Monthly Archives: September 2019

Alumni Spotlight

Amanda Sullivan on Her Path at E-P and Publishing Her First Book

Each month, our Outreach Team highlights an alumnus of Eliot-Pearson who is excelling in their professional career post-Tufts while continuing to maintain and spread the department’s mission.

This month, Outreach Coordinator Nick Woolf interviewed former Master’s and Ph.D. student Amanda Alzena Sullivan, who recently joined Joulez as their Director of Identity and Educational Research. 

She also successfully published a new book, titled: Breaking the STEM Stereotype: Reaching Girls in Early Childhood) that builds on her dissertation to explore the various social, cultural and psychological reasons behind the persistent gender disparity between men and women in STEM fields.

Who: Amanda Alzena Sullivan

Programs Completed at Eliot-Pearson:

  • Applied Master’s in Child Study & Human Development (2012)
  • Ph.D. in Child Study & Human Development (2016)

Nick: What skills did you gain and how did you grow (personally and professionally) from your time as a graduate student at Eliot-Pearson?

Amanda: I gained so many personal and professional skills during my time studying at Eliot-Pearson. In terms of research skills, I learned qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods. I got practice giving interviews, developing surveys, administering assessments to children, and even developing my own assessments and protocols. I learned about writing and publishing my work in peer-reviewed journals. I also gained a lot of technical skills working with Prof. Marina Bers in the DevTech Research Group. I learned about coding, website editing, video editing, soldering, and assembling robots — so many valuable technical abilities that I certainly didn’t expect to get in a child development program! 

On a personal level, I learned to stay focused and persevere towards long-term goals. From my mentor Prof. Bers I learned to have confidence in myself and my opinions. To speak about my work and ideas with pride and to always value the assets I bring to a team. I entered EP feeling under-qualified and frankly, scared to be there and scared to speak my mind. I think the biggest way Prof. Bers and the EP community supported me personally was to help me gain self-confidence and leadership skills. 

Nick: What types of research and/or applied work were you involved with at E-P?

Amanda: I was involved with a variety of projects at the DevTech Research Group, but the biggest project I was involved in was the development of the KIBO Robotics Kit (now commercially available through KinderLab Robotics).  We created KIBO to provide young children (ages 4-7) with a hands-on introduction to technology, engineering, and computer science concepts without any screen-time involved.  Children build their robots using motors, wheels, sensors, and outputs. They decorate with craft materials, and program their robot’s actions using wooden programming blocks. Throughout my work on KIBO and other technologies at DevTech, my personal research has always looked at gender and robotics and designing tech that would be appealing to girls and possibly boost girls’ interest, confidence, and competence in engineering and computer science – two fields where women are drastically underrepresented. 

During my time at EP, I also honed my teaching practice through teaching robotics & coding in many public and private schools in the greater Boston area including the Arthur D. Healey School, the Jewish Community Day School, Rashi, and the East Boston Early Education Center. One of my most wonderful experiences as a grad student was helping Prof. Bers lead a spring-break service trip of 30 Tufts undergrads and grad students to teach robotics at PS-185 (now called the Discovery & Design Magnet School) in Harlem, NYC.  

Beyond that, I also got the amazing opportunity to teach undergraduate level courses through the Tufts Experimental College during my time at EP including: Technology, Apps, and Games for Children and Human Development in the Digital Age. 

Nick: What was the genesis of your new book?

Amanda: The inspiration for my book Breaking the STEM Stereotype comes from my own life battling stereotypes based on my socioeconomic status, gender, appearance, and more. When it came to STEM, I never felt confident in my abilities growing up. I was never exposed to any female engineers or scientists. And I was never encouraged to pursue any STEM hobbies or activities.  I was told (and believed) things like my brother was better at math because he was a boy. As an adult, in my teaching practice in schools and summer camps, I saw girls today experiencing the same lack of confidence I experienced. I saw greater turnout of boys in all the after-school robotics clubs I taught. And I saw girls who shyly allowed the boys on their teams take over instead of confidently sharing their ideas.   

My dissertation research confirmed for me that young children in early elementary school are developing gender stereotyped notions about STEM, technology, and their interests and abilities. It also confirmed that boys in early elementary school already have more interest in engineering than girls. This was disheartening. But I also learned that there are tools, curricula, teaching approaches, and role-modeling practices that can increase girls’ confidence and interest in technical STEM subjects. Many of which are simple shifts adults can make in the way they talk about and approach STEM.  I wrote this book because I wanted to share my belief that the foundational early childhood years are very important when it comes to piquing girls’ interest in STEM. I wanted to get the word out to parents, teachers, babysitters, camp counselors, etc. on the impact of stereotypes and give them all the easy-to-implement strategies that can give girls an equal opportunity in STEM, beginning in early childhood. 

Nick: When writing the book, what was the most surprising (positive or negative) piece of research that you uncovered regarding the gender disparity in STEM?

Amanda: I came across a lot of surprising things when writing this book. For example, there isn’t a drastic gender disparity in all aspects of STEM. Looking at the biosciences as an example, the proportion of women generally ranges between 51% and 58%, depending on the specific field and degree level. This means women now represent approximately half (or more) of bioscience professionals. In a way, this makes it all the more surprising (and troubling) that women’s representation in the technical STEM fields- the fields that drive innovation we rely on each day in our country- remains so low. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, women still make up just 13% of engineers and 26% of computer scientists.  

I knew that increasing the representation of women in the STEM workforce was important for a variety of reasons. But I was surprised to find research that demonstrated the importance of gender and racial diversity from a “bottom line” perspective. According to research by McKinsey & Company, which examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the United Kingdom, gender and ethnic diversity is linked with increased profits for companies. So there you have it. Diversity is also just good business!

Nick: Do you have any advice, tips or words of wisdom to current E-P students?

Amanda: Stay positive and focused. College and grad school can sometimes feel like time has frozen and you will never get to the end of your program. Don’t forget to celebrate and reward yourself for all the little milestones along the way! (And don’t forget to celebrate all your friends’ milestones too!)

Student Spotlight

Ph.D. Candidate Chevy Cook Brings Mentorship to the Military

Each month, our Outreach Team highlights a current student who is innovating to positively advance the department’s mission while excelling in their studies at Tufts.

This month, Outreach Coordinator Nick Woolf interviewed Ph.D. candidate Chaveso “Chevy” Cook to learn more about his time at E-P and his new non-profit, Military Mentors. He was also recently selected into the Institute for Nonprofit Practice’s Community Fellows Program, a pretigious one-year program that I invests in the next generation of nonprofit and community leaders dedicated to social change.

Who: Chaveso “Chevy” Cook

Graduation Year: 2021

Program: Child Studies and Human Development, Ph.D. Candidate

  • Doctoral focus on character development.
  • Advised by Professor Richard Lerner in the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development.
Chevy Cook, Class of 2021

Nick: Tell me about your path — what brought you to Tufts, and what were you doing prior to enrolling?

Chevy: I grew up in a stereotypical 80s, low SES, black neighborhood around drugs and violence. We knew “the code of the streets”, which meant not trusting authority figures, never snitching, and loyalty to your homeboys. Fast forward to college and I ended up attending the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, which touted very different paradigms; ideas like “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal nor tolerate those who do”, “duty, honor, country”, and character. It changed my life and who I was. I then entered the Army, eventually returning to West Point to teach freshman psychology. After returning to the Army again for a few years I was hired for a senior teaching position, so West Point sent me to get a PhD. I now have 16 years of service in the Army, with about a dozen in the special operations community.

Nick: What types of research and/or applied work are you involved with at E-P?

Chevy: I study character development, specifically the development of cadets at my alma mater, USMA. I am the lead qualitative research assistant for Project Arete (Greek for ‘excellence’), a partnership between Tufts and USMA. It is a multi-year, multi-method, longitudinal study of the character development of West Point cadets. I also apply my studies of human development directly into my nonprofit to better shape our approach.

Nick: What was the genesis for/inspiration behind your new non-profit?

Chevy: The challenge for us is that while our military forces are uniquely trained and equipped, service members are each unique developmentally and continually need to be honed professionally. There services tend to saddle the individual with his/her own self-development, however, and hope that mentor relationships fill any gaps. Unfortunately, most of these relationships lack authenticity and developmental rigor. We find the same challenges across the corporate world. Mentoring just becomes another ask on a long to-do list; more detrimental than beneficial. A mentee of mine recognized this about five years ago and came to me to help him co-found our nonprofit so we could address this challenge. I now am the executive director. 

Nick: What is the non-profit’s mission?

Chevy: Our mission is to redefine the practice of leadership by refining the art and science of mentorship.

Nick: What is your hope in terms of future impact for Military Mentors?

Chevy: Our answer to the challenge I presented above is to stretch the conversation around mentorship to ultimately improve the never-ending developmental cycle involving leaders and leadership. We want to impact the design and implementation of developmental strategies for both leaders (individual knowledge, skills, and abilities) and their leadership (social capacities). The means for doing so currently comes via our blog, social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), various publications, regular community involvement, keynote presentations (three this fall as of late), organizational consultation, and upcoming podcast.  

Nick: Do you have any advice, tips or words of wisdom to current E-P students?

Chevy: Remain present minded but future focused. Strive to live in the moment whether in class or in the lab, in Davis Square or in your dorms/apartments, connecting with the people around you. But don’t forget that you’re going somewhere, and all efforts aren’t true progress (running 50 yards the wrong way on the football field earns the other team points, for example). Enjoy Tufts but know that it can’t last forever. 

Community Blog

E-P Faculty Call for Reinstatement of Deferred Action Policy for Immigrants with Critically Sick Children

Sometimes during these late days of summer, we choose not to pay much attention to the news. School is starting, and everyone’s moving around Labor Day. But we need to pay attention.

The Boston Globe reported on August 27 that the Trump Administration had abruptly changed a longstanding policy of granting medical deferral requests to immigrant  families whose children were receiving treatment in U.S. hospitals to remain in the country legally. Instead, families received letters from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that such requests from undocumented immigrants would no longer protect them from deportation while receiving treatment in the U.S. The letters warned that deportations would begin within 33 days; some families receiving letters found they were already partway through this period. You can read the letter families received on the WBUR website.

As grievous as this policy would be for adults dealing with life-threatening illnesses, it’s perhaps even more extreme in the case of children. As reported in Commonwealth Magazine, there are many children currently receiving treatment for cystic fibrosis, cancer and other serious illnesses at Boston Children’s Hospital and other medical facilities around the country whose families have been informed that they need to leave – and to leave treatments that are not available for their children in their home countries.

News organizations reported on August 30 that many elected officials, medical professionals and advocates for immigrant rights have called for oversight and commenced lawsuits to block this reversal of policy.

As faculty dedicated to promoting research about and practice with children, youth and families that focuses on health, inclusivity and equity, we are strongly committed to our support of families seeking critical care for their children. The health and well-being of children – allchildren – is key not only to our mission at Eliot-Pearson, but, we believe, for the health and well-being of our collective futures. We members of the EP faculty believe the “deferred action” policy should be revisited, and we join with the elected officials, medical providers and advocates who have called for review and oversight.

While the Trump Administration has partially reversed course and agreed to “complete the caseload that was pending” when they abruptly ended the policy in August, we believe the administration must find a permanent solution that is equitable and that enables children to get the care they desperately need, regardless of their country of origin.