Meet our team!

 

JULIA LEONARD

Principal Investigator

Dr. Leonard is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale. She received her B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior from Wesleyan University, her Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from MIT, and completed a MindCore funded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Leonard wants to understand the factors that support both children’s approach to learning and their capacity to learn. She addresses these questions with the tools of cognitive science, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, with a focus on early childhood and educational implications.

 

Email: julia.leonard@yale.edu

Website

Twitter


MIKA ASABA 

Postdoctoral Associate

Mika is a postdoctoral researcher in the Leonard Learning Lab and the Computational Social Cognition Lab. She received her B.A. in Neuroscience from Wellesley College and her Ph.D in Psychology from Stanford University, where she worked primarily with Hyowon Gweon. Mika investigates how social cognition supports children’s understanding of who they are and what they can do, as well as the behavioral consequences on children’s learning decisions and social interactions. Her research uses developmental and computational methods to tackle these questions, with the ultimate goal of helping children develop healthy self-concepts.

 

Email: mika.asaba@yale.edu

BRANDON CARRILLO  

PhD Student

Brandon is a first-year graduate student in the Leonard Learning Lab at Yale. He received his B.A. in Psychology and in Studio Art from Carleton College. Prior to graduate school, he worked in the nonprofit world at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and as a research coordinator at Stanford University. Brandon is wildly fascinated about how kids think about and regard their own cognitive capacities, specifically how and why they learn. He hopes his research will follow a trail of metacognitive questions that, in the end, will help develop our theories of young children’s motivation to see and understand themselves better as fulfilled learners.

 

Email: brandon.carrillo@yale.edu

Twitter


REUT SHACHNAI 

PhD Student

Reut is a first-year PhD student in the Psychology Department at Yale. Before joining the Leonard Learning Lab, she completed an M.A. at Cornell, where she worked with Drs. Lin Bian, Tamar Kushnir, and Katherine Kinzler. Reut’s research focuses on the influence of social input on young children’s motivation and persistence. She is particularly interested in how social inequalities shape children’s daily experiences, beliefs, and actions. Her ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to empower children to achieve their goals, focusing on children from marginalized and historically underrepresented groups.

 

Email: reut.shachnai@yale.edu

Twitter


FLORA ZHANG

PhD Student

Flora is a third-year grad student in Psychology. She is here because she finds humans puzzling and fascinating. In her research, she asks what makes us — kids and adults — want to explore and learn more about the world around us. More specifically, Flora is interested in how our metacognitive beliefs of learning and exploration could affect our decision to explore more (or, give up). Flora has a B.A. in Philosophy and History of Mathematics and Science from St. John’s College, and a M.A. in Computer Science and Informatics from The University of Chicago.


MELISSA SANTOS 

Lab Manager

Melissa is the lab manager for the Leonard Learning Lab.  She received her B.A. in Psychology and her M.A. in Sociology from Stanford University, where she completed her honors thesis under Dr. Ellen Markman. Her thesis examined how linguistic and plot elements in storybooks affect young girls’ motivation to pursue careers in which women have been historically underrepresented. Melissa hopes to continue exploring the relationship between learning, motivation, and children’s understanding of social categories such as race, gender, and class.

 

Email: melissa.santos@yale.edu


MATTHEW ELMORE MERRITT 

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Matthew Elmore is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College at Yale from Bridgeport, Alabama. Matt is pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies (B.S.) as a pre-med; his interests pertain to environmental science, children’s advocacy and ecology. Matt loves working with kids, holding multiple positions serving New Haven youth, and he is so excited to help out this year in the Leonard Learning Lab! In his free time, Matt is an avid hiker, mountain biker and climber, and he recently led a backpacking trip for first-years in the Berkshires mountains.

 

Email: matthew.merritt@yale.edu 


SUZANNA YANG

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Suzanna Yang is a sophomore at Yale College (TD ’24) pursuing a double major in neuroscience (B.S.) and the history of science, medicine and public health (B.A.) on the premedical track. Her research interests include generational trauma and the effects of socioeconomic elements on children’s persistence. Outside of the academic setting, Suzanna loves to cook and bake, dance, and play guitar!

 

Email: suzanna.yang@yale.edu


MONTSERRAT RODRIGUEZ

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Montserrat Rodríguez is a first year student at Yale College pursuing a B.A. in Psychology and a certificate in Education Studies. Her research interests include the effects of socioeconomic situations on children’s empathy levels, as well as accessibility to higher education and children’s self perception. Outside of the lab, Montserrat enjoys making musical theater references, cooking with friends, and making people smile. 

 

Email: montse.rodriguez@yale.edu


NOAH NORMAN

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Noah is a junior at Yale College (SY ‘23) studying Cognitive Science and German. His research interests include the effects of language and culture on decision making, and more generally how language guides the way we think. Outside the classroom, Noah is a coordinator for Camp Kesem, he loves singing with the Yale Unorthojocks, and is a member of the Yale Crew team.  

 

Email: noah.norman@yale.edu


ELAINE CHENG

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Elaine is a first year student at Yale (GH ’25) pursuing a double major in Psychology and Ethics, Politics, and Economics. She was born in Shanghai, China and grew up in Los Angeles. Elaine’s research interests include studying the effects of systemic biases on children’s learning and development, and researching Marxist feminism and famine politics in Maoist China. Elaine is passionate about figure skating, Jane Austen novels, lavender milk tea, and playing the flute and piano.

 

Email: elaine.yilin.cheng@yale.edu


ZAHRA YARALI

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Zahra is a sophomore at Yale College (SM ’24) studying Sociology (and/or Psychology?) and in the Education Studies Program. Her research interests include the ways society and culture influence children’s understandings of themselves and their decision-making processes, as well as what pedagogical approaches can be taken to build a strong sense of agency in students from a young age. Outside of the lab and classwork, Zahra is a barista at the Acorn Cafe, works on social justice programming for Muslim students at Yale as MSA Political Chair, and is always down to spend an afternoon outside wandering, wondering, and writing poems with a friend.

 

Email: zahra.yarali@yale.edu


JESSIE CHEUNG

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Jessie Cheung is a current sophomore in Davenport at Yale College from Dallas, TX. She is pursuing a Cognitive Science (B.S.) degree, hoping to study and research computational methods of modeling both child and teen development, particularly in the realms of learning, social interaction, and theory of mind. In Jessie’s free time, she enjoys serving in campus ministries, TA-ing introductory CS courses, and having deep conversations with friends over local New Haven restaurants!

 

Email: jessie.cheung@yale.edu