown University, and an adjunct professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Puerto Rico. 


1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I explored Medicine, Sociology, and Clinical Psychology. Just by chance, I ended up in a Developmental Program...and fell in love! I love the metaphor of development, of trying to explain continuities and discontinuities over a lifetime. I have always been intrigued about how experiences become part of our biological embedding and vice versa, creating our own individuality. The complexity of developmental processes and outcomes is fascinating!

2. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work?

I have many mentors: Barry M. Lester at the University of Florida gave me the initial tools and freedom of exploration. At Harvard, I was influenced in Psychology by Jerome Kagan and Dante Cicchetti in profound ways of thinking about development. From Robert Levine and John Whiting, I learned about how to conceptualize and measure cultural context and its intricate ways of shaping development from day one.

3. Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

Being the first Puerto Rican to be admitted in what was called Psychology and Social Relations at Harvard, changed my life trajectory. I was admitted to Harvard because of affirmative action. And I am proud to say that because AA only gives you admission. One has to do the work at the level of everybody else to graduate! Who would have predicted that the daughter of a single mother who worked three jobs to maintain a low middle-class household would graduate from one of the best universities in the world...unthinkable. My mother indeed made it possible by ensuring that I would be exposed to the best education possible from kindergarten on and at the University of Puerto Rico as an undergraduate in the honors program, where I was exposed to the best professors and thinkers of that time. Still...

4. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief.  What might be the cultural, inclusion or global significance of your work?

My dissertation with Jerry Kagan was the first study to establish Behavioral Inhibition as a temperamental dimension of infant behavior. My purpose at that point was to liberate mothers from all that happened to their children! The zeitgeist was dominated by attachment theory. I saw the detriment that this was causing to mothers who might have been thought of as incompetent when their babies were extremely shy. For the next ten years, I was working as the first research psychologist in a Pediatric Department. My work turned into trying to document the sociocultural contexts of adolescent mothers (my grandmother had been one!) and how it entered in the equation of the long-term sequelae of prematurity, intrauterine growth retardation, and other prenatal and perinatal complications. At that point, most of the understanding was that these events would have predictable negative consequences. With long term follow-ups, we documented the potential for recovery, given potentiating sociocultural contexts.

Moving into a feminist environment, at The Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies, I started working in articulating new theoretical models to understand, what has become my most important work, the developmental pathways for now called minoritized populations in the USA. Up to that point, I was proposing that these groups as any other social group have cultural habits that remain even if they are third generation or recent immigrants. With a group of colleagues and Dr. Gontram Lamberty, from the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, we created the Integrative Model for the Study of Competencies in Minority populations! It just turned 25 years, and now It is finally, could I say mainstream? Not really, but well cited.

5. Your current project and/or key projects? 

I just published with students a revision of Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological model that I think it is crucial to adopt. I have a couple of books in my mind that I hope will come to fruition, but I have great distractions from my grandchildren, and studying neuroscience, mindfulness, and yoga. Who knows what will come out of that!

6. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development?

If my work has contributed something, I hope it is the recognition by mainstream developmental sciences that we can’t have separate works of literature: the normative narrative based on white middle-class populations and then the deficit oriented model used to study BIPOC populations. When the normative, empirical knowledge includes us all, we will have a truly representative science. I have studied teenage mothers, children with extreme inhibition, with biological risk, born to BIPOC populations of many generations in the USA or just recently arrived as refugees, documented or undocumented. With that range of populations, I feel like I finally understand development: its nuances, its complexities.

7. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be? 

STOP BEING WEIRD!

8. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

One student once said to me: "You do not only open doors for us, you push us through it!” Not sure if that was a compliment or not...

About the researcher

Cynthia García Coll, Ph.D. is the Charles Pitts Robinson and John Palmer Barstow Professor Emerita at Brown University and an adjunct professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Puerto Rico. She was a former editor-in-chief of Child Development. She received the Cultural and Contextual Contributions to Child Development Award from Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) in 2009 and the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society from APA in 2020. Dr. García Coll has researched a number of topics, including the resilience of children born to teen mothers and of immigrant children.

Edited and launched by Yoko Yamamoto & Deborah Johnson

SSHD Diversity Science Initiative & Publicity Committee

October 2020 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Denis Gerstorf

Taking a closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Denis Gerstorf, a professor of Psychology at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I always knew that I wanted to do “something with psychology” but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then in one of the first lectures on developmental psychology some scatterplots of older adults were shown: On the left, those for performance on cognitive functioning and on the right, those for well-being. The cross-sectional age gradients, of course, vastly differed, but what the graphs had in common was the spread of individuals across the entire range of both scales. What a picture! It changed my way of thinking. And of course, I wanted to understand HOW COME? I still vividly remember it. How could this heterogeneity be better understood? By the interplay of more normative processes such as primary aging, secondary aging (morbidities), and tertiary aging (mortality), one of the nomenclatures back then? How is this interplay shaped by the contexts people live, such as their spouse and how he or she is doing? I am still intrigued by these questions. The individuality of age and aging is simply fascinating!

2. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

I received doctoral training in lifespan theory at the Max Planck in Berlin from Paul Baltes and Jacqui Smith and post-doctoral training in lifespan methodology at the University of Virginia from John Nesselroade. Out of many formative experiences, two stand out. First is the comprehensive training integrating conceptual thinking and a profound foundation in developmental and aging theory and skills and competence in quantitative methods. This broad foundation made my peers and me realize the importance of aligning theory, data, and methods as best as possible. Even now, almost 15 years after Paul died, I find myself often wondering and brainstorming with my collaborators how to apply and adapt recent advances in longitudinal methods to articulate, operationally define, and test predominant and often long-standing notions of developmental and aging inquiry more precisely than in previous research. Such a process, in turn, prompts the need for further refinement of these conceptual perspectives.

Second is how to think about developmental and aging sciences. Interdisciplinarity, lifespan orientation, and institution-building are the three key concepts our mentors have instilled in us and that we try to actively bring to life. I would like to provide just one example. To test questions about the role of historical change in adult development and aging, we need data sets – and each of these data sets took an entire (academic) lifetime of many different scholars to collect. In our field, we are now in a position to reap the benefits of these kinds of data. We are thus, deeply indebted to the foresight of scholars like Paul Baltes, Jack Block, Dorly Deeg, Ravenna Helson, Richard Suzman, Warner Schaie, and many others who helped to position us in this fortunate situation. We can harvest fruits from the seeds these scholars planted and have nurtured over many decades. I started as a student assistant in the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) co-founded by Paul Baltes in the late 1980s, and used a tiny portion of these data for my diploma thesis and dissertation studies. It is an interesting turn in history that I feel extremely grateful for and also obligated as well as committed to serve as a chairperson of the Berlin Aging Study II to walk in the footsteps of and expand upon what we have learned in the original BASE.

3. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief. What might be the cultural, inclusion or global significance of your work?

Old age is getting younger! The literature on the role of historical change for adult development and aging (to which my coworkers and I have contributed) provides a pretty consistent picture –– at least in Western Europe and North America –– that people in their 60s and 70s today do in part substantially better on a myriad of behavioral measures and in their own perceptions than their age peers several decades ago. For example, 75-year-olds nowadays are cognitively fitter and happier than 75-year-olds 20 years ago. They also report, on average, feeling less lonely and perceiving their lives to be determined less by powerful others. This has tremendous societal implications such that, for example, the needs of older adults today are presumably different, let alone conceptual implication about the malleability and probably even opportunities to optimize adult development and aging. At the same time, we know little about how this success story could be generalized to non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) countries. We also know that patterns of historical change appear to be considerably less favorable for midlife and for very old age, at least in countries like the US. So it stands to reason that the pattern we see today is not necessarily the pattern that we may see tomorrow.

4. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be? How would it advance the field?

Bring lifespan to life! I was fortunate to have gotten my first faculty position in HDFS at Pennsylvania State University – an entire department full of lifespan scholars who study questions of development from the cradle (if not neonatal) to the grave. Despite my lifespan orientation and training, I have exclusively examined older adults, admittedly in recent years also middle-aged adults. Still, young adults are used only as a comparison group, and people younger than that are not considered. I have the impression that I am not the only one who is caught in that trap. This is a pity because there is so much scholars interested in adult development and aging can learn from the study of children and adolescents, their paradigms and insights, to name just two. Vice versa, there is a lot that we can bring to the table to better understand questions about the how and the why of what we see in the first 20 years will remain stable or change in the remaining 40, 50, or even 60 years. It is thus great to see initiatives such as those by the Michigan group geared toward that end. But many more steps are needed to move from a state of friendly and peaceful co-existence to real collaboration.

5. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing

“Don’t aspire to be a big fish in a small pond, but aim for becoming a tiny fish in a big pond” – what does that mean? The ONE key constituent of my work is to collaborate with others (who are often much smarter than me). Except for my dissertation, I do not have a single solo-authored paper. I wholeheartedly believe that this circumstance will not change. What a blessing! The active and critically-constructive exchange of ideas and perspectives and the contribution of complementary skills and sets of expertise is what brings projects (and me) to life and to sparkle. Over and above numerous other collaborations which I cherish and have considerably benefitted from over the past 20 years, I am particularly thankful for the projects conducted with Christiane Hoppmann and Nilam Ram. Thank you both for the conjoint ride! Onwards and upwards! (another important mentoring statement – my peer group knows …). These extensive international collaborations are also a great venue to foster the next generation of developmental science scholars by providing opportunities to learn from diverse sets of expertise, perspectives, and skills.

About the researcher

Denis Gerstorf is Professor and Chair of Developmental Psychology at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Denis also holds appointments as Adjunct Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University and as Research Fellow at the German Socio-Economic Panel, one of the longest-running national surveys worldwide. He serves as (Associate/Section) editor for various journals, such as Psychology and Aging and Gerontology. He is Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and considerably enjoys being the chairperson of the interdisciplinary, multi-institutional Berlin Aging Study-II consortium.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity & Diversity Science Initiative Committee

July 2020 Researcher’s Window: Dr. Fatima Varner

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Fatima Varner, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and Faculty Research Associate at the Population Research Center at University of Texas at Austin.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

When I was a teenager, my Dad took a few social science courses. After reading his textbooks, I became interested in the social sciences and enrolled in a short psychology course the summer before my junior year of high school. I loved it so decided to major in psychology in college. I worked with a developmental psychologist, Lynne Baker-Ward, conducting memory research when I was an undergraduate at NC State. I enjoyed conducting research but as I was applying to graduate school I knew I wanted to focus on research that could help Black families support the academic achievement and well-being of their children.

2. Did you have any mentor or a researcher who had substantial influence in your path or work?

My graduate advisor at Northwestern, Jelani Mandara, was very influential. He was always very honest but caring as a mentor and increased my interest in examining how the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status influenced African American parents and adolescents. Completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context at University of Michigan also was a key point of my trajectory as a scholar. It was an honor to have the opportunity to work with several of the nation’s premier psychologists and educational researchers researching Black youth including Stephanie Rowley, Robert Sellers, Tabbye Chavous, Robert Jagers, and Carla O’Connor. I was impressed with their focus on mentoring scholars who are conducting quality research on positive development of Black youth and their goal to develop scholars that will eventually surpass them in excellence. Working with them as well as my postdoctoral fellow colleagues, Noelle Hurd and Sheretta Butler-Barnes, helped me to refine my interests in exploring the role of race-related stressors in family processes.

3. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief. 

My research focuses on the role of race-related stressors in family processes and adolescent development among Black Americans. One major finding was that Black parents’ concerns or fears about their adolescents experiencing racial discrimination in the future were related to lower academic and behavioral expectations (Varner & Mandara, 2013).  In addition, the combination of parents’ and adolescents’ racial discrimination experiences, as well as child characteristics such as gender, can shape parenting in Black families (Varner et al., 2020). Parents of boys were more reactive to their children’s racial discrimination experiences when the parents had fewer experiences with racial discrimination. The next step for this research is to understand the mechanisms by which these changes in parenting occur. This work is important because focusing solely on an individual’s personal racial discrimination experiences tends to underestimate the impact of race-related stressors in their lives. Others’ racial experiences can influence individual well-being and our individual experiences in a racially stratified society influence interactions with family members, friends, and others. For example, the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd reverberate across our society and have implications for the conversations, interactions, cognitions, emotions, and health outcomes of Black parents and children.

I am also currently conducting a meta-analysis with Aprile Benner and Tasha Beretvas examining the role of school-based marginalization in the development of academic achievement and social-behavioral competencies of school-aged children. The goals are to understand the mechanisms by which different types of marginalization are linked to academic outcomes and whether the strength of the associations differs by social position (e.g., race, ethnicity, sexual minority status, gender, etc) and developmental timing. This work could eventually inform school policies and practices.

4. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be? How would it advance the field?

I would wish for more support for applied research with underrepresented populations. This work can take longer and underrepresented populations often can be more difficult to access. Yet, this work is important for our society, especially as it diversifies. The less that research on underrepresented populations is seen as specialized but is valued as integral to the advancement of our society and field, the more we can broaden our knowledge of developmental processes and develop effective interventions.

5. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

“We must desire to see people rising in life, rather than looking for ways to contribute to their fall.” ― Bamigboye Olurotimi

About the researcher

Dr. Fatima Varner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and Faculty Research Associate at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She is on the editorial board at Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Her program of research examines the role of race-related stressors in family processes, adolescent development, and health among Black Americans. She is also conducting research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences on the links between school-based marginalization and students’ academic achievement and social behavioral competencies. She earned her B.A. in Psychology at North Carolina State University, her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan at the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto, SSHD Publicity Committee

Webinar: Modeling Cognitive Aging in Context (Recording Available)

Modeling Cognitive Aging in Context, from June 30, 2020.

Recording available on the RHD Webinars page.

The webinar disseminates interdisciplinary work resulting from the first annual Summer Data Immersion program hosted by the Michigan Center for Contextual Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease (MCCFAD) in June 2019. Together, the five studies provide a rigorous examination of lifespan contextual factors that shape adult cognitive development, with a particular emphasis on racial/ethnic disparities in cognitive aging. Context is defined broadly in terms of geographic residence, socioeconomic conditions, social network characteristics, and the spousal/partner relationship. Findings have important implications for prevention and intervention strategies to reduce the global burden of age-related cognitive impairment. 

Speakers: 

Kimson E. Johnson(University of Michigan)

Kasim Ortiz(University of New Mexico)

DeAnnah R. Byrd (Wayne State University)

Benjamin Katz (Virginia Tech University)

Amanda Leggett (University of Michigan)  

Moderator: 
Jennifer Brown Urban, Montclair State University

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Those who are interested in reading the complete published articles can find them in the upcoming issue of Research in Human Development, 17(1).