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Lab Members

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Dr. Amy Needham, Principal Investigator

Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 I am the Director of the Hands-On Play Lab and Professor of Psychology and Human Development, which is in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. I am fascinated by how infants learn to use their hands to accomplish their goals and by what they learn when they use their hands to play with and explore objects. I earned my PhD in Developmental Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I came to Vanderbilt in 2009 after working at Duke University for 16 years. When I’m not working, I enjoy taking walks with my husband and dogs and finding new ways to cook vegetables.

Email : Telephone: (615) 322-8380

Spring 2024 

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Caroline Danforth

PhD Student

My name is Caroline Danforth, and I am a first-year PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Human Development. I couldn’t be more excited to join the Hands-On Play Lab! My academic background is in psychology and biology, and I worked closely with children with developmental disabilities for several years. I am very interested in how neurodevelopmental differences influence early childhood development, and would like to pursue research that promotes effective, considerate early intervention techniques.

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Siwen Wang

Master’s Student

My name is Siwen Wang, and I am a master’s student enrolled in Cognitive Psychology in Context program. I graduated from Tsinghua University with a B.S. in psychology. I’m so glad to join hands-on play lab and explore the world of infants and toddlers through engaging research! I will mainly focus on the research of investigating the impact of Montessori education on the development of fine motor skills in young children.

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Monica Bashir

Lab Manager

My name is Monica Bashir, and I graduated in May from Auburn University with a B.S. in Neuroscience and a B.A. in Spanish. I am interested in the intersections between second- and heritage-language learning in children and the effects that these have on their cognition. I am excited to be getting started in the lab this year, and I am looking forward to learning more about the ways that children might improve their motor skills through environment interactions!

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Emma Kerr

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2024

My name is Emma Kerr, and I’m currently a senior double majoring in Psychology and Medicine, Health, and Society. After graduation, I hope to go to graduate school and become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. I’ve always had an interest in child development, so I’m very excited to start my second year working in the lab!

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Tasfia Alam

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2025

My name is Tasfia Alam, and I am a junior double majoring in Neuroscience and Political Science, with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. After graduation, I hope to attend medical school to pursue a career as a neurologist. I’m looking forward to learning about children’s behavior during play and their motor skill development while at the Hands-On Play Lab!

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Kiet Hua

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2025

Hi, my name is Kiet Hua, and I’m currently a junior majoring in Neuroscience and Cognitive Studies. I joined HOP Lab because I have always been intrigued by the growth and development of children. In the future, I plan to pursue a career in Biotech, which will allow me to find meaningful solutions to neurodegenerative diseases targeted toward children. This field combines many of my interests in STEM and the development of children.


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Suman Mohanty

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2025

Hi! My name is Suman Mohanty, and I am a junior majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Child Development. I’m also minoring in Spanish! After graduating, I’m planning on going to medical school because I’ve always wanted to be a pediatrician. I’m super excited to be involved with Infant Learning and Down Syndrome research at the Hands-On Play lab!!!

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Supreethi Sridhar

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2025

Hello! My name is Supreethi Sridhar and I am a junior double majoring in Neuroscience and Medicine, Health, and Society. I am looking forward to learning more about how play influences behavior and habits in children through the Hands-On Play Lab! After graduation, I plan to attend medical school and hope to specialize in pediatric surgery.

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Amelia Cook

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2026

My name is Amelia Cook, and I am majoring in Special Education with a double minor in Child Development and Spanish. As a Special Education major, I have worked with children of all ages and varying cognitive and social capabilities. I am very excited to offer unique insight into the development of children with intellectual disabilities and to learn more about child development in the Hands-On Play Lab!

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Eric Duarte

Undergraduate Research Assistant, 2027

My name is Eric Duarte, and I am an undergraduate from Las Vegas studying Human and Organizational Development with a minor in Child Development. I am excited to help the Hands-On Play Lab understand how children learn — even while they’re playing and having fun. Outside of the lab, you can find me watching soccer matches from around the world or struggling to speak Italian.


Katie Swift, Junior Lab Manager

Jasmyne Yeldell, Lab Manager

Laura Green, Honors Student

Melody Li, Research Assistant

Judy Min, Research Assistant

Jacob Wade, Research Assistant

Stella Owings, Research Assistant

Grace Rupert, Research Assistant

Abigail Phillips, Research Assistant

Chelsea Yang, Research Assistant

Sarah Megan Erb, Research Assistant

Frances Garrard, Research Assistant

Charlotte Jeanne, Honors Student

Caitlin Hertzendorf, Summer Research Assistant

Angie Zhao, Summer Research Assistant

Brooke Berger, Lab Manager

Sarah Wiesen, PhD Student

Mandy Kaur, Postdoctoral Fellow

Darcy Smith, Masters Student

Lindsey Rae, Research Assistant

Georgia Wilson, Research Assistant

Tara Webster, Research Assistant

Rachael Holstine, Research Assistant

Molly Sokolosky, Research Assistant

Kelly Willard, Research Assistant

Shannon Shiffer, Research Assistant

Doreen Li, Research Assistant

Savannah Diamond, Research Assistant

Sarah Barrett, Research Assistant

Theresa Brogan, Research Assistant

Ivy Han, Research Assistant

Anna-Grace Lilly, Research Assistant

Ava Murchison, Research Assistant

Isabell Plotsker, Research Assistant

Kashope Anifowoshe, Research Assistant

Aunnika Short, Master’s Student

Mabel Donahue, Lab Manager

Maggie Huntley, Research Assistant

Amelia Murray, Research Assistant

Frances Farrell, Research Assistant

Evy Mattson, Lab Manager

Hijaan Mitha, Research Assistant

Iris An, Research Assistant

Lauren Malley, Honors Student

Lauren Malachowski, PhD Student

Maggie McGowan, Lab Manager

Daniyah Bowen, Research Assistant

Jana Yan, Research Assistant

Wendy Wang, Research Assistant

Emma Kerr, Research Assistant