Developmental Doctoral Student Spotlights

Student awards from the Southeastern Psychological Association annual meeting

MAR 20, 2018

brown, deon-thumbDr. Fantasy Lozada

The SHIELD lab directed by Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D., assistant professor of developmental psychology, recently attended the Southeastern Psychological Association's annual meeting, where several graduate and undergraduate students from the lab received awards for presentations on family emotion socialization.

Deon Brown , left, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology program, and Alexandra Merritt, a doctoral student who will enter the developmental program in fall 2018, won first place for the Committee for Equality and Professional Opportunity Student Research Award (including $250 prize) for their oral presentation "Parental Emotion Socialization, Racial Socialization and Report of Children’s Emotion Regulation." This presentation explored interactions between African American mothers' responses to children's emotions, their behavioral racial socialization messages, and child gender to predict their children's emotion regulation and emotion lability.

Two undergraduate students in the lab, Raven Ross and Darian White, won a Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Award (including $400 prize) for their poster presentation "The Relationship Between Maternal Emotional Expressiveness and Child Emotion Recognition." This presentation explored correlations between African American and European American mothers' self-expression in the familial context and their children's emotion recognition of basic emotions.

Of her students' stellar performances, Lozada said, "I am so proud of my students! Their presentations were thorough, well-organized and professional. This was Deon and Alex's first oral presentation at a regional conference and this was Darian's first poster presentation ever. I certainly believe this is only the beginning of things to come for these talented students."


APA funds student research


Three doctoral students have been awarded a 2017 American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award for $1,000 to assist with research costs. 
  • Sarah Braun, a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program, is studying an interprofessional mindfulness-based intervention tailored to the specific stressors of healthcare providers on psychological and cognitive functioning and perceived caregiving self-efficacy with the potential to improve trainee well-being, patient safety and ultimately the overall functioning of the healthcare system.
  • Melissa Dvorsky, a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program, has used her dissertation as a springboard for developing her program of research focused on examining promotive and protective mechanisms during key developmental transitions and particularly for youth and adolescents with ADHD. With a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Health Youth, she followed 150 students from high school through their first year of college to examine predictors of functional outcomes include alcohol and substance use and academic functioning. Specifically, she is examining the role of promotive and protective factors such as social support, friendship quality and academic engagement.
  • Tennisha Riley, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology program, is considering whether emotion expression aids in the internal physiological regulation of emotion. In addition, she assesses the extent to which emotion expression and emotion regulation influence African American adolescents' decision-making in the context of their peers. African American youth are often understudied in the emotion literature, and so this study helps shed light on how emotions promote their engagement in both risk-related and prosocial behaviors.

Greenlee named 2017 Weatherstone fellow for Autism Speaks


Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization committed to autism research, advocacy and awareness, has named Jessie Greenlee, a student in the developmental psychology doctoral program, a 2017 Weatherstone predoctoral fellow. This competitive fellowship will support Greenlee's training and dissertation research for the next two years. Greenlee's cohort includes seven other predoctoral scholars who will conduct autism-related research under the mentorship of leading scientists. Greenlee's mentor is her VCU faculty adviser Marcia Winter, Ph.D., assistant professor of developmental psychology. 

Greenlee entered the developmental psychology doctoral program at VCU in 2014 after receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology from Kenyon College. Her research focuses on families of children with a chronic illness or disability. More specifically, she is interested in both the positive and negative aspects of caring for a child with a disability and how culture frames the ways in which families cope with chronic illness.

According to the award announcement, her research project "Individual, Family, and Peer Factors and the Mental Health of Adolescents with ASD" will "assess how social skills, family cohesion, peer interaction and related factors combine to influence the mental well-being of adolescents affected by autism." 

Riley receives SRCD Dissertation Funding Award


The Society for Research in Child Development has awarded Tennisha Riley, a doctoral student in the developmental psychology doctoral program, a $2,000 Dissertation Funding Award. The Dissertation Award Committee and the Student and Early Career Council of SRCD noted that a number of high quality applications were submitted this year. Riley's proposal was one of ten selected for an award.

The title of Riley's dissertation is "Adolescent Emotion Expression, Emotion Regulation, and Decision-Making in Social Context." Her study specifically examines whether emotion expression aids in the internal physiological regulation of emotion. In addition, her dissertation study will assess the extent to which emotion expression and emotion regulation influences African American adolescents’ decision-making in the presence of a peer. Her focus is on African American adolescents because they are often understudied in the emotion literature, and there is little known about their management of emotions across in-group and out-group social contexts.

Green, Walker receive SREB Doctoral Scholars Program Institutional Awards


Cathrin Green, left, an incoming student in the clinical doctoral program, and Chloe Walker, an incoming student in the developmental doctoral concentration, have each received a Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholars Program Institutional Award. This award provides support service to underrepresented minority students seeking their Ph.D. who plan to become college or university professors. Green will work with Joshua Langberg, Ph.D., as her faculty adviser beginning this fall and Walker will work with Chelsea Derlan, Ph.D.

From the SREB website:

"More than one-third of America’s college students are people of color. But racial and ethnic minorities make up only small fractions of college faculty. Nationwide, about 5 percent of faculty are African-American, about 3 percent are Hispanic and about 1 percent are Native American. The SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program is working to change that."

riley-thumbTennisha Riley talks about her experiences in the developmental program

Tennisha Riley, one of the star students in the developmental psychology doctoral program, works with faculty mentor Zewelanji Serpell, Ph.D. Riley received her bachelor's degree in psychology at Florida State University and her master's degree in clinical and counseling psychology (marriage and family therapy) at LaSalle University. She completed her master's degree in developmental psychology at VCU as part of the developmental doctoral program.  

What are your research interests?

I am primarily interested in examining the social context of adolescents. My research interests take an integrative affective-cognitive-social approach to examining adolescent development. Specifically, I am interested in how adolescents use expression of emotion, and the regulation of emotion in making decisions when they are with their friends. More recently I have become interested in understanding how culture may play a role in the social and emotional development of African American adolescents.

What would you tell prospective students about VCU's developmental psychology program?

I really enjoy the personalization of the developmental program. The faculty make every attempt to provide experiences that align with your career and research goals, yet push you toward challenges. Every course I have taken, every award and grant I have applied for, every manuscript written and every service opportunity have been supported by the faculty in the program in a way that aligns with my specific goals.

Tell us about the Black Graduate Student Association and your current role in the organization.

I currently serve as the president of the Black Graduate Student Association on campus. The National Black Graduate Student Association was established more than 20 years ago with affiliations on campuses across the U.S. VCU had an established BGSA affiliation at one time, so Ashley Hill, a doctoral student in the counseling psychology doctoral program, and I decided that after more than five years of inactivity, it was time for redevelopment. We met with students in VCU's interdisciplinary doctoral program in Media, Art and Text and began work to create a space in the VCU community for black graduate students to meet and work collaboratively toward their academic and personal goals. We have been overwhelmed by the support from our BGSA family and allies who have made the commitment to work toward inclusivity and diversity both in academia and the larger community.

Our initiatives align with organization's national goal and mission: The BGSA at VCU is an inclusive organization that seeks to provide a support and collaborative environment for students of African descent. We also aim to increase the university’s awareness and responsiveness to the professional and academic needs of black graduate and professional students.

What are some other highlights from your graduate studies at VCU you'd like to share?

During my graduate studies I have had the pleasure of working on a collaborative research project at the University of Cambridge, and I also visited Zambia for research and service-learning over two summers. I look forward to continuing research collaborations and partnerships with international scholars in the future.