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

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.   

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.                                           

Research Coordinators / Lab Managers

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 candidate in the School of Education. She is interested in studying teacher-student interactions and student-teacher relationships with neurodiverse students by observing teachers’ affect. Within the CARE Lab, she helps administer literacy assessments to students, assists in video recording, and identifies student communication initiation and duration of student productivity using video observations. When she’s not in the lab, she enjoys spending time outdoors and trying out new coffee shops!

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.

Hi, I’m Stefano Cantos, and I am an incoming doctoral student at the School of Education under the advisement of Dr. Sparapani. I lead the classroom video collection team and co-lead the assessment team within the lab. I also code for Emotional Regulation and Activity. I am interested in understanding the inclusion of autistic, neurodiverse, and intellectually disabled students in K-3rd grade classrooms by analyzing teacher preparation, educational policy, and a student’s sense of belonging. I am the son of a blind man, which instilled in me the belief in equitable opportunities for all populations within our schools. You can find me walking my kids (dog and cat) or playing Football Manager when I’m not at the lab. 

Undergraduate Research Assistants                     

Bayleigh Baldwin is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Linguistics with a minor in History. Growing up in a family of inclusive educators, Bayleigh is passionate about improving education for all. She still visits her mother’s first-grade classroom every holiday break and loves working with students. Within the CARE lab, she administers math and Early Social Communication Scales (ESCS) assessments at schools enrolled in our study. She also codes videos for student language and works on her own undergraduate language research projects. She believes in the potential of interdisciplinary research to contribute to discoveries in education and beyond. Additionally, Bayleigh is a student ambassador of the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, where she encourages current and future undergraduates to explore new academic areas. She also mentors first-year students annually and answers their questions about navigating life at UC Davis. This fall, she plans to apply to Ph.D. and post-baccalaureate programs in Education and Linguistics. She hopes to earn the first doctorate in her family and become a professor in the future.

Caroline Van Zant is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and minors in Education and Psychology. She is passionate about advancing equity and inclusion for students with disabilities. Within the CARE Lab, she has recorded classroom lessons, administered literacy assessments, and coded assessment videos. She is currently working on transcribing videos of assessments. In addition to her work with the CARE Lab, Caroline works for the Redwood SEED Scholars Program, a four-year inclusive college opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities. She also serves as the club president for Best Buddies at UC Davis, a program that creates opportunities for friendship between people with and without disabilities. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in special education or 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 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.

My name is Simran Raina, and I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at the CARE lab. I will graduate at the end of this quarter (March 2024) with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and a B.A. in Psychology. Currently, I am working on coding teacher interviews to gain their perspective on the education of neurodivergent learners. After graduation, I plan on attending medical school to pursue a career as a neonatologist. 

Katherine Luong is an undergraduate student majoring in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Education. At the lab, she codes for Initiating Communication and is part of the data entry team. After graduation, Katherine plans on pursuing a career in dentistry.

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

My name is Ofelia Preciado. I am an undergraduate student with a Human Development major and a minor in Chicanx Studies. In the CARE lab, I code Productivity and am a part of the data entry team. After graduating, I plan to go to graduate school and become a school psychologist. 

Cosmos Liu is an international undergraduate student majoring in Cognitive Science and Anthropology. In the lab, they work on video transcription and videotaping. They chose these fields of study to investigate educational and mental health issues from a global and culture-sensitive perspective. In their free time, they love gardening and making illustrations. They also have a taste for flamboyant vintage and lolita fashion. Cosmos wants to be a part-time artist to express their feelings about what they do. They wish every neurodivergent child could grow up knowing they’re worthy, not problematic, and unique individuals.

Leah Cole is an undergraduate student studying Human Development with a minor in Biological Sciences. At the lab, Leah administers math assessments, conducts video observations, and codes Initiating Communication within math and literacy lessons. She joined the CARE Lab because she is passionate about equity and inclusivity in education. Leah also works for the Redwood SEED Scholars Program, a four-year inclusive college opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities. In her free time, Leah plays for Rogue, the UC Davis Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. After graduation, Leah hopes to attend graduate school to become a speech-language pathologist. 

Caroline Callagy is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with minors in Education and Music. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to earn her teaching credential and Masters in Education. A strong advocate for individuals with disabilities, she is working towards becoming a special education teacher for elementary students. In the CARE lab, Caroline codes Productivity under the direction of her wonderful mentor Mitchell and is interested in the types of activities students on the autism spectrum engage in. 

My name is Cristy Bassi, and I am originally from Los Angeles. I am a recent UC Davis graduate with a Biopsychology degree and a Public Health minor. Currently, I help administer assessments within the lab and am a part of the data entry team. I am also pursuing my Masters in Business Administration, and my long-term goal is to become a practicing physician. My interests include fashion, and I am working to release a clothing line centered around my identity as an Indian-American later this year. 

My name is Winnie Chen, and I am a fourth-year undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Global Disease Biology with a minor in Public Health. In the CARE lab, I code Productivity and am a part of the data entry team. As for my interests, I am deeply passionate about advancing the field of special education and inclusive teaching practices. My overarching goal is to contribute to advancing educational practices that prioritize equity, accessibility, and student success. After graduation, I plan to join a nursing program!

Hi, I’m Talia Morones! In the lab, I help with the video observation and assessment teams. A little about my academic background: I graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College and recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in Linguistics from UC Davis. Next in my educational journey, I plan on pursuing graduate school to eventually become a speech-language pathologist. A significant motivator for pursuing this career is the opportunity to work with neurodivergent individuals. As someone who is neurodivergent, I am passionate about having a greater understanding of neurodiverse perspectives and learning different ways to support and help neurodivergent people thrive. My hobbies include art, reading, walking, learning, and spending time in nature. A personal long-term goal of mine is to become multilingual one day. I would love to become fluent in Spanish and ASL! 

Hello! I’m Elia Keating, and I am currently in my third year of undergraduate studies, working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, along with minors in Education and Technology Management. Following my graduation, I plan to pursue graduate studies to deepen my understanding and involvement in educational policy. In the CARE lab, I am part of the literacy assessment team, and I’m enthusiastic about learning more and providing support to this incredible team! 

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