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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.  She researches (1) family processes which impact young children’s learning and wellbeing and (2) how to improve children’s learning and wellbeing when they are experiencing daily challenges at home such as family disability, family illness, or difficult relationships.

Graduate Student

Carrie Townley Flores

Carrie is a doctoral candidate in the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University, advised by Professors Sean Reardon and Jelena Obradović. Her work is funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, the Stanford Graduate Fellowship in Science and Engineering, Social Impact Labs, and the Karr Family. A member of the Educational Opportunity Project and SPARK Lab, her research aims to reduce racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. by identifying effective practices and policies in early childhood spaces and K-12 schools. In SPARK Lab, she works with school district leaders and other researchers to examine how aspects of early childhood opportunities contribute to Kindergarten-readiness and longer-term outcomes. As a teacher, Carrie taught in urban and suburban schools in the U.S. and Finland. She holds a B.A. in Education and English from University of Michigan

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.

Graduate Student

Gabriel Reyes

Gabriel Reyes is a doctoral student in the Developmental and Psychological Sciences program at Stanford University. They are a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, and the EDGE Doctoral Fellowship.  Previously, Gabriel received their Sc.B. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University as a QuestBridge Scholar. Then, Gabriel received an M.S. in Neuroscience and Education from Columbia University, where they studied the effects of financial stress on learning and memory in adolescents. At Stanford, Gabriel is interested in researching how poverty-related stressors in early childhood affects brain development and learning, with the goal of promoting more equitable educational experiences for students from low-income backgrounds.

Graduate Student

Javier Omar

Javier Omar is a doctoral student in the Developmental and Psychological Sciences program at Stanford University. He is a recipient of the Stanford Graduate Fellowship and the Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Doctoral Fellowship. He is interested in examining the influence of early life stress on executive functioning, socioemotional well-being, and educational outcomes. Prior to his time at Stanford, Javier served as a secondary science teacher within the San Antonio Independent School District. He received his BS in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and BA in Human Health from Emory University.


Shawna Ho

Shawna recently received her BA degree in Psychology from UC Riverside. She is currently interested in cognitive development, particularly how domains of functioning can help provide an important foundation for learning in school settings and other important life outcomes.


Nicole Fajardo

Nicole Fajardo received her BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 2020. She is interested in learning how children’s early self-regulation and social understanding develop in different cultures. During her free time, she loves to bake, play video games, and learn about different cultures!

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

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.
Undergraduate Student

Leah Balter

Leah is a third-year undergraduate at Stanford pursuing a B.A. in Human Biology with a focus on trauma and health. She is interested in biomarkers of stress, trauma, and resilience in children and across the life course.


Undergraduate Student

Shelby Whinery

Shelby is a third-year undergraduate at Stanford University pursuing a B.A. in Human Biology with a concentration in adolescent health and health policy. She is passionate about education and health equity and their influences on the wellbeing of youth, especially in rural settings.

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.