CARE Lab Our Team

Our Team


Principal Investigator

Nicole Sparapani, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor within the School of Education and the MIND Institute. Her research interests center on the development and evaluation of effective educational practices for students on the autism spectrum, emphasizing the dynamic interplay between children and their classroom environment. Dr. Sparapani practiced as a certified speech-language pathologist on an interdisciplinary team serving preschool children on the spectrum for several years before pursuing her Ph.D. in Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University and postdoctoral training with Dr. Carol McDonald Connor at Arizona State University. See her complete faculty profile here.

Collaborative Partners

Nancy TsengNancy Tseng, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Teaching in the School of Education. She began her career in education as a public elementary school teacher. Her research interests focus on the development of productive student-teacher relationships in mathematics classrooms, identifying instructional practices that support mathematics learning and teaching, supporting student participation in math classrooms, and pre-and in-service teacher education. Dr. Tseng received a BA in psychology, elementary teaching credential, and MA from the University of California, Davis. She has a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Maryland, College Park.       

Peter Mundy, Ph.D. is a Lisa Capps Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the MIND Institute, and a Distinguished Professor in the School of Education. He is an expert in the education and development of children on the autism spectrum. As a developmental and clinical psychologist, Dr. Mundy has been working on defining the major dimensions of autism for several decades. Dr. Mundy’s research focuses on understanding the role that attention, and especially joint attention plays in learning, language and social-cognition of individuals on the autism spectrum.

Postdoctoral Research Scholars

Amanda Dimachkie Nunnally, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellowship with the CARE lab. Her research interests focus on exploring the processes of emotion regulation and self-regulation among young children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, specifically within the context of caregiver-child interactions. Prior to beginning her postdoctoral position at the UC Davis MIND Institute, Dr. Dimachkie Nunnally received her Ph.D. in Education, with an emphasis on Human Development and Psychology, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jennie Bullen, Ph.D. is a recipient of the NIH Autism Researcher Training Program fellowship under the guidance of Drs. Nicole Sparapani and Peter Mundy. Her research interests are to understand the development of mathematical and numerical cognition in children on the autism spectrum and individuals with dyscalculia. Prior to her postdoc position, Dr. Bullen received her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of California, Davis.                                                          

Research Coordinators / Lab Managers

Michelle Salas is a research assistant and recent UC Davis graduate with a Bachelor of Art in Psychology and minors in Human Development and Education. Within the lab, she codes videos of students in classrooms initiating spontaneous communication with their teachers and peers. Following graduation, Michelle plans to attend a graduate program in School Psychology to receive her Master’s degree.   

Kaitlyn McNamara is a recent graduate, earning a BA in Psychology and a minor in Education. Within the lab, Kaitlyn administers DAS-II and Early Social Communication Scales (ESCS) assessments with student participants. She also codes emotion regulation in classroom video observations. Her research interests include exploring the intersection of mental health and neurodevelopmental disabilities in school-aged students and its impact on their learning. In the future, Kaitlyn hopes to further her education either in a clinical or school psychology graduate program.

Mitchell Madison is a 2023 UC Davis graduate, earning a BA in psychology. Influenced by his upbringing in a large family (5 siblings, one of whom has autism) and his own experience with mental health. Mitchell is interested in pursuing a career in clinical social work with specific interests in family systems theory and generational trauma. Within the lab, he contributes to the collection of data through leading video observations and administering assessments. Additionally, Mitchell helps with the process of data entry and coding. 

Graduate Students

Gustav Oppermann is a graduate student in Human Development. He had thus far earned his AA in Psychology, BA in Early Childhood Education from Sonoma State University. He has worked for many years as a preschool teacher and spent summers working with students on the autism spectrum both in nature-based play environments and in focused therapy settings. His research goals are grounded in philosophy and pertain to the abolition of deleterious education practices couched in outmoded paradigms.  

Johanna Vega GarciaJohanna Vega Garcia is a doctoral student in the School of Education. She is interested in studying the intersection between race and autism, and how this intersection affects the quality of education students receive. Johanna also works alongside faculty and students from different departments to tackle global issues as a Global Education for All fellow. 

Laurel TowerLaurel Towers is a doctoral candidate in the UC Davis School of Education. She is originally from the United Kingdom and has extensive experience supporting students with autism as a teacher, inclusion specialist, and school administrator. Laurel’s research interests include classroom interactions and practices between teachers, para-professionals, and students on the autism spectrum. She is especially interested in how educators’ instructional strategies can facilitate students’ emotion regulation during classroom learning.

Cindy Parks is a doctoral student in the School of Education. As a neurodivergent person, Cindy is passionate in her belief that educating parents, teachers, mentors and community members about their children’s and students’ neurodevelopmental needs can result in the implementation of parenting and learning strategies that will help children and families to live more harmonious, productive and loving lives. She believes that when a disability is truly understood, families and educators can begin to interact, parent and/or instruct through a lens that takes into account the learning differences that come with the diagnosis. By dedicating herself to research into the impact of that education, she hopes to foster equity and inclusion for children and people with learning differences.   

Sandy Birkeneder is a doctoral candidate within the School of Education. She received her BA from UC San Diego in Political Science and her MA from San Francisco State. Prior to returning to academia, she worked in the private sector at NBC’s political headquarters in Washington, D.C. Her focus at UC Davis is in autism research in the area of diagnostics and communication.

Undergraduate Research Assistants                     

Bayleigh Baldwin is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and History with a minor in Linguistics. Within the CARE lab, Bayleigh administers assessments at local schools and helps with assessment checking and data entry. Following graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to one day become a professor or teacher.

Caroline Van Zant is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science, Public Service. Within the lab, she codes videos of teacher-student interactions in the classroom. She plans to pursue a teaching credential and make education policy.

Rianna Banaga is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Education. Within the CARE lab, she codes for activity among the students and their teachers within the classroom environment. After graduating from UC Davis, Rianna plans to attend graduate school to get her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Juliana Griswold is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Human Development with a minor in Education. At CARE lab, she codes videos for productivity assessing student opportunities for engagement in the classroom. After graduation, Juliana plans to get a Master’s in Education and teaching credential.

Stefano Cantos is an undergraduate student majoring in English with a minor in Education. Within the lab, he helps with coding classroom activities and context. After graduating from UC Davis, Stefano plans to pursue his Master’s in Education.

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