CARE Lab Our Team

Our Team


Principal Investigator

Nicole SparapaniNicole Sparapani, Ph.D. is an associate professor within the School of Education and the MIND Institute. Her research interests center around the development and evaluation of effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorder (autism), 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 with autism 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 a Lecturer/Supervisor of Teacher Education 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 with Autism. As a developmental and clinical psychologist, Mundy has been working on defining the major dimensions of autism for the past 32 years. Dr. Mundy’s research focuses on understanding the role that attention, and especially joint attention plays in the problems with learning, language and social-cognition that affect individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). He is also interested in research on learning in school aged children with ASD and how to improve classroom based education for these children. 

Postdoctoral Research Scholars

Amanda Dimachkie Nunnally, Ph.D. is a recipient of the NIH Autism Researcher Training Program fellowship under the guidance of Drs. Len Abbeduto (primary) and Nicole Sparapani (secondary). 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 with autism 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.   

Kevin DangKevin Dang is a recent UC Davis graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology. In addition to working as a learning assistant in the Chemistry department, he also works as a research assistant in the lab, coding classroom observations of attention regulation and emotion regulation with students with autism. Following graduation, he plans to attend medical school with an emphasis in Family Medicine. 

Graduate Students

Laurel TowerLaurel Towers is a 4th year doctoral student 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 with autism. She is especially interested in how educators’ instructional strategies can facilitate students’ emotion regulation during classroom learning.

Sandy Birkeneder is in her 3rd year of her PhD program 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. Johanna Vega Garcia

Johanna Vega Garcia is a 3rd year 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. 

Cindy Parks is an incoming doctoral student in the School of Education. As a neurodiverse 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.                                               

Gustav Oppermann is an incoming member of the Human Development Graduate Group at UC Davis. 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 intimately with students on the Autism spectrum (ASD) 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.                                                                                                   

Christine Joyce SolivaChristine Joyce Soliva is a graduate research assistant pursuing an M.Ed. in General Education with a credential in Single Subject: English at the University of California, Riverside. She received a B.A. in English with minors in Women’s Studies and Education at UC Davis. In the lab, Christine codes classroom video observations for student productivity, emotion regulation, orientation, and teacher affect. Following graduation, she plans on teaching English at the High School level.  

Cameron Joseph AlexanderCameron Joseph Alexander is an incoming School Psychology Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside. He received a BS in Human Development and minored in Psychology and Education at UC Davis. Prior to his commitments as a research coordinator, Cameron worked in the CARE lab as an undergraduate research assistant for 2 years. He is interested in understanding and evaluating emotion regulation in learners with varying neurodevelopmental disabilities. Cameron is currently preparing his senior honor’s project for publication, which examined the relationship between biophysiological markers of stress and emotion dysregulation in individuals with Fragile X Syndrome.    

Research Assistants   

Anmolpreet Kang is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Art in Psychology and Linguistics with a minor in Education. Within the lab, she codes videos of students interacting with their teachers in a classroom environment. Following graduation, Anmolpreet plans to pursue a teaching credential and work with education policy to make classrooms more inclusive of students with exceptionalities.   

Sahar Alaei is an undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Spanish. Within the CARE lab Sahar codes videos of student emotion regulation within the classroom environment. Following graduation, she plans on attending medical school and pursuing a career where she is able to help those within the underprivileged community.                                 

Kaitlyn McNamara is an undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with minors in Human Development and Education. In the lab, Kaitlyn codes classroom videos of emotion regulation in students. Following graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to receive her Master’s degree in School Psychology. 

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


My name is Eileen Nayeli De Jesus and I am pursuing a Bachelor of Art in Psychology and double minoring in Education and Chicano Studies. In the lab, I help with the recruitment of participants and administer DAS-2 assessments. After graduating from UC Davis I plan to attend graduate school to receive a Master’s degree in School Psychology and become a licensed school psychologist. 

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