Dr. Stephanie Carlson

Stephanie M. Carlson is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, the #1-ranked department for developmental psychology (U.S. News & World Report). She received a BA (summa cum laude) with Honors in Psychology from Bucknell University (1991) and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oregon (1997). After a McDonnell-Pew postdoctoral fellowship in developmental cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Carlson became an Assistant and then Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington (1998-2007). She has been at the University of Minnesota since 2007, and was promoted to the rank of Professor in 2013.

Dr. Carlson is an internationally recognized leader in the study of executive function (brain basis of self-control). She has developed innovative ways of measuring executive function in very young children and made discoveries about the role of executive function in other important aspects of human development (decision-making, perspective-taking, and creativity). Dr. Carlson’s current research focuses on the developmental antecedents of executive function skills in toddlers, relations between executive function and academic achievement, and ways to help promote executive function through caregiving practices and preschool curricula. Her work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Institute of Education Sciences, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, and the Character Lab. She also has conducted cross-cultural research in North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and has been a Guest Professor of Southwest Normal University in Chongqing (2006-2009) and Zhejiang Normal University in Hangzhou, China (2013-2016).

Dr. Carlson is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. She has served on several editorial boards, as Vice President of the Jean Piaget Society, and as a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group (University of Chicago) and the Frontiers of Innovation Pre-K Standards and Assessments Working Group (Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the National Governors’ Association). She has been an advisor to Transforming Education, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, and Sesame Workshop, and currently advises Playworks Minnesota,, Noggin, and Bright Horizons Family Solutions. She has been nominated as a “Favorite Professor” by undergraduates and is frequently invited to speak at national and international meetings.

Dr. Carlson’s complete list of citations can be found here.

Dr. Philip David Zelazo

Philip David Zelazo (Honors BA, McGill ’88; PhD (with distinction), Yale ’93) is currently the Nancy M. and John E. Lindahl Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, and the Co-Director of the Sino-Canadian Centre for Research in Child Development, at Southwest University, China. From 1992-2007, he taught at the University of Toronto, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Developmental Neuroscience.

Professor Zelazo’s research on the development and neural bases of executive function (the control of thought, action, and emotion) has been honored by numerous awards, including a Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association (APA), and a Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society (APS), and the Mind and Life Institute, President of the Jean Piaget Society, a member of the Advisory Board of the Baumann Institute, and he is a member of several editorial boards (e.g., Child Development; Emotion, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; Development and Psychopathology; Monographs of the SRCD, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience). He is also the co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness (Zelazo, Moscovitch, & Thompson, 2007), and the editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Developmental Psychology.


Louise Zhuang

Louise Zhuang is a Research Coordinator supporting Dr. Zelazo in establishing a Civic Science Center. Her primary research interest lies in how executive function skills  training can help with child maltreatment prevention and intervention. She is also interested in parent-child relationships beyond the stereotypical measurements of cultural practices, so she would like to explore further into the field of translational research. Louise holds a B.S. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Minnesota, with two minors in Family Social Science and Integrative Neuroscience.

Riley Maloney

Riley Maloney is a Research Coordinator supporting Dr. Carlson in the NSF-funded “Aligning Measurement of Personal Attributes for Predicting STEM Education Outcomes” study. His research interests include executive function and emotional regulation, play, and the role of executive function and emotional regulation in psychopathology, particularly mood and anxiety disorders. He received his BA in Psychology from the University of Alabama in 2020 and a Masters in Social Science at the University of Chicago in June 2023.

Graduate Students

Destany Calma-Birling

Destany graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a B.S. in Psychology and Human Development. Her research interests include developmental neuroscience, executive function, and mindfulness.

Romulus Castelo

Romulus graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. He is interested in parenting and its influences on the development of executive function in preschool children.

Colin Drexler

Colin graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Psychology and History. He is interested in examining executive function, developmental neuroscience, and their effects on mental health.

Seokyung Kim

Seokyung graduated from Grinnell College in 2021 with B.A. in Psychology. She is interested in young children’s decision-making process when they are persisting on a task and how metacognition and executive function relate to individual differences in their decisions on task persistence.

Isabelle Morris

Isabelle received her B.A. in psychology from Stanford University in 2019. Her research interests include theory of mind and stimming (repetitive behaviors) as nonverbal communication in the autistic community. Being Autistic herself, Isabelle recognized the lack of autistic representation in autism research. She hopes to help change this through her recently-launched participatory research project, RADAR. Isabelle is also a 2022-2023 MN LEND Fellow.

Jinyi Zhang 

Jinyi graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Psychology. She is interested in the intersection of executive function and prosocial development, and how young children make decisions about selves and others. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor hiking and trying out new recipes at home.

Timothy Martin

Timothy Martin holds a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from University of Hawai‘i at Manoa (2019) and M.T.S. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard Divinity School (2016). His research interests include developmental cognitive neuroscience and executive function. He is especially interested in educational practices and clinical interventions, such as self-reflection and mindfulness, which promote children’s cognitive functioning.

Research Assistants

Safia Dockter 

Safia Dockter is completing her final semester at the University of Minnesota in Developmental Psychology. Her future academic plans include going to graduate school for Child prevention and treatment specifically for trauma in children ages 2 – 6. Safia is very passionate about helping children who have experienced war. Currently, she is working on a long-term project to create a program that assists firsthand responders in a crisis to use Trauma-focused CBT with children undergoing mental health issues due to war. Safia joined DSCN to gain more experience with young participants in the hopes of using this knowledge in her future research as well as in graduate school. 

Lauren Guidish  

Lauren is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Developmental Psychology with minors in Family Social Science and Applied Psychology in Educational and Community Settings. She is working in the DSCN Lab with Romulus on his Choice Preference Study, and in the future hopes to work as a counselor for teenagers. In her free time, Lauren enjoys cooking, playing piano, and going on long walks on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.  

Sunaina Johri 

Sunaina is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Developmental Psychology with a minor in Integrative Neuroscience. Her research interests include theory of mind, executive function, and psychopathology. She is excited to delve into research and work with the wonderful team at the DSCN lab! 

Alyona Juntunen

Alyona is an undergraduate with a major in hoping to Developmental Psychology B.A., and will be graduating in 2023. Alyona plans to get a Master’s degree in social work to be able to help children that are dealing with cancer through a nonprofit organization. 

Maia Karpinsky 

Maia graduated with her B.A. in Psychology and minor in Biological Sciences from Marquette University in May 2022. During her time at Marquette, Maia was nominated for the outstanding psychology major of the year award and received APA DIV53’s best undergraduate research poster award in 2022. Maia is excited to join the DSCN Lab at the University of Minnesota as a research assistant and has enjoyed studying executive functioning in children in the “My Future Self” study. Maia’s personal research interests lie in developing a deeper understanding of the treatment and intervention of adolescent mood and behavioral disorders, and the role relationships with friends and family can play as protective or risk factors. Maia is currently in the process of applying to Clinical Psychology PhD programs for the Fall of 2023. 

Hannah Littler

Hannah plans to graduate in fall 2022 with a B.A. in Developmental Psychology and a minor in Spanish Studies. Her research interests lie in the relationship between executive function and pediatric occupational therapy.

Ruohang Ma 

Ruohang is taking the second term in her junior year, pursuing a BA major in developmental psychology and planning to minor in neuroscience. She is interested in children and adolescents’ social and cognitive development. Her future goal is to pursue a master’s in a clinical or counseling psychology program and work on children and adolescents’ behavioral and mental health problems and interventions that schools and families could do to help improve these problems. 

Mikayla Ries

Mikayla is a senior pursuing a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Developmental Psych. She is thrilled to be able to contribute to the understanding of executive function in children through the “My Future Self” study here at the U, which aims to examine the effects of imagination on self-control and decision making. Through working in this lab, she has been able to explore her interests in the field, including social personality and cognitive development, as well as gain critical skills that she will be able to apply to her future career. After graduation, she plans to continue on to graduate school and earn a Master’s degree in Child and Adolescent Counseling. 

Jenna Rusch 

Jenna Rusch is a junior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities majoring in Developmental Psychology and minoring in Spanish Studies, with the plan of graduating in the Fall of 2023. She is currently assisting with the Choice Preference project in the DSCN lab and is delighted to continue with this work. Her research interests are in explaining behaviors by investigating the interaction between a child’s individual abilities (including Executive Function) and parental factors. Jenna’s post-undergraduate aspirations are to continue on to a graduate program to earn her licensure as a Child Therapist and work with young children in a school or hospital setting. 

Valerie Santarriaga 

Valerie Santarriaga plans to graduate 2023 with a major in psychology and a minor in neuroscience. Her future academic plans entail going to Physician Assistant school. Her research interests include mental health and parenting styles. 

Madison Schoolfield

Madison is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in Developmental Psychology and planning to graduate in the Spring of 2023. Her future academic plans entail a Masters in Clinical Psychology and further pursuing to be a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). Madison is very passionate about social-emotional and cognitive development in early childhood and adolescence. She is eager to continue working with the DSCN lab and furthering knowledge of cognitive development as an RA on a project looking at how children’s imagination affects decision making and self-control.

Jeong Ha (Nathan) Seung 

Nathan graduated from the University of Minnesota–Morris campus in the spring of 2022 with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Statistics. His research interests include mental health, executive functioning, and psychopathology among young children. Nathan joined the DSCN lab to gain more research experience with young participants and hopes to become a clinical psychologist following graduate school. 

Jenna Stokes

Jenna is a senior majoring in Developmental Psychology and minoring in both Applied Psychology in Educational and Community Settings & Leadership. She started as a research assistant in Spring 2022 and is excited to continue to learn more in the lab this year! After graduation Jenna hopes to attend graduate school to become a social worker. 

Molly Tomas  

Molly Tomas is a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in Developmental Psychology and pursuing her certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This semester she is working on the RADAR project (Research on Autism, Driven by Autistic Researchers). She is passionate about neurological and developmental disorders which is why this project is a great fit. After graduation, Molly plans to further her education by getting her PsyD in clinical psychology, with the hopes of working as a clinical psychologist.   

Naiya Wallace

Naiya is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a B.A. in Developmental Psychology with a minor in Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Justice. Her research interests include executive functioning and social development with a specific focus on deviancy. Naiya is planning on a career in either school psychology or child advocacy. She is a dedicated student, and is eager to continue working with such an amazing research team.

Yang Wu 

Yang is an undergraduate senior in the Psychology major, and he is interested in taking part in child-related research in both the lab and school settings. He is eager to investigate the wide range of potential graduate school options and exploring more in the field. Currently, Yang is working with Seokyung on her persistence study, and cannot wait to meet other people. On the weekends, Yang’s favorite activities are listening to music and playing video games. 

PhD Alumni of ICD

Jasmine Ernst, PhD 2023

Purdue University

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Jasmine is currently a PURPOSE post-doctoral student at Purdue University. Jasmine earned her Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development in 2023 and a B.S. and M.S. in Psychological Sciences rom Western Kentucky University. Her research broadly examines executive function skills, learning, and early educational experiences.

Julie Vaisarova, PhD 2022

Arizona State University

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Julie earned her Ph.D. from the Institute of Child Development in 2022, after completing a dissertation that investigated the role of executive function skills in young children’s creative processes. She previously earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Scripps College in 2014. Julie is currently a Postdoctoral Research Scholar with Dr. Kelsey Lucca’s Emerging Minds Lab at Arizona State University, working on a project investigating the early development of curiosity. 

Andrei Semenov, PhD 2021

University of Minnesota

Thesis Advisory: Phil Zelazo

Dr. Semenov is a clinical study manager at EarliTec Diagnostics. At EarliTec, Andrei oversees innovative research on the early detection of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previously, Andrei was a NIMH post-doctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota. He received his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 2021 and his B.A. from the University of Colorado in 2013.

Dr. Semenov conducts research on the development of executive function skills in childhood. He is particularly interested in how parenting practices in the context of family routines can help promote EF skills and autonomy supportive parenting. Andrei also is interested in mindfulness meditation and how reflective practices can be used to promote EF development in children and adults. Andrei’s work has been funded by the Bezos Family Foundation, Hemera Foundation, and grants from the University of Minnesota.

Amanda Grenell, PhD 2020

Indiana University

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Rebecca Distefano, PhD 2019

Roger Williams University

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson and Ann Masten

Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD 2017

University of Minnesota

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Emily Prager, PhD 2016

Minneapolis Public Schools

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Erin Schubert, PhD 2016

Sojourner Family Peace Center

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Madeline Harms, PhD 2015

University of Minnesota- Duluth

Thesis Advisor: Kathleen Thomas and Stephanie Carlson

Sabine Doebel, PhD 2014

George Mason University

Thesis Advisor: Phil Zelazo

Wendy Lee, PhD 2014

Ontario Centre for Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Jason Cowell, PhD 2012

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Rachel White, PhD 2012

Hamilton College

Thesis Advisor: Stephanie Carlson

Donaya Hongwanishkul, PhD 2011

Thesis Advisor: Phil Zelazo

Amanda Kesek, PhD 2010

Queen’s University

Thesis Advisor: Phil Zelazo