Fall 2019 Newsletter | Community Outreach

Graduate peer mentors launch First Year Experience seminars

Graduate peer mentors outside Tobin Hall

L-r: Merika Wilson, Molly Mather, Sarah McCormick, and Joel Ginn

The First Year Experience is a continued orientation seminar series for incoming graduate students organized by PBS graduate peer mentors Sarah McCormick (Developmental Science), Joel Ginn (Social Psychology), Merika Wilson (Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience), and Molly Mather (Clinical Psychology).

The student-led seminars will cover topics related to the transition to graduate school including how to navigate teaching and research fellowships, manage time effectively, and develop lasting self-care practices. Each seminar will also connect students to campus resources that will make their transition to graduate school more successful. We welcome first year graduate students to attend and gain valuable information while building a community with other students across PBS program areas. See all seminar dates

PBS hosts high school students for Research Intensives Summer Program

Pictured left: Lisa Harvey (advisor), Tobias Shapiro, and Shannon Gair (grad student); Right: Yuying Liu

For 6-weeks this summer, PBS participated in the Research Intensives summer program, placing high-achieving high school students in professional working labs alongside distinguished faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, and Food Sciences also accepted students into their labs. A community of young scientists was created, giving students a chance to make connections with their peers while living at UMass Amherst. The program culminated in a research symposium where each student got a chance to share their completed project with colleagues and the public.

Hear what our Research Intensives students had to say about their experience:

Pictured left: Jonathan Zhang; Right: Anish Kammila

"This Summer here at UMass was really memorable. I made new friends and even got to do my own research. I really liked the individual projects even though a few late nights were put into the final product. Definitely, one great Summer well spent here learning about fascinating things that I would have never gotten a chance to learn about at my High School!" —Jonathan Zhang, Advisor: Youngbin Kwak

"I got hands on experience that I could further apply for my future." —Yebon Yun, Advisor: Evelyn Mercado

Pictured: Ashwin Srinivasan

"I think that this has been one of the best summers ever, because this program is really just one of a kind. Getting real research experience in high school definitely helped me realize that I want to be involved in research in college. The professors and lab staff were so welcoming and created a great lab environment that made the experience amazing! I think the biggest thing that sets this program apart from other pre-college programs is that the work we did here actually mattered. The research we were a part of is actually contributing to large scientific knowledge that has real effects on real people." —Ashwin Srinivasan, Advisor: Tara Mandalaywala

I would recommend it. It was very valuable because I learned a lot of skills, experienced how [researchers] go through a tedious process before they come up with a research question, and [after that] there is so much more to do. But it’s very exciting because I love doing the work. It’s also cool because we think of topics ourselves, it makes me feel like a [young] scientist. It’s cool to present them to someone else, especially to those people who know nothing about my project and it’s a challenge. —Yuying Liu, Advisor: Lisa Harvey

“My experience at UMass has been nothing but amazing. My expectations for the program were quite high when I arrived, so I have been surprised at how much it has exceeded these expectations. Working in the lab has been an incredible experience. Not only did I learn a lot about the typical day for a researcher, I also participated in most of the research being conducted. All of the undergraduate and graduate students were very helpful, knowledgeable, and kind, and I'm so glad to have made great connections with such wonderful people.

“While my lab experiences have been great, my dorm experiences have been even better, and I have made so many friendships with the other kids in my program. Although we live all over the country, I'm sure that we will stay in touch. I'm so grateful to the UMass program for giving me the opportunity to learn so many things and meet so many new people. This has been an awesome summer!” —Ben Chang-Holt, Advisor: Jennifer McDermott

Healthy Development Initiative Co-hosts Springfield Community Research Forum

On April 30th, 2019 to celebrate Public Health month, the Healthy Development Initiative along with the UMass Amherst Center for Community Health Equity Research (CCHER), the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences held a community forum on health equity and human development research projects. Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris provided the welcome for the event, which was held at the UMass Center in Springfield. 

The Healthy Development Initiative kicked off the forum with a tour and demonstration of the new NIRS brain monitor and described a current study that is looking at the brain development of preschoolers. Other presentations focused on bringing the topics of brain science and psychology to middle school science classes, and a prenatal intervention for low-income parents in order to reduce stress, increase knowledge about birth and infant development, and provide co-parenting training. 

Researchers from the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences also contributed to the forum including: MOCHA Men of Color Health Awareness, a program focused on sharing stories, building bonds, and reducing stress-related illnesses for men of color; a presentation on recent data of at-risk populations for gambling in Massachusetts; and the F.A.S.T study, which observes the peer-influenced behaviors of youth surrounding screen time, diet, obesity, and physical activity. 


Preparing the next generation of adoption researchers

cohort of summer institute in front of life science laboratories

National, international and within-country adoptions are changing significantly

The Rudd Adoption Research Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted a research institute on campus May 19-24 for 20 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who were accepted from eight countries to study methods in adoption research.

Professor Harold Grotevant, director of the Rudd program, says it is the most comprehensive program in adoption psychology in the country. The visiting researchers gained experience in how to appropriately consider race, sexual orientation, culture and ethnicity in adoption study design as well as approaches to intensive data analysis.

They took a field trip to the Treehouse Community neighborhood in Easthampton where they spoke to parents who have adopted children from foster care and with neighborhood elders who volunteer to support the families with child care, tutoring, listening, cooking and after-school activities.

Grotevant says, one of the institute’s goals is to prepare the next generation of adoption researchers to study and respond to those trends and their effects on children and families. “The field is having to prepare in new ways to serve those children and their families,” he points out.

International adoption has declined significantly from more than 22,000 children per year in 2004 to 4,000 in 2018, he adds, in part due to tighter regulations and revelations of abuse and human trafficking. “For some countries they are just starting their own domestic adoption programs, such as in South Korea. The aim there is to keep their children in the country and in the culture,” Grotevant notes.

“Some countries do a lot, some do very little,” he says. “Some countries use orphanages and institutions, for instance. Whatever the approach is, there is now more of a consensus in the scientific community that growing up in a family is much more emotionally healthy for the child than growing up in an institution,” the adoption expert explains.

“Another trend we’re seeing is more children being removed from their parents and put into foster care. Although the hope with foster care is that it will ultimately be possible for the child to reunify with his or her family, some children will never be able to return. This is a growing area and because these children tend to be older, they often have more difficulties than younger adopted children.”

About 2 percent of the U.S. population is adopted, and it is estimated that about 60 percent of 300 million residents have some personal connection or reason to be interested in adoption issues; this country remains one of the most active in adoption in the world, he notes.

Adoption has always been with humankind, Grotevant says, because there has always been a need to care for orphans. But it began to be formalized in the United States in the 1850s and in Massachusetts in 1851, when the first legal definitions, standards and guidelines for terminating parental rights were articulated. Though infant adoptions may have been more typical in the past, they are a fairly small but steady component of adoption in the U.S. today, he says.

Grotevant says, “This summer program helps fulfill our mission of building capacity in the field for research that will assist governments, agencies and practitioners in creating and supporting evidence-based programs that will improve the quality of life for adopted persons and their families everywhere. It will be exciting to welcome these eager participants to our campus. At the end of the program, they will be named Rudd Adoption Research Scholars and be listed on our website with others trained in our program.”