Read up on our lab's researchers, some of whom you'll meet during a visit.

Lab Director & Principal Investigator

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Viridiana Benitez, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Faculty website

My research focuses on understanding early word learning, attentional development, and how language experience, such as bilingualism, affects cognitive development.


Cassandra Leedom, Lab Manager

B.S., 2018, Arizona State University (Psychology and Biomedical Microbiology)

I obtained my B.S. in Psychology as well as a B.S. in Biomedical Microbiology in May of 2018.  I applied to join the lab after graduation to get a fuller experience in academic research and gain a richer understanding of what childhood development actually looks like. When I am not in the lab, I also work as a case manager with seriously mentally ill adults. My future plans are to pursue a master’s degree in social work while continuing to work in the lab.

research ASsistants


Elaina Corbin, Undergraduate Student

My name is Elaina Corbin and I am a junior majoring in Psychology. In the future, I plan to work with children as an Occupational Therapist, so when I learned about the Learning and Development Lab, I jumped at the opportunity to join! I am looking forward to learn about how to conduct developmental research, as well as learning about the day-to-day operations of the lab. I can’t wait to work directly with children and their families and start understanding more about how children learn!  


Sophia Gerken, Undergraduate Student

My name is Sophia and I am a freshman majoring in Community Health and Spanish. I plan to become a nurse practitioner and to go into pediatrics for my love of children and primary care. This lab seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to get a deeper psychological perspective on children to help me better understand how to care for them. I really hope to be a nurse that takes care of her patients beyond a diagnosis and I think that learning about the development of children and adults though this incredible lab is the perfect place for me to start!


Lia Rocha, Undergraduate Student

My name is Lia and I am a new Research Assistant with the Learning and Development Lab. I am a senior Psychology major and I hope to work with children and adolescents as a clinical psychologist. Other than my interest in the cognitive development of children, I am very excited to participate in this lab because I am also bilingual and would love to learn more about the impacts of bilingualism on development.


Gillian Bryant, Undergraduate Student

I’m a senior psychology major. I was drawn to the lab because I love working with kids and want to learn more about their development. I hope this will inform my career goal of working as a clinical psychologist who helps children and adolescents using evidence-based treatment. I also love animals so I work with another lab on my own experiment studying the effectiveness of animal-assisted activities to relieve short-term stress of college students.


Dyan Urias, Undergraduate Student

I am a junior double majoring in Psychology and Family & Human Development with a minor in Social Welfare.  My interest in working with young children led me to participate in this lab in order to explore how children learn and acquire language. I hope to use this knowledge to expand my scope of service to children who speak a different native language than English. Many children do not obtain the mental care they need due to language barriers, and I for my part hope to change these situations.


Emily Fatula, Undergraduate Student

My name is Emily Fatula and I am a junior pursuing a B.S in Forensic Psychology. My main goal is to go on to getting my Masters in Social Work and eventually working within the juvenile detention center system as a counselor. I am excited to be a part of this lab because it is giving me insight of how children learn not only about language but how they learn in their environments. I joined this lab because it is giving me an extraordinary opportunity to work in a research lab and gain that experience that is rare for an undergrad to get.


Harrison Westerfield, Undergraduate Student

My name is Harrison Westerfield and I am a recent addition to the Learning and Development team. I am a Freshman majoring in Computer Science and I plan to specialize in software development. I’m currently interested in developing software and applications for supplemental learning. I hope that through this lab I will have a greater understanding of conditional effects on learning.




Hanna Lalani, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Family and Human Development.  I joined the Learning and Development Lab because I wanted to be involved in research as an undergraduate student.  I hope to learn more information about early word learning, and how each child learns in a unique way.  Specifically, I want to learn about monolingual and bilingual children, including the differences and similarities of how they acquire language.




Sara Quinones, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior majoring in Psychology and Spanish, with a minor in Business. I joined this lab because I am interested in learning about word learning and language development, and how that can relate to bilingualism and my own second language learning experiences. My Honors Thesis focuses on how early novel word learning is affected by the linguistic property of phonotactic probability in a monolingual adult population. I am excited to be a part of this lab because it examines similar properties and phenomena, except within monolingual and bilingual children. After graduation I plan to pursue a Master's in Counseling Psychology.


research assistant alumni


Gabriel Scott, Undergraduate Student

I am currently a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. By having the opportunity to engage in hands-on research, I hope to better understand how children learn and work towards my goal of becoming an Educational or Cognitive Psychologist. I hope to one day revolutionize the area of education in a way that allows children to be more engaged in what they are learning at school, but also, so children can learn the information that they are taught more efficiently.


Emily Smith, Undergraduate Student 

I'm a senior majoring in Psychology and Family and Human Development with a minor in French, and I joined the lab to work on my Honors thesis studying how infants learn words despite interruptions from their busy environments. I was drawn to the lab because I had never stopped to consider how exactly we learn language as children, when I know how difficult it is to learn a new language as an adult, so it's exciting to be part of a lab that examines these processes more closely. In the future, I plan to go to graduate school and eventually work with children and families as a therapist.



Marianna Kaneris, Undergraduate Student

I am a senior majoring in Psychology and Biochemistry. Being interested in child development from both biological and psychological perspectives, I joined the lab to better understand how children learn and acquire language skills as they grow. The opportunity to be a part of the research process will enhance my undergraduate experience and also prepare me for my future plans of attending graduate school in the field of neuroscience.


Ginta Daulys, Undergraduate Student 

As a senior majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Spanish, joining the lab has afforded me the opportunity to work with children and to gain research experience as an undergraduate student.  I am interested in discovering more about how children learn and develop language abilities and especially how monolingual and bilingual children’s developments differ, as I am bilingual myself.  Aspiring to become a pediatrician, I am gaining experience that will allow me to promote children’s psychological, as well as physical, well-being.


Sage Esposito, Masters Student

I am a senior majoring in Psychology and I joined the lab because I am interested in working with children and want to get hands-on research experience as an undergraduate. I hope to gain information about learning in early childhood and a better understanding about how each child differs in their way of learning. These skills will help me attain my career goal of becoming a counselor primarily working with children.


Vanessa Ly, Undergraduate Student

As a junior pursuing a degree in Psychology, I joined this lab because I’m interested in learning about the factors that can influence a child’s learning. In the future, I plan on attending graduate school for Occupational Therapy with an interest in pediatrics. I love working with kids and I hope to take the information that I learned from this lab into my dream career. Specifically, understanding how children learn will help me customize the child’s learning plans/activities to their unique interests and strengths.


Kiley Cronin, Undergraduate Student 

As a junior majoring in Psychology, I joined the lab in order to gain experience in research and to expand my interests of working with children to a scientific setting. I hope to gain a better understanding about how children acquire language, which will be invaluable knowledge for my dream post-grad job, joining the Teach For America Corps. Having first-hand experience seeing how bilingual and monolingual children develop language skills will better prepare me to support children in the classroom to reach their full potential.