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Student Profiles

Marcy Zipke - 2007 Graduate of the Ph.D. Program

I began the LDI program in Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center with just a BA in English. After college I worked as an editorial assistant in a major publishing firm for five years until I met a graduate of the LDI program who was serving as an educational consultant to some of the projects produced by Scholastic. She was self-employed, with many freelance opportunities and personal projects underway. At her urging, I began looking into Educational Psychology programs.

At two of my three scheduled visits to different graduate programs, my potential advisor never showed up. At the Graduate Center, however, many of the LDI faculty attended the same open house I did. They sat with us, patiently answering questions and listening to our concerns. I went home and looked up the names of the faculty I had met only to find that they were all very accomplished well-regarded world-class scientists in their field. I chose the Graduate Center, therefore, mostly because of the caliber and accessibility of the faculty. Not once did I feel alone or unsupported in my studies. It was not uncommon to find research studies germane to my work appear in my box from faculty members with whom I had only a fleeting relationship.

Because of my interest in books and publishing, I naturally gravitated toward the study of reading processes, specifically the reading comprehension of younger elementary school students. My dissertation was entitled Metalinguistic Instruction Improves Third Graders’ Reading Comprehension. My advisor was Dr. Linnea Ehri. Under her tutelage, I learned not only the ins and outs of reading, but also how to effectively carry out a research project in the field, how and where to present my results, and the different ways of writing up studies for publication.

I completed the PhD program in six years. For the first three years of my tenure at the Graduate Center, I worked as a researcher on a U.S.-Dept-of-Education-funded field study. This experience was invaluable, as it gave me experience doing research in the public schools and a close-up view of all that that entails. I was a Graduate Writing Fellow at the Medgar Evers campus for my last two years in New York. As a Writing Fellow, I worked with faculty to develop Writing Across the Curriculum projects and advise professors on the most effective and efficient writing assignments for their courses. As I was wrapping up the research required for my dissertation, I was offered a full-time tenure-track position in the Elementary/Special Education Dept at Providence College, in Providence, RI.

My current position includes teaching the undergraduate courses Communication Disorders and Literacy methods. Although I did not expect to work in academia when I began the graduate program, I love what I do. The focus on teaching and research is split equally at Providence College, and I have grown both as a teacher and a researcher in the five years I have worked here. Spending time in schools, both with my college students, and as an advisor/researcher is the best part of the job. More information about me can be found at

Seamus Donnelly - Ph.D. Student

I became interested in the Educational Psychology program after teaching English for a year in Shenzhen, China. During that time, I was simultaneously learning the Chinese language and teaching English, and I became fascinated with the cognitive and educational implications stemming from different types of linguistic experience—literacy, narrative, bilingualism etc. My current main interest focuses on how learning an orthography—particularly, learning Chinese—affects the way we perceive and learn spoken words.

I picked the LDI program in the Ed Psych program for a number of reasons. I was most drawn by the emphasis on empirical, quantitative research—especially, the rigorous statistics and research methods curricula. Beyond that, I was impressed with the number of opportunities for interdisciplinary study. The Linguistics, Urban Education, Psychology and Philosophy departments all had courses I was interested in.

I’ve been totally satisfied with the program thus far. And I’ve been most impressed by the faculty; beyond being experts in their respective fields, they’re some of the most approachable professors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Conversations with the faculty, both within and outside of class, have led me to fundamentally new and exciting ways of thinking.

Audrey J. Fowler - Ph.D. Student

I am a fifth-year doctoral student in the Learning, Development and Instruction program. I began the doctoral program in Fall, 2006, as a part-time student and a full-time elementary school science teacher working in the New York City public schools system.

I received my MSEd in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from CUNY Queens College through the New York City Teaching Fellows alternative teacher certification program and have been teaching in the same public school since September, 2002. My teaching experiences as a faculty member in a once underrepresented and underperforming public school led me to seek out additional opportunities to enhance my abilities, better develop my craft, and learn how to better service the needs of learners at the elementary grade levels. As a professional with an undergraduate degree and several years work experience in a wholly unrelated field, there was some concern on my part regarding my suitability to pursue scholarship in educational psychology. However, I can say without a doubt ----the faculty and courses offered in the LDI program at the Graduate School and University Center have greatly assisted me in meeting my goals.

Balancing part-time study and full-time employment as a public school educator has not been without its challenges throughout the past several years. However, my students and the general school community in which I work have benefitted greatly from the knowledge I have gained through active involvement in the LDI program. With a greater policy focus placed on the use of assessment data to drive learning, instruction, and curriculum development, in addition to accountability for student progress and academic rigor, the LDI program has provided a much needed bridge, assisting me in reconciling both research and practice in the classroom. Core courses and special seminar offerings facilitated by distinguished faculty and highly qualified educational researchers with diverse research backgrounds have provided a rich learning experience and practical application of theory and research for use in the classroom. The educational implications of pertinent research have been discussed, dissected, and critically evaluated. This is one component that I have found highly valuable and useful in my current profession.

During my time at the Graduate Center, I have completed several mini-studies that have examined instructional practices related to vocabulary learning, phonological awareness and spelling development, and interest and efficacy in the area of science education. I am currently working with Dr. Linnea C. Ehri, Distinguished Professor, to develop my pilot study and doctoral proposal in the area of reading comprehension of science material with a focus on improving students’ scientific literacy. It is my intention to focus on how cognitive and cultural factors influence the development of students’ science understanding at the elementary school grade levels.

Natalya Petroff - Ph.D. Student

I am a full-time student in the Learning, Development and Instruction program. I have B.A. (Philosophy) and M.S. (School Counseling) degrees from Hunter College, CUNY. As a licensed mental health counselor, I worked in the field of substance abuse and mental health for several years before entering the doctoral program at the Graduate Center. While working with substance abusers, I got interested in the issue of motivation: e.g., some of my clients would be persistent on their road to a productive life and would work hard to earn their GED; while many others did not show motivation under the same conditions. When I learned about Prof. Barry Zimmerman and his research on academic motivation, I wanted to study with him. I also wanted to do research and the doctoral faculty here is well known for their contribution to many fields (motivation, literacy, educational statistics, technology in education, etc.). I was offered an enhanced chancellor scholarship grant when I started the program, which meant I could study full time and acquire teaching experience at the college level at the same time (currently, I am a teaching assistant at Hunter College).

In the several years that I’ve been with the program, I have had many important experiences: I have completed my coursework under the guidance of prominent researchers (I am ready to plan for my dissertation now); participated in a large-scale study in NY public schools (re: technology in science education), conducted experimental research in our very own psychology lab, presented at an academic conference, published in an interdisciplinary journal and lectured a class of 200 undergraduates. My time in the program has been very productive because we have an outstanding faculty who are very accessible and ready to provide professional advice 24/7. In addition, my peers come from various fields: we have educators, clinicians and administrators. Some of them are just out of college, while others have had a long and successful career in education. This variety makes for a very vibrant learning community (e.g., despite our busy schedule, we manage to get together and celebrate the end of the semester!).

Among my current research interests are early cognitive and language development, academic literacy, and bilingual competence. I live in NYC. Favorite hobby: spending time with my family.

Leslie Craigo - Ph.D. Student

Currently I am a Level 3 student in the Educational Psychology Program. I am working on my proposal for my dissertation. The working title of this project is “Teaching Community College Students Strategies for Learning Unknown Words as They Read Expository Text.” I chose this topic because I am not only a student at the Graduate Center but also I am an instructor at Borough of Manhattan Community College. My work and my studies are interrelated and that gives coherence to my life as a scholar!

In 2003 I was teaching full time for the NYC Department of Education and part time at the College of Staten Island. While I really enjoyed working with young children, I felt that I was having more of an impact on the educational community during my work with college students. After seventeen years of service to children with special needs, I decided to pursue a full time position on the college level. I knew that in order to obtain such a position, I would need to be in a doctoral program. After much searching, the Educational Psychology Program at the Grad Center was my first choice. The program is conveniently located and tuition is reasonable. (Now, because I am teaching at a CUNY school, I also receive a tuition waiver.) Perhaps the most important reason why I choose this program is that the faculty is excellent. There are several distinguished professors, and all of the professors are caring, approachable, knowledgeable, helpful, and brilliant. Courses are scheduled at reasonable times and I was excited about the consortium with NYU, Columbia, and other nearby universities. This allows students to take courses at these institutions for the Graduate Center price!

The interview process was so welcoming that I knew this was the place for me.

I began my studies part time in 2004. The cohort was (and still is) very supportive. This is a noncompetitive program and we all help each other with studying, research and general morale. Rhonda Palant, the Program Officer, provides accurate answers to questions about registration, grants, paperwork and all the little things that ensure that graduate life runs smoothly. She is gracious and a pleasure to have as a resource.

Some of the highlights of my time here include taking at course at NYU for teacher educators, conducting mini experiments in literacy with the students that I am teaching, and attending the annual conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. I was at that conference with my mentor, Linnea Ehri, and so many of the participants told me how fortunate I was to be studying with her. Several asked me if I could introduce them to her! I have also presented papers at annual conferences of the South East Philosophy of Education Society, the American Educational Society of America, and the National Council of Black Studies.

I balance my scholarship with service to the community; I am on several educational advisory boards and am co convener of the Annual NYC Infant Toddler Conference. For fun, I practice antigravity yoga, am a black belt in karate, play in the dirt in my garden, and dance at some of the best spots in NYC.

Russell Miller - Ph.D. Student

It took me about 30 years to get from undergraduate commencement to the Graduate Center’s doctoral program in Educational Psychology. I’ve spent most of that time in what you might call the practice of educational media: magazines, software, websites, live events, and TV shows for kids, plus a fair amount of feature journalism for grown-ups. When, at a certain point, I began feeling the need to enrich my practice with theory and research, I saw the Learning, Development and Instruction program as an opportunity to spend some quality time studying the processes of informal education across content areas in particular environments, and at different points in development.

I expected LDI to provide a strong foundation in quantitative research and statistical analysis. I expected to develop a more formally critical approach to instructional design and assessment. And I knew that I’d be working with faculty who are national leaders, who have literally defined their fields of study.

What I never dared expect was the LDI community: a thoughtful, compassionate group of scholars committed to figuring out how human beings know and come-to-know. I didn’t expect the deep pleasure of rigorous discussion unconstrained by ideology, tradition or methodological prejudice. And I didn’t expect an intellectual environment where I could consider—and maybe even integrate--insights from disciplines as diverse as developmental psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive-functional linguistics.

I still spend my working days helping clients create engaging, worthwhile ways to entertain kids. But I cherish my afternoons and evenings at the Graduate Center--floating and testing and honing ideas in LDI’s open, yet disciplined, academic community.

Marisa Cohen - Ph.D. Student

I am a fifth year student in the Learning Development and Instruction program. I am finishing my dissertation entitled “Improving the Acquisition and Retention of Science Material by Fifth Grade Students Through the Use of Imagery Interventions.” This study focuses on vocabulary interventions which facilitate the acquisition and retention of science content words in several public school classrooms on Long Island. Working on this study has been very beneficial as it has afforded me the opportunity to apply abstract psychological concepts to the classroom and implement interventions to facilitate learning. It has also allowed me to familiarize myself with seeking external funding, IRB approval, and submitting and revising journal articles for publication.

I completed an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in Biology and Society with a minor in Education. I was originally interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in the sciences and carrying out microbiology research. During my last few years of undergrad study, I began to take psychology and education courses. I was also a teaching assistant for two classes, Intro to Oral Communications and The Art of Teaching, which is where my passion for teaching and working with others really grew from. I knew that I wanted to continue conducting research while also having the opportunity to instruct others in a higher education setting. The LDI program at the Graduate Center really has encompassed all of these interests.

I began my studies as a full time Ph.D. student in 2006, right after finishing my undergrad degree. My cohort was, and continues to be extremely close knit. We all worked together in preparing for exams and completing course assignments. The faculty is also extremely supportive and has helped the students every step along the way. They make themselves readily available between office hours and class time.

Beyond my teaching commitments, I have served on the Graduate Student Issues Committee for the Northeastern Educational Research Association, and am currently a member of the National Graduate Student Committee for Kappa Delta Pi, an honor society in education. I work with graduate students from all over the country to help build a community in which research can be shared and students can work collaboratively. I also present at conferences several times a year to continue to learn and make connections with others in the field.

Rachel Ebner - Ph.D. Graduate Student

With a background in developmental psychology, I have had a longstanding interest in researching, designing, and assessing multi-faceted ways to advance student learning in and out of the classroom. Being a doctoral student in GC’s Educational Psychology program has enabled me to pursue these academic and research interests within the Learning, Development, & Instruction subprogram.

Before entering the program, I earned an M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Teacher’s College at Columbia University, and an Ed.M. in Risk & Prevention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I also conducted research for, and consulted with, various organizations on children’s media, curriculum development, and educational policy.

The Educational Psychology program’s renowned faculty, and the opportunity to work directly with them on cutting-edge research, along with the program’s small class sizes and diverse student population—all in the heart of New York City—are just some of the reasons that the program was so attractive to me. As a result of my own experience as a GC doctoral student, where I have had the opportunity to learn from and work directly with my advisor, literacy expert and Distinguished Professor of Educational

Psychology, Dr. Linnea Ehri, I have developed a special interest in researching the relationship between literacy and technology. Under Dr. Ehri’s guidance, I have been able to pursue this research interest.

Being a student in the Educational Psychology program has not only equipped me with necessary knowledge and skills to pursue my own academic and research interests, but also has allowed me to communicate that knowledge to other students by teaching at the university level, as an Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College’s School of Education. My experience in the Educational Psychology program has been a bridge to my academic and professional aspirations.

Julie Rosenthal - 2006 Graduate of the Ph.D. Program

I began the LDI program in Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center when, as a Third Grade Teacher in District 4, I found myself frustrated at my inability to reach several of my students. In observing their reading behaviors, I came to believe that one of the central difficulties for these children was a lack of vocabulary knowledge. I decided that if I wanted to be an effective teacher, I needed to build my knowledge base and learn more about the reading process.

An alumnus of CUNY (I earned my Bachelor’s of Arts in English and my Master’s of Science in Education from Hunter) my first inclination was to look at available programs at the CUNY Graduate Center. The LDI program, with its concentration in literacy acquisition, seemed a perfect fit. I did not anticipate the level of rigor offered by the program, nor did I realize how much I would learn and how valuable this education would be.

I completed the PhD program in five years. During my tenure at the G.C., I had opportunities to work as a research assistant to Dr. Linnea Ehri on two major, publicly funded studies. This experience was invaluable and I am convinced was a major component in my recent achievement of tenure at William Paterson University of New Jersey. In addition to the knowledge of research I gained through this experience and from the program in LDI, the quality of my dissertation research won me two competitive fellowship grants which more than paid for my dissertation work. In addition, because of the quality of the research I conducted under Dr. Ehri, I was able to publish my work in three highly ranked peer reviewed journals.

My current position involves teaching the undergraduate literacy course which is part of the certification program at WPU. I am well prepared for this position. As a tenured professor, I am also expected to conduct research and to oversee student research. My responsibilities are so varied, that I never get bored. More information about me can be found at

Samantha Feinman - Ph.D. Student

I graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland with a BS in Speech Pathology and Audiology and a minor in Psychology of the Exceptional Child. My Masters degree, from Long Island University C.W. Post campus, is in Special Education, concentrating in autism through the Competencies in Autism for Special Educators Program (CASE). My credits include: teacher of the Speech/Hearing Impaired at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Suffolk County, NY, special education teacher in Nassau County, NY, and varied staff development activities. Presently I am a full-time clinical faculty member in Special Education at Pace University. Also I am currently serving a three-year commitment on the Board of Directors for the Northeastern Educational Research Association (NERA). I am a fifth year doctoral student in the Educational Psychology program at the Graduate Center, specializing in Learning, Development, and Instruction (LDI).
I feel very fortunate to have picked the LDI program at the Graduate Center to pursue my Ph.D. The distinguished faculty and supportive atmosphere have provided invaluable experiences that have helped me to grow professionally and to develop my interest areas in research. The coursework I have taken has led to a clearer picture of the theory to practice connection, which has also helped me to develop my teaching in higher education.
I am currently working on my pilot study in collaboration with my faculty advisor, Dr. Linnea Ehri. My research is investigating the reading comprehension skills of students diagnosed with autism, with a focus on improving the way that these students comprehend text by processing anaphoric relationships. This involves their ability to connect words or phrases to their previously stated referents, for example, pronouns to nouns, or effect statements to causes.

Michelle Montefinise Guisto - Ph.D. Student

Background. I am a part-time LDI student and a full-time third grade teacher in Little Neck, New York. I started at the Graduate Center in 2005 and am in the initial stages of my pilot study. My experience juggling work and the LDI program has been both challenging and rewarding. I have had to learn how to
effectively manage my time, and there have been months that have felt overwhelming, but I feel that I have attained great rewards as a result. I have the opportunity to view my professional field from dual perspectives - as a practitioner and as an aspiring researcher. I feel that there has been a great disconnect between these two facets of education, and it has been very intriguing to bridge the gap between these two drastically different roles. It is my hope that more teachers pursue graduate work and get to open their eyes to the knowledge and insight I have gained. I am of the firm belief that knowing more about research can make one a better teacher, and knowing more about teaching can make one a more well-rounded researcher.

Finally, in pursuing graduate work in my mid-twenties, I was concerned about how life and all of its milestones would stand in the way of my realistically finishing this program. After five years, I can see that there was nothing to worry about; the people in this program are true professionals, but they are also understanding enough to realize the significance of having life happen to you in its natural progression outside of the graduate program. During my time here, I have had both personal and work-related gaps. I have gotten married, prompting a leave of absence, and have sometimes faced scheduling conflicts due to demands from work and life's typical comings and goings. Through every milestone, conflict and loophole, the people in this program not only worked with me to ensure that I would get through it and maintain satisfactory progress in the program, but they have been kind and wished me well on a more personal note along the way. Such caring and compassion is rare and not entirely necessary in the professional world, and it has been my experience with everyone affiliated with this program from day one. In observing other working professionals in this program experience the same level of empathy from the professors and faculty, even some with new families and young children at home, I can say with confidence that my experience is not just an individual circumstance, but an element of Graduate Center culture, particularly in the LDI program.

Why I chose GC. I picked the LDI program at the Graduate Center for several reasons. Primarily, while I was pursuing a Master's Degree at Queens College, Dr. Lila Swell, a professor of mine, suggested the program to me after hearing rave reviews about it from her colleagues. I was skeptical about whether or not I would have the time to pursue this degree given the demands of my teaching schedule, but I was told that the people at the program were very flexible and would work with me. As it turns out, that was entirely true. My schedule did not easily match up with that of the Graduate Center, but my professors were very accommodating and understanding. Secondly, I was aware of the fact that several well respected professors within Queens College were affiliated in some way with The Graduate Center. Having seen the high level of professionalism associated with the school, I could not resist seeking out further information.

Salient experiences in the program. After five years of part-time course work at the Graduate Center, I can recall several salient experiences that have motivated me along the way. Primarily, I have always found the diversity of the students at the Graduate Center to be an area of interest as well as a learning tool. In my first years at the program, my classes were filled with a mix of students from varied professional backgrounds. Some students were statisticians, others were school psychologists, some had a long line of research experience and a few, like me, were teachers in the field. I feel that we each contributed our strengths and experiences in order to help one another understand each of these fields, and, since Educational Psychology is a mix of all of these things, that supported the content of the program tremendously. Secondly, on that note, I was quite surprised to learn how many misconceptions I had about statistics and analyzing research, and how much this program has helped me to decipher between pertinent information and mistranslated text. So often in the field of teaching, the term "research" is thrown at teachers without much clarification, or, in some cases, accuracy. I feel that, now, I am more qualified to look at statistical data from school reports, media outlets and the like and understand them enough to put them to practical use in my own classroom. Finally, as someone who has administered tests to so many struggling students, I am now eager to start my prospective pilot study on testing accommodations that may help reading disabled students. Extended time has always been the default accommodation, but, in looking at research, trying out some strategies suggested in past findings with my own students and observing how successful they have been, I am now learning how fulfilling it is to be one of the researchers that gets to propose a change. I no longer have to wait for someone out there to suggest something and present it to the masses; as a researcher, I can be the person who does that, and, in the all too often frustrating world of testing and accommodation, that's a very rewarding experience.