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Spotlight 2019-2020

Former Lab Member Spotlight: Carly Trakofler Ferrone

Carly Trakofler Ferrone is a former research assistant in the Context and Development Lab. She graduated in 2015 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Human Development and Family Studies.

Carly was instrumental in facilitating the CDL’s studies. For her honor’s thesis, Carly examined whether caregiver-adolescent relationship moderated associations between parents’ ethnic-racial socialization and youth identity in African American families. In addition to learning foundational research skills in the CDL, Carly says she also learned the valuable lesson that “there are broader factors than just the individual or family context that impact a person’s development and long-term outcomes.”

Carly’s research experience has been useful as she pursues a career path in behavioral health policy. She currently works as a Quality Improvement Analyst at Allegheny HealthChoices, Inc., where she is responsible for compliance oversight and analysis of the county’s Medicaid managed care organization. She also contributes to initiatives to improve the quality of behavioral healthcare locally and state-wide. Carly will soon begin graduate school in the Executive Master of Public Policy program at Oregon State University. 

Carly’s advice for current undergraduates is to ask questions and to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. The CDL wishes Carly continued success in all her future endeavors!


Wei Proposes Dissertation!

Congratulations to Wei Wei on the successful proposal of her dissertation! Wei's dissertation focuses on identifying different discrimination trajectories among Chinese American adolescents, exploring how different patterns of change in discrimination vary with contextual and individual characteristics, and how different discrimination trajectories are related to Chinese American adolescents' academic achievement and mental wellbeing. Way to go, Wei! 


Graduate Student Emily May Matched to Clinical Psychology Internship

Emily M. May, a lab member and graduate student in clinical child psychology, matched to a doctoral internship program for the 2020-2021 academic year. Emily will be going to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center/Oklahoma City Veterans Administration Consortium. This placement, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, emphasizes provision of behavioral health services to individuals and families who are underserved or may have difficulty accessing care. The internship is the final year of training in a clinical psychology Ph.D. program. Congratulations Emily!


Nandrea and Shadane Selected for Competitive Scholars Program

Two undergraduate research assistants in the Context and Development Lab, Nandrea Burrell and Shadane Johnson, have been selected to participate in the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Undergraduate Scholars Program. The goal of this competitive program is to “support junior and senior undergraduate students from ethnic minority groups from North America to pursue graduate work and careers in adolescent development.” As members of this program, Nandrea and Shadane will attend the SRA Biennial Meeting, participate in special preconference activities focused on professional development, and receive mentorship from junior and senior scholars who are active in research on adolescence. 

Nandrea and Shadane were both recently featured on Penn State's Child Study Center website. Congratulations to both Nandrea and Shadane!


Lab Members Collaborate with Colleagues to Examine Social Connectedness Among African American and Caribbean Black Adolescents

Ashley McDonald, a grad student in the Context and Development Lab, and Dr. Witherspoon collaborated with colleagues at the University of Maryland and George Washington University on an investigation of social connections in African American and Caribbean Black adolescents. The paper was recently published in a top-tier journal, Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Congrats to the team!

Using the National Survey of American Life-Adolescent, the study examined patterns of social connection and Black adolescents’ wellbeing. Latent profile analysis was used to identify profiles of adolescent connections across multiple settings (i.e., family, peer, school, religion, and neighborhood). Four profiles of social connection emerged: unconnected, minimal connection, high family connection, and well-connected. The profiles differed in life satisfaction, self-esteem, mastery, coping, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms. Differences by gender were observed for the association between connectedness and life satisfaction. The results support the critical need to examine connectedness across multiple settings and within group heterogeneity among Black youth to develop strategies to promote their psychosocial wellbeing.


Congratulations to Emily May on her first-author paper being accepted in a top-tier journal!

Emily May, a grad student working in the lab, and Dr. Witherspoon co-authored a paper entitled Maintaining and Attaining Educational Expectations: A Two-Cohort Longitudinal Study of Hispanic Youth. The paper was recently accepted to be published in Developmental Psychology, a top-tier journal in the field of developmental psychology! Way to go, Emily!

The paper focuses on Hispanic youth's educational expectations (or how far they expect to go in school). Educational disparities exist between Hispanic youth and youth of other ethnicities. The goal of this study was to examine factors that may help Hispanic youth meet their own educational expectations. Emily and Dr. Witherspoon examined Hispanic youth's educational expectations in 10th grade and 12th grade, as well as their educational attainment in young adulthood. The results showed that higher academic achievement, more English proficiency, and higher parent education were associated with attaining expectations. They also found that family income and parents' aspirations became more important for attaining expectations in the more recent cohort. Additionally, the role of immigrant generation status changed over time. The study's findings inform efforts aimed at promoting the educational outcomes of Hispanic youth.


The CDL participated in Girls summer program in Harrisburg and taught girls about race and ethnicity

The Context and Development Lab (CDL) participated in the KING Center Girls Summer Enrichment Program at Zion Lutheran Church, Harrisburg, PA. Over the two-day period, Dr. Witherspoon, along with postdoc, grad students and undergrad students from the Pennsylvania State University, taught young girls about race, ethnicity, and racial-ethnic identity, which culminates in them creating a family tree. The participating girls were engaged in activities such as creating their identity backpack which allowed them to explore personal and family characteristics, and creating a family tree. The family tree helped the girls to find similar characteristics between them and their family members, explored their family history, and connected to their racial-ethnic identity(s). The girls really enjoyed the activities. The CDL has worked with the KING Center and their summer program for three years.