Author Archives: Nick Woolf

Student Spotlight: Master’s Candidate Libby Hunt

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 Libby Hunt, who just completed the first year of her Master’s program, to learn more about her experiences at E-P.

Who: Libby Hunt

Graduation Year: 2021

Program: Child Studies and Human Development, M.A. Candidate

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

Libby: My journey to graduate school was a little all over the place. I worked in a number of different fields between undergrad and grad school – I’ve been a server, a paralegal, an office manager, and more. Working in offices wasn’t really feeding my soul, so I started taking night classes in psychology (I was an English major in undergrad). Through those courses I became really taken with early childhood development – I was (and am) particularly interested in the impact of screens on social, emotional, and cognitive development, so I sought out a program that would help me pursue those interests. I was drawn to E-P because it is a development-specific program, and because the department’s mission resonated with my own.  

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

Libby: Throughout my first year at E-P I worked as a research assistant in the DevTech research group. I was fortunate to participate in a few different types of research projects, most relating to the group’s KIBO robotics kits and how they can be implemented in K-2 classrooms. I conducted numerous ethnographic observations and gained experience in data collection. I also helped craft a curriculum for DevTech’s coding app, ScratchJr. In the fall (COVID-19 permitting) I will be interning at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, and starting my thesis research. 

Nick: How would you describe your experience as a Master’s student at E-P so far?

Libby: I feel so thankful that this is the school and the program I ended up in. I have felt so supported by the faculty, who go above and beyond to encourage our interests and help create opportunities for growth. In each course I’ve taken thus far, my foundation of developmental theory has strengthened, my perspective has broadened, and my goals for the future have become more focused. I’m also grateful to be part of a small cohort of excellent individuals who represent a broad array of interests an experiences. Throughout our first year we have learned as much from one another as we did our professors.  

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

Libby: It’s a good idea to look at the faculty page of the website, and seek out the faculty whose research most aligns with your interests, but also be open to talking to everyone. Every professor is willing to meet with you, and everyone has worthwhile advice to offer. Try to get involved in a lab within the department – it will give you research experience and insight on where your passions lie. Attend workshops (Sasha Fleary’s workshop on being a 9-5 academic changed my life) and social events hosted by the department/masters student association. Talk to other students – second-year masters students and PhD students have all been where you are now, and are happy to answer any questions you might have/share their own experiences. Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, take care of yourself and take pride in your work. Grad school is no joke – get sleep, drink water, stay active, and know that you deserve to be here. 

Voices from the Crehan ASD Lab: Community Advisory Board Meeting

This article was authored by Xihan Yang, a member of the Crehan ASD Lab.

On February 27th, 2020, the Crehan Lab hosted a Community Advisory Board Meeting in the curriculum lab. The goal of this annual meeting is to integrate community voices into our autism research through open dialogue. Attendees represented a range of disciplines and programs, including Tufts Student Accessibility Services and the Tufts Academic Resource Center, the Autism Program at Boston Medical Center, occupational therapists, students, and self-advocates. Dr. Crehan described five ongoing studies, a potential future project, and administrative questions, and board members were encouraged to give feedback out loud or in written form after meeting, depending on their comfort level. 

The Looking Study uses eye tracking to understand social cognitive processes in children with ASD and/or ADHD with the goal of understanding how social cognitive abilities manifest as eye movements. The board suggested providing some background information on the characters, such as their social relationships, used in the theory of mind stories and paradigms. The example they provided included creating a story with characters who had a positive or negative relationship. One of the board members also encouraged the lab to expand the participant population and include people without ASD, allowing us to compare patterns relative to diagnostic status. These comparisons could enable us to provide materials or social stories targeting the needs of the autistic population in future work.  Including individuals without ASD can also give a preview for further research studies on individuals’ understanding of different social relationships in various contexts, which would be applicable to a larger population. Other suggestions included combining the lab’s ongoing study in relation to sex education and sexuality questionnaires with the study of theory of mind.

Physical activity for adults with ASD is a new topic that the lab is preparing this year. The board members recommended the lab start with focus groups to figure out the specific activities and exercises that adults with ASD are interested in. Planning of physical activities among the autistic population was also discussed and recommended to be pushed later.

These community stakeholders brought important new perspectives for future research. Personally, I asked questions about conducting sexual education among autistic teenagers in relation to our current project. The board proposed a shorter time span of the curriculum and reminded me that the content need to be succinct and appropriate for the autistic group. In general, this community advisory board meeting not only provided our lab some insights that we previously had not thought of and provided guidance for future research directions, but also gathered input from people who are invested in positive outcomes for individuals with autism. 

The lab intends to hold similar events in the future to strengthen the bond with the autism community and form connections between resources and individuals with ASD. For future events, we want to invite more board members. Other than the current board members, relevant policy makers and special educators can also be potential attendees. The format of the meeting can also be extended to online meetings and even periodic report and communication among board members and research teams. With the cooperation of different groups and incorporation of various views, we expect a brighter future for autism research.

Helping Families in Need: EPCS Graduate Fellows Create Fun Activities For Parents

With schools across the country closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of parents and caregivers are in need of resources and guidance when it comes to continuing the education of their children at home.

Eliot-Pearson Children’s School (EPCS) announced that it will close for two weeks, beginning on 3/16/2020, as a precautionary measure to protect the health and safety of their students, staff, and families. To help the families of their students, all EPCS Graduate Fellows have stepped up to create a series of age-appropriate activities for parents to implement at home with their children!

Click here to access all of the activities!

The Nature Pre-School: The Wonder Of It All

Through crisp Fall air, I follow a line of sixteen children along a leaf-strewn trail.  These children are dressed in waterproof rain pants and boots and are headed to a nearby pond. Along the trail, we visit the stream running behind our school.  After a few rainy weeks, this stream is very full, culminating in a large, deep puddle.  To everyone’s delight, this discovery led to an impromptu exploration of sink and float, as children started tossing in objects that they found along the trail.  “I see it floating!”  “I want to try with a walnut.”  “It (a crab apple)floats!” “It went into the water!  Kaploo!”  

These children are part of a class of preschoolers at Drumlin Farm Community Preschool in Lincoln, MA [], where I’ve been teaching for the past three years.  This school is part of a growing movement of nature preschools across the country.  Natural Start Alliance [], part of the North American Association for Environmental Education [], cites as their foundation the beliefs that “quality education for young children includes regular opportunities to connect with nature and the local environment… [and] that as children learn to care for themselves and others, they also begin to learn to care for the world around them.”  Drumlin Farm is also part of the Mass Audubon network [], which includes nature-preschools as part of their strategic vision for connecting people to nature and advocating for environmental issues.

This stream is only a small part of the sanctuary that these children will explore over the course of the school year.  The children also participate in farm life, with weekly chores in which they care for the animals on the farm.  They help to grow and harvest fruits and vegetables, and we regularly bake and cook, using food produced right on the farm.  This curriculum is created with a goal of giving children meaningful experiences with the natural world around them, as a growing body of research shows that people who have had positive experiences in nature as children go on to be advocates for the environment as adults.

As someone who cares deeply about the environment and worries about the world my own children are growing up in, this last point is a major reason why I feel passionate about the work that I do with my little band of preschoolers.  I am not an engineer with the technological solutions to clean our air or stem the effects of climate change, but I can do my part with this group of muddy children.  They are learning the things that preschoolers should learn – how to set goals, keep themselves safe, negotiate with their friends, and solve problems.  We weave in all of the so-called “Kindergarten readiness” concepts into our curriculum as well – we play with concepts in reading, math, science, and social studies.  But just as importantly, these children are learning to value the world outdoors, and may someday become grown-ups who fight for the environment as well.

For now, we focus our energy on this stream.  We exclaim over how much it has grown or shrunk, we find things to toss into it or pull out of it, we marvel at the sound it makes or the way it smells.  And then we move on down the trail, looking for more things that make us wonder.

Jessie Gildea Trowbridge earned her MA at Eliot-Pearson in 2007 and has been teaching at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Community Preschool for the past three years.  She is also a trainer and course developer for Early Childhood Educators, providing trainings and workshops across the state.

Student Spotlight: Master’s Candidate Emma Weihe

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 second-year Master’s student Emma Weihe to learn more about her time at Tufts and passion for bringing performing arts to children with special needs.

Who: Emma Weihe

Graduation Year: 2020

Program: Child Studies and Human Development, M.A. Candidate

Emma Weihe, Class of 2020

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

Emma: During my time at The Ohio State University, where I went to undergrad, I was involved in the Shakespeare and Autism Project, which utilized a specific type of drama therapy as a way to teach social skills for children on the autism spectrum. I fell in love with the work and wanted to pursue this further, but I didn’t quite know how. I was drawn to Tufts, and specifically EP, because of the program’s flexibility and interdisciplinary nature. I knew I wanted to integrate performing arts and child development, especially with children with special needs, and I knew that there were plenty of resources at Tufts and Boston that would help me figure out what I needed to do.

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

Emma: I worked in Eileen Crehan’s lab over the summer and helped with her research on sex education with autistic adults. As for applied work, I am currently interning with Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD) in their Access to Theatre (ATT) program. This group uses theatre to develop social, communication and self-advocacy skills for young adults with disabilities in the greater Boston area. Additionally, I am currently planning to collaborate with a local high school’s drama club to create a sensory-friendly performance for audience members who may benefit from a more relaxed setting.

Nick: What was the genesis for/inspiration behind your internship this past summer? How has the experience been continuing there during the school year?

Emma: Access to Theatre has two main programs: one in the school year that focuses more on concrete skill-building, and the Summer Institute where participants create a variety show from scratch over the course of two weeks. I had heard of this program at a conference I attended, so they were on my radar, but it wasn’t until I was connected with the people at ATT that I realized that I could get involved. The Summer Institute was a whirlwind two weeks, but in that time, I was able to observe skilled teaching artists and work with wonderful participants as we created our show together. It was important that it was a collaborative experience, because I was able to learn about the disabled experience and forming a positive identity around that label.

Being at ATT in their summer program was quite helpful in transitioning to the weekend programming. I am familiar with the main facilitators, some of the participants, and a number of the activities used in each workshop. This familiarity allows me to stay in the moment and focus on the activities and how the participants engage with them.

Nick: How would you describe your experience as part of Applied Track at E-P so far?

Emma: I love the opportunity to be a part of the applied track. It is so important to bring the real world into academic life. Often, especially as grad students, we can get sucked into bubble of academia that we lose touch with our own experiences or the people we want to help. Interning and creating a capstone rather than a thesis really helps to keep these ideas at the front of my mind as I continue through school.

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

Emma: Go out and explore! Go to conferences. Try projects that might not work. Reach out to faculty at other schools in the area. You’re here to learn, why not use all the opportunities afforded to you?

Alumni Spotlight: Christina Zagarino

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 student Christina Zagarino. A children’s media producer and researcher, Christina has worked in a variety of different roles and industries — from consulting to media to her current position as a User Experience Researcher at Google. 

Read on to learn more about Christina’s path to (and through) EP as well as some advice for current Tufts students!

Nick: What brought you to EP to pursue a graduate degree? What were you doing prior to coming to Tufts?

Christina: I started exploring graduate programs in 2008. I was working in the education department for a kids and family theater and was thinking about ways to bring arts education to a mass audience of kids using media. Mister Rogers has always been my hero, so when I explored his educational background and discovered he studied child development at one point in his career, I began looking for a program that would allow me to study both child development and children’s media. 

I was debating between two different programs, but I ultimately chose Tufts because it would take two+ years. When I talk to young people who want to get a graduate degree, I always urge them to study somewhere that will take at least two years. It gives you the opportunity to dive into the full range of coursework and really explore your area of study and interest. 

I was fortunate to also teach at The Children’s School while completing my graduate work. This really rounded out my experience and allowed me to apply my learnings on a day-to-day basis. I loved the community that I was a part of there and think about my time in the classroom often. It’s inspired so much of my work in media for kids and families. 

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

Christina: I really developed my professional profile as a children’s media maker and researcher at Eliot-Pearson. Working with Julie Dobrow and being so close in proximity to great creators of children’s media in Massachusetts allowed me to understand the industry, both from academic and practical points of view. 

I grew my research skills at Eliot-Pearson. I didn’t know what good research was before I arrived, but I was able to understand and grow my methodology toolbox, generate thoughtful research questions and objectives, audit and communicate the existing research on particular subjects, and understand documentation, especially in classroom settings. 

Personally, I developed relationships that nurtured my head and my heart. I especially loved my time meeting and working with families at The Children’s School. As developmental psychologists, we know the milestones and best practices of childhood, but being a parent is an entirely different ballgame. I got to interact with so many families whose value-systems and circumstances differed from one another. It was amazing to see the commitment in all of those families to give their children the best, and how that manifested itself differently based on their child’s individual needs. 

I think about my education and time with families often now, as a parent myself. I’m learning that sometimes being a parent is just about doing your best. As a full-time working mother, I have had to identify how I can best support my son’s development and not to feel guilty when I need to find others to step in. 

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

Christina: I worked across several research projects during my time at Tufts specifically related to early childhood, children’s media, and arts education. I cut my teeth transcribing interviews for the YouthBEAT research projects. It was hard, but I’m an ace at transcribing real time interviews as a result. I worked on a content analysis and evaluation of the series Arthur with Julie Dobrow and several other students, in partnership with WGBH. This gave me facetime with some of the staff at WGBH and was my first connection to televised content, which was really thrilling. I also supported data collection for other students’ theses. We did that work for one another to help each other out, and I found it really valuable to understand other topics and gain more research experience. 

My big project at Tufts though was producing a series of five short-form episodes of an original series I called Big Top Fitness. The show, intended for kids ages 3-5, was rooted in my previous work in arts education and promoted physical activity among young people using circus arts. I was very lucky to have the financial support of the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship to produce the series. Ultimately, I was still learning about the children’s media landscape and wasn’t savvy enough to get it to air, but through the development of that work I learned a lot and got my foot in the door with people in the industry. 

Timing and context are such a funny thing. I’d do so much differently now if I had the opportunity to re-make Big Top Fitness. I’ve gained more experience, know-how, and have deeper principles on content for kids. When doing any kind of work, I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re still learning every step of the way. I’ve grown and learned so much since my time at Tufts, and I’m lucky I had a sturdy foundation from my education there to do so.

Nick: Can you share a bit about your time as a media producer? Are you still involved with any children’s media initiatives?

Christina: My favorite role in children’s media was working at Speakaboos, a digital library startup that is now part of Learn with Homer. At Speakaboos I was producing mostly short-form interactive literature content for kids ages 2-5. Because I chose to work in a startup environment, I was able to wear a lot of different hats. I created artist contracts, collected and delivered notes for content in development, directed voice over sessions, and identified and planned for the upcoming slate of content. One of the highlights of my time there was working with Dr. Alice Wilder, a leader and pioneer in the field of children’s media research. 

My work in children’s media has taken many turns, which is fairly unconventional. I like to follow my curiosity and engage with work that excites and challenges me. At the core of everything, however, is a commitment to high-quality content and experiences for kids and families. 

I recently launched a small independent skateboard company called Pippi Boards. We feature decks designed exclusively by female artists. If you look back at my career in children’s media, you’ll see that skateboards have played an important role in the content I make. I think they are an amazing tool for kids to develop motor skills, focus, and practice trial and error. It’s important to tell our kids, especially girls, that it’s okay to fall and scrape their knees. That’s the only way they’ll learn to get up and try again. I’ve also really loved working with visual artists to bring the decks to life. Communicating with talented artists to bring a vision to fruition has always been one of the best parts of my children’s media work. It’s fun to see that work translate to a physical product like a skateboard. 

Nick: What brought you to your current role now at Google, and how has that experience been?

Christina: Getting to Google was about being in the right place at the right time and being open to change and opportunity. My husband and I decided to move to California, his home state, in 2014. As a life-long Northeast resident, this was a big adjustment for me. I tried to keep my production job in New York, but bi-coastal life was a drag. My background in child development was a good fit for a role in user experience research that was open at Google at the time. I decided to try it out, and I’m really glad I did. What I love about UX research is the opportunity to speak with people and apply your findings to the creation of real product. I was able to work on some great projects at Google including Family Link and features on the Google Assistant for kids and families. 

Right now, I’ve switched focus to products in the home. I work on projects for Google Nest, and love thinking about how smart homes work. My husband and I have brought a lot of those devices into our own home so I can test things out in real time. The developmental psychologist in me is really interested to see how my son, now 15 months old, evolves in a world with voice assistants. I haven’t heard him say, “Hey Google…” yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. 

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

Take your time, have multiple people proofread your thesis, experiment with your own applied work before you leave the safety of an educational environment, reach out to people who have a career that is what you aspire to, and put in the time and work to create the career path you want. Oh! And be kind to people. 

Q&A with Professor George Scarlett on His New E-Magazine: “Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards”

George Scarlett is a senior faculty member, faculty advisor for the Master’s Student Association, EP Student Affairs Coordinator and Tisch Faculty Fellow.

With expertise in children’s play, spiritual development, and adolescent’s development as ‘earth stewards’, Professor Scarlett recently published the inaugural edition of a new online magazine: Earth Stewards Tomorrow.

Read on to learn more about Professor Scarlett’s background and the genesis of his new publication.

Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards

Professor George Scarlett, Editor of Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards

Nick: What sparked your interest in the topic of children and earth stewardship?

Professor Scarlett: Like most, my interest in earth stewardship came from early experiences of wonder and adventure in the natural world – in my case, in the mountains of New Hampshire where I first experienced awe in the presence of mountains and a paradoxical love for unexpected adversity – electric storms, climbing in the dark, and so forth.  There is nothing like being up-close and in constant, intimate contact with the natural world to come to know and respect nature and care for its strength and beauty.  In short, I, like most, came to care for the natural world by being out there in the natural world in exciting and very satisfying ways.  And because my major vocational/career interest has been in children and their development, it was a match made in heaven for me to take up this topic of children, youth and  their development as earth stewards.

Nick: Why do you feel that supporting children’s development as earth stewards is so important?

Professor Scarlett: There are enduring reasons and more recent reasons for supporting children’s and youth’s development as earth stewards.  The enduring reasons have to do with the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness that comes from being in and caring for the natural world; the more recent reasons have to do with climate change and the need for an “All hands on deck” approach that includes preparing children and youth to be the next generation to take on the problems around healing our planet.

Nick: How has connecting children and youth to nature and to becoming earth stewards changed over the years?

Professor Scarlett: Just focusing on changes in our own country, in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, the talk was about the nature study movement with its concern for introducing children to the wonders and order in the natural world, an order that reflects the ‘hand’ of the divine.  Then, throughout the 20th century, there was a strong emphasis on conserving what had been disappearing under the influence of population growth, industrialization and the widespread use of automobiles and highways that gave access to wilderness.  Today, the conversation is more about simply connecting children and youth to nature and fighting the trend of children and youth being disconnected from nature because of suburbanization, worries about stranger danger, social media, playing indoors with technology, and more.  

Nick: What are commonly held misconceptions with regards to children and earth stewardship?

One common misconception is that the foundation of earth stewardship is children becoming  natural scientists through being taught by adults. The actual foundation is more likely to be children having a great time in nature, experiencing wonder, and having lots of control over what they are doing (building forts, playing games, exploring streams, etc.).  Another common misconception is that earth stewardship today means focusing on reducing carbon emissions and recycling when a more productive focus when serving children and youth may well be that of restoring natural systems and biodiversity – that is, a more eco-restoration approach to supporting the development of earth stewards. 

Nick: Are there particular headlines coming out of the work done on children’s and youth’s development as earth stewards?

The headlines for the past decade have been about today’s children and youth being disconnected from nature, about the need to foster place-based (local) connections between children and nature, and about the incredible youth climate movement taking place around the world.

Nick: What was the genesis for the publication of “Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards”?

While there are excellent websites and programs that support good ways to connect children, youth and nature, the focus of these websites and programs can be so broad as to lose the focus on stewardship, and virtually all the websites and programs adopt a fairly ethnocentric perspective rather than an international perspective.  Furthermore, when discussing climate change, very little is said to foster in children and youth an eco-restoration way of thinking about climate change. The genesis, then, had to do with offering a web magazine that was international in scope with an emphasis on an eco-restoration way of thinking about stewardship. 

Nick: What types of content and/or resources are on this new online magazine and what may be unique or special about its mission and offerings?

Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards offers articles on interesting and important programs and methods found in different parts of the world.  For example, in the inaugural edition, there are articles on programs in China, Africa, and Scotland – as well as in the U.S.. There are also what we call “ideas” articles that help readers understand better what is meant by an eco-restoration paradigm or approach and what is meant by a developmental perspective or approach.  And there are films and ebooks that can be shared with children and youth – as well as reviews of children’s books. Together, the materials provide a special way of thinking about children, youth and earth stewardship, one that is decidedly international, emphasizing eco-restoration, developmental in a particular sense of developmental – all infused with the delights and inspiration coming from an artistic approach to providing visuals and explaining ideas and programs.

Nick: What do you hope the Tomorrow’s Earth Stewards web magazine will contribute to the field and to the movement?

My hope is that the web magazine will contribute not just information but also inspiration for those already involved in supporting children’s and youth’s development as earth stewards – and that it will eventually interest others to do the same.  We are today at a crossroads in how we relate to the natural world and our planet.  We can remain thinking and doing in the same old ways and suffer severe consequences, or we can change and become the caring partners with nature that we were always intended to be or, at least that we were evolved to be.  Survival of the fittest no longer should mean survival of those who can dominate.  We are at last coming to the realization that survival of the fittest means survival of those who can cooperate.  This is a wonderful message coming from a variety of sources, including the natural sciences.  It is also a wonderful message for every child and youth to hear, consider and eventually live by so as to become earth stewards.

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!)

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.