Category Archives: Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight: Russell Babcock

Throughout the school year, our Outreach Team highlights alumni of Eliot-Pearson who are excelling in their professional careers post-Tufts while continuing to maintain and spread the department’s mission.

This month, Outreach Coordinator Libby Hunt interviewed former Master’s student Russell Babcock about his time at E-P, his career trajectory, and his current role as the Head of Talent Development at StepStone Group in NYC.

Name: Russell Babcock

Graduation Year: 1995

Program/Track: Master’s Program; Applied track

Academic Advisor: Professor Charna Levine


LH: What did you do for your internship on the Applied track?

RB: I completed my community field placement and internship at an early childcare center in Cambridge. My responsibilities included assisting the Director with the day-to-day operations and working with the teachers to provide a safe, engaging, and welcoming environment for all children and families. I also utilized my child study knowledge and experience to collaborate with the teachers to plan lessons and design curriculum, set up learning /dramatic play areas, and help them to recognize teachable moments.

LH: What was your favorite course at E-P?

RB: This is a difficult question, one akin to asking a parent, “Which child is your favorite?” While my favorite course was the Seminar in Early Education, taught by Professor Sylvia Feinburg, other courses that I especially enjoyed and learned a great deal were: Culture and Learning: Issues for Multicultural Education taught by Professor Jayanthi Mistry & Advanced Personal and Social Development taught by Professor George Scarlett.

LH: How did your time at E-P influence your personal growth and the trajectory of your career?

RB: Immensely. I started my graduate studies 4 years after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, and working at an amazing non-public school in Oakland, CA, Lincoln Child Center.

My two memorable years at Tufts, which included incredible learning experiences as a GTA in Tufts Educational Day Care Center (TEDCC), have strengthened my appreciation for the importance of a high quality, early childhood education. My time at E-P increased my awareness of the use of collaborative, multidisciplinary approaches to understand and address inequities in schools and communicates as well as the importance of technology to help make learning more fun, inspiring, and meaningful.

The ability to integrate coursework from E-P and what I have learned through various certification programs has allowed me to have a non-traditional, interesting, and fun career path. My diverse skill set and ability to utilize what I learned in my psychology and applied child development courses has provided me with the opportunity to work in cities across and outside of the US, including Athens, Dublin, London, San Diego, and Tokyo.

My career post E-P includes working in the Education, Pharma, Insurance, and Finance industries. I have worked in small, private companies and well as large, global companies. One constant in my career trajectory is applying what I learned at E-P, whether during my time in the classroom learning alongside my fellow students, meeting with professors and TAs during office hours, observing children and teachers at the Children’s School, or working alongside Master teachers at TEDCC.

My ability to and appreciation for the uniqueness of every child and adult helped me to obtain my latest job. Interestingly, one of the firm’s founders shared that he was especially intrigued by my M.A. in Applied Child Development from Tufts during my interview.

LH: What are you currently doing?

RB: I am currently the Head of Talent Development at StepStone Group in NYC, a global private markets firm that provides customized investment and advisory solutions to many of the most sophisticated investors in the world. My mission is to cultivate a culture of creative, curious, collaborative, and continuous learners across 13 countries and 19 locations.

I am responsible for the firm’s global learning strategy and am leading an L&D Council to determine how to best develop the competencies needed (e.g., creative problem solving, growth mindset, leadership, teamwork) today and in the near future. Another key responsibility is to upskill and reskill our people as quickly and effectively as possible, utilizing technology, relevant and engaging content, and multiple training modalities.

I, as many people have during the global pandemic, am actively involved with providing our employees with COVID-19 specific resources. These include virtual trainings and other information from the perspectives of Work, Family/Roommates, and Well-Being. I am currently collaborating with Professor Marina Bers to deliver a webinar to StepStone families with young children. Professor Bers will provide the families with helpful resources to support their child’s development and enhance their virtual learning experiences.

I am also active in my firm’s global D&I efforts, which includes leading focus groups and collaborating with my HR colleagues to improve how we source, interview, hire, and develop our diverse employees.

LH: In what ways do you use your degree from Eliot-Pearson in your current work?

RB: What do all adults have in common? At sometime in their lives they were children and went through various stages (e.g., cognitive, social and emotional) of childhood. The pedagogy that I learned at E-P is easily transferable to working with and teaching adults. I have drawn upon the teachings and applied experience opportunities from E-P as an IT Business Analyst and Project Manager, L&D Consultant and Supervisor, and now as the Head of Talent Development at a successful, global firm.

I use my degree every day, whether I am working directly with children and their families in extracurricular activities or indirectly with colleagues who may or may not have children. I regularly draw upon Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Developmental Theory, Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory, and Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory as I integrate sound early childhood practices, such as good interpersonal interactions and assessments, into my learning and development activities.

LH: Do you have any advice or words for current E-P students?

RB: Savor your time at E-P and get to know the amazing faculty, knowledgeable staff, and diverse students. The rich learning experiences, strong relationships and numerous, positive memories will last you a lifetime.

After graduation, give back to E-P by volunteering your time and pledging a monetary gift to support the many wonderful programs and scholarships that E-P offers.

Stay in touch with each other via the E-P alumni listserv, Tufts Alumni Association, Jumbo Career Network, LinkedIn, et cetera.

Continue to, in whatever career path you choose and wherever life takes you, make a positive impact on the lives of children and families in diverse communities.

Stay safe and well. Go Jumbos!

LH: Anything else you’d like to share?

RB: The best thing about my time at E-P was meeting Kathleen Mohrle, M.A.T. 1996. We recently celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary and are blessed with two wonderful children. Karina Rose is a sophomore and aspiring writer and Ryan Ming is an 8th grader who is interested in political science.

Alumni Spotlight

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 [https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/drumlin-farm/programs-classes-activities/community-preschool], 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 [https://naturalstart.org/], part of the North American Association for Environmental Education [https://naaee.org/], 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 [https://www.massaudubon.org/], 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.

Alumni Spotlight

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. 

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!)