katie and her baby at the grand canyonKatie is an early childhood development research scientist at Child Trends whose work focuses on understanding how children’s early experiences and environments impact their social-emotional skills and readiness for school. We talked with her to learn about her research, both at Child Trends and earlier in her career, and to find out more about her life outside of work.

Can you tell us about your primary research interest(s)?

My primary research interest is the ways in which early environments—including child care and the relationships between children and their caregivers—shape young children’s school readiness skills. Within this interest, I’ve often focused on supports for adults in the lives of young children—for example, parenting supports, relationship-based interventions, and professional development for child care providers.

What sparked your interest in early childhood environments?

My mom taught pre-kindergarten for many years, and I loved learning about preschoolers’ development from her and her students. In college, at Arizona State University, I found my passion for infants and toddlers through an early intervention course and from spending time in the toddler room of one of the university’s lab schools. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to work with children, and I found the first stepping stones on my professional path during my undergraduate years: I discovered that I wanted to research how income inequality impacts families and young children, and I wanted to be someone who could help design and evaluate solutions. I’m still walking that path, stone by stone.

Do you have a favorite piece of content that touches on your research area? 

From academic publishing there are two pieces of work that continue, to this day, to speak to my work: the book Neurons to Neighborhoods, edited by Jack Shonkoff and Deborah Phillips, and the article “Do you believe in magic?” by Jeanne Brooks Gunn. The first is well-known as a seminal work, used by policymakers and researchers alike to make the case for how early environments and experiences get “under the skin”—in other words, the ways in which they shape brain architecture. The second makes the case for investing in early childhood education and family services programs, but cautions that these are not silver bullets to ameliorate deeply engrained inequities in our society.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of research?

I am a proud ‘desert rat’ and you’ll find me hiking and cycling around the Sonoran Desert. Occasionally, you’ll find me on the ski slopes in eastern Arizona—yes, the state is not all desert!

To wrap up, can you tell us a fun or interesting fact about yourself or your family? 

If I could have a second career, or live another life, I would be in the birth/postpartum space as a nurse midwife, lactation consultant, or postpartum doula.