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.

Tito Ponce

Project Coordinator

Tito currently serves as the Project Coordinator for the UIC SETL lab. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from UIC in 2017 with a major in applied psychology and minors in Spanish and public policy. His research interests broadly lie at the intersection of cognitive science and design; specifically, how physical and experiential design can influence learning, well-being, and social policy. When he’s not trouble shooting a technical issue or beautifying a PowerPoint, Tito enjoys jogging along the lake or drinking a glass of wine while testing out a new Korean sheet mask.

Callie Silver, M.A.

Graduate Research Assistant

Callie is a doctoral student in Community Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests are focused on understanding and enhancing various facets of early childhood education in attempts to improve future child and family outcomes, especially in low-income and disadvantaged populations. More broadly, she is interested in studying the long-term benefits of quality education and social and emotional learning interventions to inform policy. She graduated from Cornell University with a major in human development and minors in law and society, policy analysis and management, and inequality studies.

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.

Christen Park, M.A.

Graduate Research Assistant

Christen is a doctoral student in Community Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her broad research interests are studying the contextual and relational influences of children and youth development to advocate for the well-being of children, their families, and the communities they grow up in. Currently, she is interested in asking the question of what practitioners do well with children that create real and lasting change. Before coming to UIC, she worked at the Erikson Institute with the New Schools Project. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Miami University of Ohio in psychology and a master’s degree in child development from the Erikson Institute.

Qaswa Hussaini

Graduate Research Assistant

Qaswa is a first-year 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.

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.

Elyse Shenberger, M.A.

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Elyse is a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests center around early childhood risk factors for psychopathology, especially how SEL can improve childhood well-being. 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.  

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.

Danalyn Garcia

Graduate Student Research Assistant

Danalyn is a first-year master's student in Special Education at The University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Illinois at Chicago in 2020 with a major in psychology and a double minor in disability and human development and public policy. She currently works as a Registered Behavior Technician and intends to obtain her Professional Educator License with her masters. She is interested in continuing her knowledge in SEL in early childhood and ways to effectively apply and promote it in her work with kids with disabilities in therapy settings and classrooms. She is additionally interested in the implications of SEL teaching and mental health in kids who are neurodiverse. Her free time is spent with her friends, family, and her 4 year old black pitbull mix pup!

Amber Singh

Post-Baccalaureate Research Assistant

Amber is a recent UIC graduate with a Psychology major and Biology minor. Currently, she is working as a TA with the Psychology department at UIC. Her interests include teacher demographics and the influence it has on SEL in preschool settings. She is also interested in the ways schools can incorporate SEL lesson plans to promote growth in children of all ages. In her spare time, Amber likes to ride her bike, read, and spend time with family and friends.

Amy Terry

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Amy is a third-year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in Psychology with a minor in sociology. After graduating, she intends to get her master’s degree in developmental psychology in order to become a pediatric developmental psychologist. She is interested in the mental health of children and wants to work with children with developmental disabilities. When not busy with classes, research or work, she enjoys watching scary movies with friends and reading books.

Marriah Williams

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Marriah is a third-year psychology student at UIC. She is interested in the ways that adults impact childhood development, particularly how we cultivate leaders and active members of society. Another interest of hers is how various sources of information received by children impact their well-being and decision making processes throughout life, especially in a time that is increasingly technologically centered. She believes that this is crucial to building a better world that can be continually improved by future generations. Outside of the lab Marriah loves to explore new places and try new food.

Kareena Shah

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Kareena is a second-year 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.

Cyreena McBride

Undergraduate Research Intern

Cyreena is a fourth-year student at the University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in Applied Psychology. After graduating, she plans to go to graduate school for School Counseling where she would like to become an academic advisor at a university. She is interested in how college environments impact the mental health of college students and would like to help students maintain their mental well-being while ensuring their success in their academic and career pursuits. In her spare time, she likes to exercise, paint, and spend time with her family.

Lee Schindler

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Lee is a second-year student on a three-year track, majoring in applied psychology and minoring in criminology. Having worked so extensively with youth populations in the past, she has a special interest in how role modeling and justice-based curricula can affect social-emotional learning in children and the long-lasting effects this can have. She aspires to work as a youth counselor in the future, leading younger generations to realize the impact that they can have in their modern-day struggles for equality and the ending of all kinds of oppression. When she's not in the lab, working a side job, or studying up on some new interests, Lee likes to occupy her time with a good comedy podcast or with a new bakery recipe she's looking to master.

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.


Email setl@psch.uic.edu 

Prospective Graduate Students

Dr. Zinsser will be accepting applications for graduate students in the UIC Ph.D. program for Fall 2018.

Email Dr. Zinsser for more information or check out the program web page. Students with interests in applications of child clinical psychology in educational or family settings are especially encouraged to apply. 

University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Psychology
1007 W Harrison St, Rm 2044  (M/C 285)
Chicago IL, 60607

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