Tag Archives: Marianella Casasola

Reprinted from the College of Human Ecology, NewsHub

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

Brian LaGrant ‘17; Photo by Mark Vorreuter

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Brian LaGrant ’17, a human development major from New Hartford, N.Y., discusses his research on factors surrounding imitation among children and adults:

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working on social learning in children and adults. I’m in the Affect and Cognition Lab. We work primarily on neuroscience research, but we’re also doing another project on social learning.

We have this apparatus like a puzzle box, and it’s supposed to simulate something that you haven’t seen before. People can watch somebody else see how to open it and then they can have their turn trying to open it. So that’s what we’re using to measure imitation.

When you copy somebody, they can have different characteristics, like they might be smart or they’re not sure how to open the box. They might be a very prestigious individual or a very well-respected individual or not so much. We want to see how those two factors—knowledge and prestige—can affect how much that model is imitated by children and adults.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

I’ve done a lot of neuroscience research, and this is a little different from what I’m used to, but I really like it because it ties into human culture and how we have evolved over many generations. Social learning is a very important aspect of development, especially a concept called the “ratchet effect,” which is how we innovate new technology over time. I haven’t really focused on social learning throughout my undergraduate years, but it’s a nice complement to the other kind of education I’ve been focusing on.

Who are your Human Ecology mentors?

I’ve formed a few close relationships within the College of Human Ecology as a whole, and specifically human development. Professor Marianella Casasola has been there with me since day one. When I lived in Donlon Hall, she was a faculty-in-residence and from there we formed a close relationship, and I was able to do some research with her, and she’s taught some of my classes over time. Professor Eve De Rosa, one of the principal investigators in my lab, has been a great help, and she’s so nice and so welcoming to any ideas that I have. They’ve both been very important to my development at Cornell.

What excites you about your research?

What excites me the most is that this is my first time having more of an independent role in the research where I can design the experiments and start running them on my own. Having that authority and independence is really, really exciting, and it makes me want to perform research in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

One thing I’ve been looking at recently is how autistic children might act differently at these tasks, and that’s something I could study in the future. For the area of research I’m focusing on, social learning, this kind of research hasn’t been done before. I think it’s important because looking at two or three different conflicting factors like I am is a better simulation of what the real world is like. Previous research has only looked at one factor, but there are so many different factors at play—whether a person is knowledgeable, prestigious, and things like that. I think my research is delving more into that area.

Brian’s summer project, The Influences of Model Social Status and Knowledge State on Imitation in Children and Adults, is funded by a College of Human Ecology summer research stipend, which provides undergraduate students will funding for full-time research with a faculty member.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17; photo by Mark Vorreuter.

By Tyler Alicea ’16, MPS ’17

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Deborah Seok, HD ‘17

In faculty research labs, in communities across the state, and at jobs and internships around the globe, Human Ecology undergrads are making a powerful impact this summer as they apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

Deborah Seok ’17, a human development major from Queens, N.Y., shares her research on toddler spatial language development in Harlem Head Start programs:

What are you working on this summer?

I am working with children in the New York City area to study early development of spatial abilities. For the first study, we are looking at whether spatial training activities, such as origami and playing with Legos, will enhance preschooler spatial skills. The second study looks at what kinds of play experiences contribute to these abilities. More specifically, we want to see whether providing constructive toys, like building blocks and puzzles, to families will enhance toddlers’ spatial skills.

How does this work relate to your coursework?

Much of scientific research focuses on the impact of early experience on human development. The research that I am involved with this summer looks at what kinds of specific factors, such as language input and types of toys played with, can enhance children’s learning abilities. It also addresses bigger scale issues like the effects of socioeconomic status on early development. By running intervention-based research, I am able to take the concepts that I learn in the classroom and apply them to the real-world problems in the community.

Who are your Human Ecology faculty mentors?

My primary faculty mentor is Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development. As director of the Cornell Infant Studies Lab (CISL) and my research supervisor, she oversees all of the projects that I work on. With her guidance and support, I am able to advance my research experience and knowledge in the field of child development. Steve Robertson, professor of human development, is another faculty mentor who has also played a major role in my academic experience here at Cornell. Having taken two seminar courses with him, I have not only learned so much, but also had many opportunities to discuss and explore my own interests with him.

What excites you about your internship?

I’ve always loved working with children, and this summer is the best experience I could ever ask for. I would say that the best part about my internship is the purpose behind it. As an avid supporter of early development and education, I am so excited to be contributing to research that seeks to enhance early learning experiences and make a difference in children’s lives. This strongly motivates me and gives me a glimpse of what I would like to do in the future.

What societal impacts does your work have?

Our research is centered on early intervention work that seeks to promote spatial skill development in children, both at school and home settings. Working with children at a Head Start center in Harlem, New York, allows us to focus on families from especially disadvantaged backgrounds and target environmental factors such as low socioeconomic status.

Deborah’s summer project, The Role of Language and Play in Promoting Children’s Spatial Skills, is funded by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program, an effort by the College of Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to engage undergraduates in work to benefit New York state communities.