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Our Team


Kate Zinsser, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Kate Zinsser is an Associate Professor of Psychology. She received her B.A. from Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts and her Ph.D. from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She currently teaches in the Community & Prevention Research doctoral training program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Zinsser’s research focuses on the quality of early childhood environments, especially the ways by which adults promote young children’s social and emotional competence and well-being. Her work examines early childhood teacher-child interactions, classroom processes, instruction quality and emotion socialization practices that promote children’s social success, positive development, and achievement. She is especially interested in studying systems and policies that impact young children’s learning (e.g., recent preschool expulsion legislation, child care providers’ workplace experiences and well-being, and equity and inclusion in quality care). She is a former post-doctoral fellow of the National Academy of Education, former Associate Editor of Early Education & Development, and was named a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Institute for Education Sciences, the Spencer Foundation, and the Society for Community Research & Action. Dr. Zinsser has also consulted with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), and the PBS Kids Network.


When not in the lab, Dr. Zinsser enjoys spending time with her family cooking, hiking, and exploring Chicago.

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Joanna Skourletos, M.S.Ed.

Project and Data Coordinator

Joanna is a doctoral student in the hybrid Child Development program between Loyola University and Erikson Institute. She is interested in the role that early childhood administrators play in influencing organizational climate and teacher psychological well-being. ​ She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Dominican University. Before coming to UIC, Joanna worked  on Erikson Institute's Early Math Collaborative. Her interest in the field stems from her work as a Head Start teacher and administrator. During her spare time, Joanna enjoys traveling, attending Broadway musicals, spending time with friends and family and taking walks on the lakefront.


Luz Torres, M.Ed.

Graduate Research Assistant

Luz is a doctoral student in Community Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is interested in learning more about education policy, teacher preparation programs, and family involvement in the preschool setting. She is also interested in learning more about teacher resilience, job satisfaction, job attitudes and current emotional regulation strategies in classrooms. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). As an undergraduate student, she majored in psychology and minored in nutrition. Following that, she returned to UIC to obtain her master’s in early childhood education and Professional Educator License (PEL) with special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsements. During her spare time, Luz enjoys cooking, running outdoors, encouraging others and reading on personal development.


Elyse Shenberger, M.A.

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Elyse is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests focus on early childhood development and preschool expulsion. She is passionate about translating the science of behavior change to inform practice and support practitioners as they support children’s social-emotional development. Clinically, she conducts therapy with children, adolescents, and families presenting with a variety of emotional, behavioral, and physical health concerns. Before beginning at UIC, she worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Tufts Medical Center and earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Outside of school, Elyse enjoys singing in an a capella group, finding new cafes, and enjoying porch season as long as Chicago will allow.


Qaswa Hussaini

Graduate Research Assistant

Qaswa is a doctoral student in Community Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree from UIC in 2018, with a major in applied psychology and a minor in philosophy. Her research interests center around the relationship between teachers' self-awareness, mindset, and perception of control on the emotional well-being of both teachers themselves and also students. Coming from a family of teachers, Qaswa understands the profound impact that teachers have on their students. Qaswa enjoys watching foreign movies and cheering for the winning soccer team.

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Velisha Jackson

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Velisha is a current Ph.D. student in the Community Prevention and Research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She graduated from the UIC in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in psychology. She transferred to UIC after earning her Associate of Arts at Harold Washington College. She aspires to use research as a tool to help the Black community. She also has a passion for the well-being of marginalized populations and aims to spark change in those communities. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing video games, and reading Facebook comments.


Kay Thursby

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Kay is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Community and Prevention Research Program. Her research interests are related to the role of mentors in Latinx youth education and educational outcomes. She obtained her Bachelor’s from Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame in Psychology. After graduating, she moved to New York City as a Teach for America corps member. While in New York, Kay obtained her Master’s in the Art of Teaching from Relay Graduate School of Education. In her spare time, Kay enjoys getting to the orange and red zones at Orangetheory, walking her dog, and cooking with her family and friends.

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John Borrero, M.Ed.

Graduate Student Research Assistant

John Borrero is the Executive Director of the Collaboration for Early Childhood in Oak Park, Illinois.  At the foundation of his 30-year career has been the desire to impact the lives of young children and their families.  John came to the Collaboration from the American Academy of Pediatrics, culminating more than a decade of grant-based leadership work, serving children and families on behalf of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Head Start and the U.S. Maternal Child Health Bureau.

John is also proud to have held early childhood adjunct faculty positions at several institutions, most recently at New York University and Bank Street College of Education in New York City, where he has delivered instruction in child development, curriculum design, early literacy, early childhood special needs and equity issues in early childhood.

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Maya Chan Morales

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Maya Chan Morales is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a recipient of the Access to Excellence Fellowship, as well as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program (NSF-GRFP). Maya graduated from UC Berkeley in 2018 with a BA in Psychology and Anthropology, and before starting at UIC, was a clinical research coordinator at the Child Brain and Behavior Lab at Stanford, a research assistant at UCSF Benioff Children's Physicians (CHO), and a research assistant at the Stress and Development Lab at Harvard University. Her primary research interests are in early life stress, trauma, and adversity in the foster care system, and how these environmental factors can impact a child's neurological and behavioral development, and more specifically, contribute to mental health risks in children and adolescents. In her spare time, Maya likes to read, sing, write poetry, climb, and explore the outdoors! 


Kayla Scanlan, B.S.

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow

Kayla graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2019 with a B.S. in Psychology and Human Services (Mental Health Focus). At SETL, Kayla assists as a coder for ALP and helps the project coordinator with updating the website. Outside of the lab, she works in data and operations at a non-profit. Kayla's goal is to obtain her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology, where her research interests lies in child psychopathology and cultural psychology, and the impact it has on the growth and development of children. Kayla is also interested in learning more about how SEL impacts children as well. In her free time, she enjoys tending to all of her plants, eating all sorts of food, and traveling to new places.

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Sarosh Meghani, B.S.

Post-Baccalaureate Fellow

Sarosh is a DePaul University graduate with an Early Childhood Education major and Psychology minor. Currently, she is a teacher working in an elementary education setting. Her interests include examining ways in which teachers influence the social emotional development of their students through the implementation of SEL lessons and restorative practices. Additionally, she is interested in how a teacher’s ability to self-regulate can impact the development of self-regulation skills in their students. In her spare time, Sarosh likes to read, paint, and spend time with her family and friends.

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Kareena Shah

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Kareena is an undergraduate student who is majoring in Urban Education and minoring in Psychology. Over the summer, she works as a teacher's assistant for children ranging from 15 months to 6 years old over the summer at a Montessori.  Kareena is ambitious and self-determined in different ways of her life. She is very keen to see how to apply the various techniques in the lab such as how to form interpersonal relationships with both her students and their families. As a first-year, she hopes to implement the things she learns in her future classroom. She knows that each individual is different and that one size does not necessarily fit all. Beyond her research interests, she is found reading, writing, hanging out with family, or getting a meal with a friend.

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Liah Watt

Graduate Research Assistant

Liah is a master's student in Public Health (Maternal and Child Health) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in 2019 with a major in neuroscience and a minor in women's and gender studies. For the past three semesters she has taught undergraduate microbiology labs as a TA, and has previously carried out research with Dr. Arden Handler on COVID and pregnancy. She is interested in early childhood education and education policy and the way that educational experiences can shape child development and life course outcomes. When she's not teaching or doing work, she spends her time with her friends, her two cats, and her family.

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Joanna Paul

Graduate Research Assistant

Joanna is a masters student in the MPH/MSW dual degree program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She graduated from Wesleyan University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. She is interested in preventing trauma and early adversity, including preschool expulsion, and working to ensure that children have access to high-quality early care and education environments. She believes that all young children deserve safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. In her free time, Joanna enjoys going for long walks and runs, going to the beach, dancing, and spending time with friends.

Want to Join the Team?

Research Opportunities

UIC Undergraduate Students

If you enjoy spending time with children, have a strong work ethic, and are in good academic standing, think about joining our energetic team.



Prospective Graduate Students

Email Dr. Zinsser for more information about the UIC Ph.D. program. Students with interests in applications of child clinical psychology in educational or family settings are especially encouraged to apply. 

Lab Alumni

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Lee Schindler
Cyreena McBride
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