Infant Growth and Development Study at UNCG

Mali Hosseinzadeh, B.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Nutrition  PhD Student

Faculty Advisor: Lenka Shriver

B.S., Marketing and Economics, UNC-Charlotte

Research Interests: Mali is interested in parenting styles, infant feeding practices, and eating behaviors that develop in early childhood. In addition to the MS Nutrition program, she’s completing the didactic program at UNCG. Mali plans to continue pursuing her research interests as a Registered Dietitian. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

Shouyra Negi, M.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies PhD Student

Faculty Advisors: Esther Leerkes and Kierra Sattler

B.S., Home Science, G.B. Pant University; Pantnagar, India
M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, CCS Haryana Agricultural University; Hisar, India

Work Experience: As a Master student, Shourya conducted a study on the effect of Emotional Intelligence and Family Environment on Sibling Relationships. From 2019-2020, Shourya worked as a Research Assistant under a UNICEF funded project on Positive Parenting to examine some of the major issues confronting parents in the rural, urban and tribal areas of Gujarat, India in order to develop modules and strategies to help educate parents to enhance their understanding of developmental needs of children and to promote optimal child development. From 2020-2021, Shourya worked as an Adjunct faculty in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, MS University of Baroda, India.

Research Interests: Shourya wants to explore the influence of n traumatic experiences in mother’s life on their sensitivity and parenting practices.  Shourya also wants to explore the intergenerational consequences of maternal adverse childhood experiences on the developmental outcomes of their children.

Agona Lutolli, M.A.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies PhD Student

Faculty Advisors: Esther Leerkes and Kierra Sattler

B.A., Lake Forest College
M.A., University of Chicago

Research Experience From 2017-2018, Agona worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator for the Section of Hospital Medicine at the University of Chicago. At this position, she systematically collected data on high-risk hospitalized minority patients to produce knowledge that can improve the care they receive and ultimately ameliorate their outcomes. As a Master Student at the University of Chicago, Agona  investigated the intergenerational effects of maternal childhood maltreatment on youth anxiety/depression, aggression and delinquency. Beyond her thesis, she also assisted with data collection for the Human-Animal Interaction program that examined whether attachment and attitudes towards pets would have psychosocial, emotional, and behavioral benefits.

Research Interests: Broadly, Agona is interested in Early Childhood Education and Parent- Child Relationships with a sociocultural perspective. More specifically, she is interested in understanding the factors that influence minority children’s socio-emotional and academic development at the individual, family and school level. Mainly focusing on factors at the family level (e.g., mental health of parents or parenting style). Finally, using this knowledge she wants to investigate the intergenerational consequences of early life adversity on the socio-emotional and academic development of minority children.

In her freetime, Agona enjoys going on hikes, exploring local coffee shops and trying local breweries.

Yu Chen, M.A.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies PhD Student

Faculty Advisor: Esther Leerkes

B.S., Applied Psychology, Beijing Forestry University; Beijing, China
M.A., Mental Health Education, Beijing Normal University; Beijing, China

Research Experience: As a Master student, Yu investigated parental appreciation-related socialization processes and their relations with children’s development of appreciation (as an emotion) and distinguished its difference from gratitude (as a virtue). From 2021-2022, Yu worked as a Research Assistant and Research Coordinator for Dr. Nan Zhou’s Human Development and Family Studies Lab at Beijing Normal University. In this position, she analyzed quantitative data on the unidirectional and bidirectional relations between parental socialization for child appreciation and children’s appreciation. In addition, after fMRI ethics and security training, she also worked as an experimenter with experienced supervisors in the fMRI laboratory.

Research Interests: Broadly, Yu’s research interests center around children’s developmental outcomes (e.g., emotion). Yu is interested in the factors that influence children’s development and health outcomes at the individual and family level (e.g., child factors, parent factors, parent-child interactions).

Michele Kamau, B.Ed.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies M.S./PhD Student

Faculty Advisors: Rachel Boit & Linda Hestenes

B.Ed. Early Childhood Education, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Research Experience: Before starting with iGROW, Michele was part of a community engaged project that supports newly arrived Congolese refugees and their families access early childhood education services. In this role she helped collect and analyze qualitative data. She also helped prepare poster presentations and manuscripts. Before coming to graduate school, Michele’s capstone project involved her collecting data on the effects of school closures during Covid-19 on kindergarten age children’s socio-emotional development. She carried out this project in Westlands, Nairobi.

Research Interests: Her research interests center on the heritage language acquisition for refugees and refugee children who are non-native English speakers as well as practices related to maintaining ethnolinguistic vitality within these communities.

Maha Issa, B.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies MS-PhD Student

Faculty Advisor: Esther Leerkes

B.S., Child Development and Psychology, Meredith College

Research Interests: Very broadly, social/emotional development in infants and toddlers. More specifically, Maha is very curious about a wide variety of factors that interact with parent-child relationships, attachment, and parental sensitivity. Her interests are also shaped by my life experiences as a second-generation Palestinian immigrant and as someone who is visually impaired.

A’Niyah Choice, B.A.

Graduate Research Assistant

Human Development and Family Studies MS-PhD Student

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Esther Leerkes

B.A. Psychology at Winthrop University

Research experience: As an undergraduate student and member of the Ronald E. McNair program, A’Niyah studied parenting styles and its effects on emerging adults’ emotion socialization. During the project A’Niyah was able to gain vast knowledge in creating and interpreting qualitative research and writing a manuscript early on in her professional career. Due to her work with early childhood factors, she directed her interests towards early childhood and family studies.
Research Interest: A’Niyah has two main research interests: understanding the precursors of Black children’s emotion socialization and implementing interventions directed toward building Black children’s and family’s emotional health. Specifically, she is interested in precursors related to parent-child interaction, attachment, and cultural contexts. Additionally, A’Niyah plans to research minority families’ mental health concerns and strategies for treatment; the research would be useful in developing intervention programs and or bettering existing ones.
In her free time, she enjoys crocheting, cycling, and reading.

Previous iGrow Graduate Students


Savannah Sommers Girod, PhD

B.S., Psychology, Stevenson University

M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, UNCG

Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies, UNCG



Tamika Watts, M.S.

B.S., Biology, Chemistry Minor, Johnson C. Smith University

M.S. Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Greensboro



Lauren Bailes, Ph.D.

B.S., Psychological Sciences, Western Kentucky University

M.S., Psychology, Western Kentucky University

Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro


Meg Lawless, Ph.D.

B.S., Health, Behavior and Society, University of Rochester

M.S. and Ph.D., Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Greensboro



Cia Elder, B.S.

B.S., Central Michigan University

Human Development and Family Studies,  University of North Carolina at Greensboro M.S./PhD Student


Kiki Leis, M.S

B.S., Psychology, Hampshire College

M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

PhD Student, Human Development and Family Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro


Josi Gabaldon, M.S.

M.S., Exercise Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro