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Director / PI

Dr. Jelena Obradović

Jelena is an associate professor at Stanford University in the Developmental and Psychological Sciences program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She completed a Ph.D. in developmental psychology at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, and postdoctoral training in psychophysiology at the University of British Columbia. She is the recipient of a Jacobs Foundation Advanced Research Fellowship, a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award, and Early Career Research Contribution Award from the Society for Research in Child Development. Jelena’s research examines how the interplay of children’s physiological stress arousal, self-regulatory skills, and quality of caregiving environments contributes to their health, learning, and well-being over time. She also studies how caregivers’ executive functions and emotion regulation skills contribute to teaching and parenting practices that promote or undermine child development. Her current work involves the development of novel, pragmatic, scalable assessments of executive functions, emotion regulation, and motivation.

Curriculum Vitae (PDF) ||| Google Scholar

Research Scientist

Dr. Michael Sulik

Michael received his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Arizona State University in 2013. Prior to joining the SPARK Lab in 2016, he worked in the Institute of Human Development and Social Change at New York University. Michael studies how children’s early experiences influence the development of self-regulation and socioemotional learning, and how these skills contribute to mental health and academic success. He is also interested in assessment and methodological issues in developmental science.

Post-Doctoral Scholar

Dr. Meghan McDoniel

Meghan is a postdoctoral fellow with the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Pennsylvania State University in 2020. Meghan studies how early contexts and experiences shape young children’s social-emotional development and the impact of these processes on school readiness. She is especially interested in evaluating the effectiveness of early childhood programs and interventions.

Graduate Student

Emma Armstrong-Carter

Emma Armstrong-Carter is a doctoral student in Developmental and Psychological Sciences at Stanford University and a recipient of the IES fellowship training grant. She received her BA in Psychology and Geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in 2016.  Her research interest is how biological and social processes shape and interact with children’s cognitive functioning. Emma’s current projects in the SPARK lab focus on biological sensitivity to context among Pakistani preschool children, and how parent-child co-regulation relates to young children’s physiological responses to emotional challenges. 

Graduate Student

Carrie Townley Flores

Carrie Townley Flores is a doctoral student in the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University. She is a recipient of the IES Fellowship and the Stanford Graduate Fellowship. She received her BA in Education and English at University of Michigan in 2009. Prior to coming to Stanford, she taught in Michigan, New Hampshire, and Finland. In the SPARK Lab, Carrie looks at how socio-emotional traits relate to academic outcomes for students who are homeless and highly-mobile, and how early childhood environments and curricula relate to socio-emotional and academic outcomes for young children.

Graduate Student

Lily Steyer

Lily Steyer is a doctoral student at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and an Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Fellow in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis. She is interested in the effects of socioeconomic and racial inequalities on children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and the role of early childhood policy in advancing equity. In the SPARK Lab, Lily’s current projects focus on relations between health disparities and kindergarten readiness and the development of scalable assessments of children’s social-emotional skills. She received her BA in Human Biology from Stanford in 2015.

Graduate Student

Ishita Ahmed

Ishita Ahmed is a doctoral student in the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University. She is a recipient of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Fellowship. Her research examines how to promote equitable education for marginalized communities in the U.S. and low-and-middle-income countries. In the SPARK Lab, Ishita’s current projects focus on the how assessments of children’s motivation, effort, and self-regulation contribute to student academic outcomes and how to incorporate these measurements into analyses of education intervention effectiveness. Ishita received an MA in Economics at University of Maryland-College Park in 2018 and a BA in Economics and International Relations at the College of William and Mary in 2011.


Graduate Student

Catie Connolly

Catie Connolly is a doctoral student in Developmental and Psychological Sciences at Stanford. She received her BA in Psychology and English Literature from Columbia University in 2018. She is interested in early-life stress experiences and their impact on school performance and executive functioning, as well as the cross-cultural study of educational settings and the role of the home environment in promoting educational success.

Undergraduate Student

Michelle Zheng

Michelle is a second year undergraduate student pursuing a major in economics with a minor in philosophy. She is interested in mental health care policy and ethics, particularly how to make mental health outcomes more equitable through public policy.

Undergraduate Student

Isabel Wang

Isabel is a third-year undergraduate student at Stanford University. Her interests surround neuroeconomics - the field combining psychology, neuroscience, and economics to explain human decision making - and the application of research to reduce social inequities. Isabel began in the SPARK Lab as a Research Assistant studying and collecting field data, segmenting ECG data, and forming a hypothesis about the link between parenting styles and children’s acquired social-emotional learning skills.

Undergraduate Student

Riley Jackson

Riley is a junior at Stanford majoring in Human Biology and minoring in Creative Writing. Broadly, she is interested in the intersection of neuroscience and public health, and how interventions in these fields can impact child development.

Undergraduate Student

Cynthia Samano

Cynthia is a third-year undergraduate pursuing a major in Human Biology with a concentration in Intersectionality and Women’s Health. She is especially interested in women’s reproductive justice and how different social factors affect women’s access to healthcare and education.

Undergraduate Student

Alexa Thompson

Alexa is a third year undergraduate at Stanford pursuing a major in Human Biology and a minor in Education. She is concentrating in the neuroscientific basis of behavior and development and loves studying the intersection of neuroscience, public health, and education policy in order to understand and combat inequities that hinder children’s ability to succeed.

Undergraduate Student

Casey Butcher

Casey is a fourth-year undergraduate pursuing a B.S. in Symbolic Systems with a minor in Economics at Stanford University. She is interested in applying game theory and data science towards injustices that arise from growing disparities in socioeconomic status, especially within education. Currently, she assists SPARK with early education research by building panels of SFUSD data for longitudinal analysis.

Undergraduate Student

Michaela Guo

Michaela Guo is a first-year undergraduate studying Human Biology and Asian American Studies. She is interested broadly in how education and health policy inform each other and in public health disparities.

Undergraduate Student

Kayla Thomas

Kayla is a third-year undergraduate at Stanford pursuing a major in Psychology and minors in Education and Spanish. She loves studying the intersection of psychology and education. Specifically, she is interested in the influence of early childhood experiences on social-emotional learning, and how these factors contribute to academic outcomes.

Undergraduate Student

Daniel Chambers

Daniel is a second-year undergraduate student at Stanford University pursuing a B.S. in Human Biology and a minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. He is particularly interested in psychosocial and physiological determinants of health, particularly how social and racial factors play a significant role in determining health outcomes. In the SPARK Lab, he cleans ECG data to study how stress manifests as physiological responses in ways that promote successful learning outcomes.

Undergraduate Student

Ella Gray

Ella is a third-year undergraduate at Stanford University pursuing a B.A. in Human Biology and a minor in Classics. Her concentration lies in the intersection between the biological and social causes of disease and the impacts of gender identity and sex on healthcare. She is especially interested in how to ameliorate health disparities with public health and education policies.

Undergraduate Student

Jasmin Zazaboi

Jasmin just completed her first year at Stanford after transferring from community college. She is interested in political science, sociology, and art practice. She hopes to build a deep understanding of social systems and to participate in the fight against social inequity.  She believes that excellence in early childhood education and focus on children’s social and emotional development is one of the most important foundations for building healthy individuals and thriving communities.

Undergraduate Student

Madison Ambroise

Madison is a rising junior undergraduate at Stanford University. She is pursuing a major in Human Biology and a minor in Spanish. She is especially passionate about the effects of race and social determinants of health on child and adolescent development.
High School Student

Joyce Lin

Joyce Lin is a Junior at Palo Alto High School with an interest in business, psychology, and math. She is currently researching financial literacy curriculum and student education in the PAUSD school district in her AP Research class. She hopes to continue this interest in college, possibly studying business psychology, behavioral economics, or statistics.

High School Student

Madhu Ayyer

Madhu Ayyer is a sophomore at Saratoga High School with an interest in both science and art.  She is specifically interested in the effect of extrinsic rewards on building long term habits. In addition to this, she is currently volunteering at a large nonprofit that aids children in rural India. She hopes to continue volunteering and pursue her interests in the scientific field during college.

High School Student

Jacqueline Woo

Jacqueline Woo is a Junior at Mountain View High School. She is passionate about how external and intrinsic psychological factors can have a profound effect on kids’ memories, learning capabilities, and behaviors, especially regarding their self-control with the environment around them. She hopes to pursue her interests in neuroscience and behavioral psychology in college and in her future studies.

High School Student

Saayili Budhiraja

Saayili Budhiraja is a junior at Castilleja School in Palo Alto. She has been volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula and other educational equity programs for many years, and hopes to study education policy in the future. More specifically, she is interested in the achievement gaps between students in different communities and what can be done to close them.

High School Student

Rachel Kim

Rachel Kim is a high school junior at Monta Vista High School. She is interested in how children's gender and socioeconomic status play a role in shaping their executive functions. Generally, she is passionate about how childhood development affects people’s relationships and success over time.