Zewelanji Serpell, Ph.D.

Dr. Zewe Serpell

Associate Professor
Developmental Psychology
808 W Franklin, rm 308
znserpell@vcu.edu
(804) 828-6364

Associate Professor (tenured)


Ph.D. (2002), Howard University


  • Minority Fellow, American Psychological Association
  • Congressional Fellow, American Educational Research Association

Doctoral Program Affiliation

Developmental Psychology


Research Interests

My research focuses on understanding and optimizing the learning experiences of African American students in school. My work considers school a context for cognitive development and, examines sociocultural processes that promote or inhibit learning. I am specifically interested in harnessing advances in cognitive science to develop and test school-based programs that support executive functioning. With funding from the Department of Education, I am exploring whether cognitive activities associated with playing chess improve executive functions, and whether these improvements boost academic performance in elementary school. Supported by the National Science Foundation, I also study the efficacy of computer-based cognitive training, and adaptations to these programs to consider the social, affective, and motivational aspects of student learning. In addition, I have an overarching interest in school mental health, particularly for students with disruptive behavior problems. I have co-edited two seminal books on school mental health: Advances in School-Based Mental Health Interventions (2010) and, the Handbook of Culturally Responsive School Mental Health: Advancing Research, Training, Practice, and Policy (2013).


Select Publications

Serpell, Z. N., & Esposito, A. (2016). Development of executive functions: Implications for educational policy and practice. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/2372732216654718
Hill, O., Serpell, Z., & Faison, M. (2016). The efficacy of the LearningRx cognitive training program: Modality and transfer effects. Journal of Experimental Education, 84, 600- 620. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2015.1065218
Harris, T., Sideris, J., Serpell, Z., Burchinal, P., & Pickett, C. (2014). Domain specific cognitive stimulation and maternal sensitivity as predictors of early academic outcomes among low-income African American preschoolers. The Journal of Negro Education, 83, 15-28. 
Whitehill, J., Serpell, Z. N., Lin, Y., Foster, A., & Movellan, J. (2014). The faces of engagement: Automatic recognition of student engagement from facial expressions. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, 5, 86-98.
Graves, S., & Serpell, Z. (2013). Racial differences in medication use in a national sample of children with ADHD enrolled in special education. School Mental Health, 5, 1- 8.

Recent Course

  • Developmental Processes, graduate level

Recent Grants

Exploring the Malleability of Executive Control

Amount: $1,049,094
Role: Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI: Ellefson)
Source: Institute of Education Sciences
Period: 7/2011 – 6/2016
Number: R305A110932 

Broadening Participation Research Grant: Improving Minority Student Mathematics Performance and Persistence in STEM Majors Through Cognitive Training

Amount: $342,795
Role: Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI: Hill)
Source: National Science Foundation
Period: 9/2011 – 8/2014
Number: HRD-1137535

Affect in Socially-Mediated iPad-Based Cognitive Training

Amount: $83,222
Role: Principal Investigator
Source: National Science Foundation
Period: 9/2011 – 8/2016
Number: SMA-1041755


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