CEHD News Educational Psychology

CEHD News Educational Psychology

Ohrtman elected president-elect of MSCA Board

Marguerite Ohrtman

Marguerite Ohrtman, director of school counseling and M.A. clinical training in the counseling and student personnel psychology (CSPP) program, recently was elected president-elect of the Minnesota School Counselor Association (MSCA) Board. The MSCA Board represents school counselors across the state to promote, educate, and advance the school counseling profession. Ohrtman’s term as president will begin in the 2019-2020 school year.

For the past four years, Ohrtman has served on the MSCA Board as vice president of post secondary institutions, representing the school counseling training programs in the state. This year, she served in a dual role as vice president of post secondary and president of the Lakes Area Counseling Association, the regional association representing school counselors in the west and south metro.

Please join us in thanking Dr. Ohrtman for her continued leadership of school counselors here at the U and across the state!

Miller to receive WPLC Rising Star Faculty Award

Faith Miller headshot
Faith Miller

Faith Miller, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, has been awarded the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Circle (WPLC) “Rising Star Faculty Award.” Miller will receive her award at the WPLC annual awards celebration on June 12 at the Town and Country Club in St. Paul.

Miller was nominated by her colleagues, Professor Theodore J. Christ, Professor Kristen McMaster (’07 WPLC Rising Star Faculty), and Assistant Professor LeAnne Johnson (’16 WPLC Rising Star Faculty). In her nomination letter, Miller’s colleagues recognized her “rapid emergence as a leader with respect to social-emotional behavioral development at the local, state, and national levels.”

The WPLC Rising Star Faculty Award recognizes a pre-tenure women faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development who has demonstrated leadership and creativity in an academic area as shown by research, teaching, and service. The recipient receives a $1,500 award for professional development.

CSPP students, faculty donate school supplies to Minneapolis elementary school

Counseling and student personnel psychology (CSPP) students and faculty donated school supplies to Elizabeth Hall International elementary school in Minneapolis where CSPP alumna Jessica Lambrecht (pictured above) is the school counselor.

Thanks to all of our CSPP students and faculty for their generosity. Lambrecht and the school are very grateful!

CSPP students attend MSCA Annual Conference


Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology (CSPP) graduate students, along with Dr. Carolyn Berger and Dr. Marguerite Ohrtman, traveled to the Minnesota School Counselor Association Annual Conference, April 28-May 1.

Over 25 students from the program attended, along side over 550 school counselors from across the state. Students participated in the graduate student social, attended and presented at workshops, and participated in the awards banquet. Three groups of students from CSPP presented.

Presentation 1 (above left): “Weathering the Storm: Helping students and families benefit from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP).” The presentation was original research the group started last year exploring the knowledge of school counselors and the MFIP.

Presentation 2 (above right): “Row Your Boat: Self-care and Resiliency for School Counselors.” The presentation was based on data that was collected from school counselors in the state related to their caseloads and resiliency/self-care.

Presentation 3: (not pictured): Cristina Silva Gleason, Abbie Mayfield, Anastasia Osbeck, and Dr. Carolyn Berger presented “Best Practices for Supporting Gender Nonconforming Students.” Their presentation focused on helping school counselors understand how to best advocate for gender nonconforming students and make school a safe and welcoming place where all students are set up for success.

Presentation 4 (not pictured): Dr. Marguerite Ohrtman and Dr. Carolyn Berger also presented on “Ethical Issues in Supervision.”

Congratulations to all of the CSPP students and faculty who attended!

Four Ed Psych graduates named 2018 CEHD Rising Alumni

Graduates Jennifer Hall-Lande, Meghan Hickey, Renáta Tichá, and Sara Witmer from the Department of Educational Psychology have been included in this year’s CEHD Rising Alumni. They were selected for their, “achieved early distinction in their careers, demonstrated emerging leadership, or exceptional volunteer service in their communities” according to CEHD’s Alumni Society, who chooses the recipients.

Jennifer Hall-Lande received her Ph.D. in educational and school psychology in 2011 and is currently a research associate and a faculty of the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) program here at the University of Minnesota. Jennifer’s specialties are in autism spectrum disorder as well as other neurodevelopmental disabilities.  Read more about Jennifer here.


Meghan Hickey received both her M.A. (2007) and Ph.D. (2010) in educational psychology and is currently the Special Education Supervisor for Robbinsdale Area Schools where she is a mentor and leader for special education teachers. Outside of her position she is a member of the Minnesota School Psychologists Association Board and supervises practicum students. Read more about Meghan here.


Renáta Tichá obtained her special education M.Ed. in 2002 and her Ph.D. in educational psychology in 2008. She is currently a researcher at the University of Minnesota Institute of Community Integration, serving as the Director of the Global Resource Center for Inclusive Education. Renáta’s expertise is in progress monitoring, inclusion education, as well as service delivery for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Read more about Renáta here.


Sara Witmer received both her M.A. (2002) and Ph.D. (2004) in educational psychology and is currently Associate Professor of School Psychology and Co-Director of School Psychology programs at Michigan State University. Sara is recognized for her work on how to use assessment and accommodation to enhance instructional decision making for students with disabilities and English language learners. Read more about Sara here.


Congratulations to all of the recipients. We are proud of your hard work and how you continue to represent the Department of Educational Psychology in all you do!





Kyle Wagner, special ed Ph.D. student, selected for 40th annual CLD Leadership Institute

Kyle Wagner

Kyle Wagner, a special education Ph.D. student has been chosen to attend the 40th annual Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD) Leadership Institute in Portland, Oregon which will take place on October 10, 2018, a day prior to the 2018 International Conference on Learning Disabilities.

Kyle worked five years as a nationally certified and Minnesota licensed school psychologist in Texas and Minnesota. Currently, he’s a graduate research assistant on a grant developing data based instruction for writing and finding effective ways to train teachers to use it. Kyle’s personal research focuses on the area of practice schedule manipulation in academic interventions.


Learning & the Brain, BPS feature psych foundations study on seductive allure of neuroscience explanations

A study done by psychological foundations of education researchers—Ph.D. student Soo-hyun Im and associate professors Keisha and Sashank Varma— has been featured in both the Learning & the Brain website and The British Psychological Society (BPS) Research Digest. The articles, “Can you resist the seductive allure of neuroscience?” and “The public finds articles about education more convincing when they contain extraneous neuroscience discuss the group’s British Journal of Educational Psychology study. Their research showed that the general public is more likely to believe articles about educational topics when they are accompanied by both extraneous verbal neuroscience findings and brain images.

Read the full Learning & the Brain article. 

Read the full British Psychological Society Research Digest article. 

Students recognized at annual Psych Foundations and QME Awards and Recognition Ceremony

L-R: Professor Robert delMas, Bowen Li, Qinjun Wang, Kyle Nickodem, Jasmine Kim, Isabel Lopez Hurtado, Professor Sashank Varma

On April 23, 2018, psychological foundations of education students: Jasmine Kim, Isabel Lopez Hurtado,  Anthony Schulzetenburg, along with quantitative methods in education students: Qinjun Wang, Bowen Li, and Kyle Nickodem were awarded for their contributions to their program at the annual Psych Foundations and QME Awards and Recognition Ceremony.

Quantitative methods in education awards:

Qinjun Wang was awarded the Graduate Student Research Award. Qinjun has participated in three research projects, including projects with the IGDILabs and MOCCA (Multiple Choice Online Comprehension Assessment), as well as his own independent research. He has participated in the preparation of 21 total conference papers, presented across the country, and this year will be presenting internationally.

Bowen Li received the Graduate Student Research Award. She has published two papers since 2016 and has submitted one other on which she is first author. She has been part of a multi-university, interdisciplinary team that developed a new, formative reading comprehension test, the Multiple Choice Online Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) that will be test marketed next fall.

Kyle Nickodem was awarded the Graduate Student Research Award. Kyle was selected for this award due to his research productivity, versatility, and quality. He has over 15 presentations and publications in the areas of statistics and psychometrics, as well as in substantive areas of Educational Psychology.

Psychological foundations of education awards: 

Jasmine Kim received the Graduate Student Research Award. Jasmine is only in her first year but she has already co-authored 2 journal papers that are now under review, and is preparing yet another 2 for submission. Her research focuses on identifying the conditions that will facilitate transfer of revised knowledge in new situations.

Isabel Lopez Hurtado was awarded the Graduate Student Leadership Award. Isabel was selected because of her cumulative contributions over her 4 years in the program, which include providing advice to more junior students, helping to organize social events, and coordinating Prof. Maruyama’s research lab meetings.

Anthony Schulzetenberg received the Graduate Student Teaching Award. Anthony has been the lead TA for course EPSY1281 Applied Psychological Science for the past 2 years, and his overall teaching ratings range from 5.7 to 6.0. His students consistently acknowledge his efforts in glowing comments, and recently in a ‘thank a teacher’ note which can be found here.


Six CSPP students serve on Lakes Area Counseling Association Board

Back row L-R: Michael Rask, Drew Wandschneider, Emily Cranberg, Rikki Hemstad Front Row L-R: Melissa Kellen, Michelle Kammers

Six counseling and student personnel psychology students; Melissa Hansen, Drew Wandschneider, Emily Cranberg, Rikki Hemstad, Michelle Kammers, and Michael Rask served on the Lakes Area and Counseling Association Board this past year with Marguerite Ohrtman, director of school counseling, director of M.A. clinical training, who served as President of LACA this year, and Professor Carolyn Berger who served as Ethics Chair on the board.

On the board, the students redesigned the website, created a logo, helped put on two professional development workshops, two social events, and networking events, collaborated with regional counselors, and served on committees.

CAUSE researchers host NAAD webinar on propensity score matching

Researchers working on the First in the World project—run by CAUSE: Consortium for the Advancement of Underrepresented Student Engagement and made possible by the U.S. Department of Education and its programs—recently presented two propensity score matching (PSM) webinars for members of the National Association of Assessment Directors (NAAD). Professor and department chair Geoffrey Maruyama and Ph.D. students in the psychological foundations of education program—Anthony Schulzetenberg, Isabel Lopez, and Wei Song—along with Jason Johnson, a Ph.D. student in Organizational Leadership Policy (not pictured), presented to the group.

Propensity score matching (PSM) is a quasi-experimental statistical approach that attempts to create comparable treatment and control groups by controlling on background and other variables thought to be related to participation in programs and thereby allow better estimation of the effect of a treatment, policy, or other intervention.

“The experiences the students had in preparing the webinars provided an opportunity for them to consolidate their knowledge and think about how to explain the methods to people who were less knowledgeable,” says Maruyama. “We all will be repeating the webinars for all the recipients of First in The World grants this May.”

QME presents 18 times at AERA and NCME

The following presentations were made by the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education program students and faculty at this year’s American Educational Research Association (AERA) and National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) annual meetings, held jointly in New York City, April 13-17.

Guzey, S., Peralta*, Y., Song*, W., Harwell, M.R. & Moore, T. (2018, April). The impact of intense professional development on student STEM achievement and attitudes towards STEM.

Jitendra, A.K., Harwell, M.R., Im*, S.-h., Karl*, S.R., & Slater, S.C. (2018, April). Replicating the effects of experienced and novice implementers of SBI on students’ proportional problem solving.

Im*, S.-h., Harwell, M.R., Jitendra, A.K., Karl*, S.R., & Slater, S.C. (2018, April). The impact of a research-based intervention to improve seventh-grade students’ proportional problem solving: A regression discontinuity design.

Davenport, E. & *Zopluoglu, C. (2018, April) Dimensionality as it Relates to Factor Analysis and Item Response Theory.

Davenport, E. & Davison, M. (2018, April) Dimensionality for Composites from SubScores from Different Latent Entities.

Davenport, E. & *Kang, Y. (2018, April) Dimensionality and Item Parcels.

Davenport, E.Davison, M., *Zopluglu, C., *Kang, Y. (2018, April) Dimensionality and the Meaning of Composites.

MYDRG presentations

*Ersan, O., *Kang, Y., Rodriguez, M.C., *Do, Tai, *Lamm, R. (2018, April)  Mental distress: Risk and protective factors among American Indian youth. [AERA SIG – Indigenous Peoples of the Americas] Paper Session: Place, Pathways, Persistence, and Protection in Schooling.

*Nickodem, K., *Van Boekel, M., *Kang, Y., *Lamm, R., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) School and community sports participation and positive youth developmental: A multilevel analysis. [AERA SIG- Research Focus on Education and Sports.] Paper Session: Youth Development through Sport in a K-12 Context.

*Song, W., *Vue, K., *Do, T., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) Social capital, self-control, and academic achievement in adolescence: A structural equation modeling approach. [AERA SIG – Social and Emotional Learning] Paper Session: Social and Emotional Learning and Academic Achievement.

*Lamm, R., *Vue, K, *Nickodem, K., *Do, T., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) The role of out-of-school-time positive experiences on risky behaviors. [AERA Division G – Section 1: Micro-analyses of the social context of teaching and learning] Roundtable: Qualitative Research Perspectives on the Roles of Students and Teachers in the Social Contexts of U.S. Public Schools.

*Lamm, R., *Vue, K., *Do, Tai, *Nickodem, K., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) Do LGB students feel safe and why does it matter? [AERA SIG – Research Focus on Education and Sports] Paper Session: Youth Development through Sport in a K-12 Context.

*Cabrera, J., Rodriguez, M.C., *Karl, S., *Chavez, C. (2018, April) In what ways do health behaviors impact academic performance, educational aspirations, and commitment to learning? [AERA Division H – Section 1: Applied Research in Schools] Paper Session: Examining Non-Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes.

*Kang, Y., *Smith, M., *Ersan, O., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) A pathway to resilience for students who experience trauma: A structural equation modeling approach. [AERA SIG – Adolescence and Youth Development] Paper Session: Leadership & Social Relationships in Adolescent Development.

*Cabrera, J., *Karl, S., *Chavez, C., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) Investigating socioeconomic status proxies: is one proxy enough? [AERA SIG – Survey Research in Education] Paper Session: Latent Analyses with Surveys in Education Research.

Rodriguez, M.C., *Bulut, O., *Cabrera, J., *Vue, K. (2018, April) Response processes in noncognitive measures: Validity evidence from explanatory item response modeling. [NCME].

*Palma, J., *Bulut, O., *Cabrera, J., *Kang, Y. (2018, April) Measurement invariance in noncognitive measures: Validity approach using explanatory item response modeling. [NCME].

*Nickodem, K., Rodriguez, M.C. (2018, April) Comprehensive partitioning of student achievement variance to inform equitable policy design. [NCME].


*Denotes current or former graduate student
Bolded text denotes Educational Psychology faculty or researcher

Students research with Varma, present at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Language Differences by Environment in STEM Classroom Engagement Activities research team (L-R: Chanel Flower, Evan Son, Samuel Bullard, and Corissa Wurth)

Eight undergraduate student enrolled in Associate Professor Keisha Varma’s EPSY 5200 – Community Engaged Research Experiences for Undergraduate Students course presented their research projects at the University wide Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 20 at Northrop Auditorium. In addition to taking Varma’s class, the students are conducting research on her National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Project ESPRIT, and U of M grant-in-aid funded SciGames Project. 

Project ESPRIT researchers

  • Social-media Learning Environments and Middle School Science Student Engagement, Celina Berndt, psychology major, College of Liberal Arts
  • Language Differences by Environment in STEM Classroom Engagement Activities, Chanel Flower, Evan Son, Samuel Bullard, and Corissa Wurth, psychology majors, College of Liberal Arts
  • The Effects of Familial Interaction on Students’ Science Scores, Haley Hauptman, psychology major, College of Liberal Arts
  • The Overall Exploration of Middle School Students’ Parental Involvement in STEM Education with Technology, Hao Liang, economics major, College of Liberal Arts

SciGames project researcher

  • Choice in Games: How Agency Affects Retention, Charlie Mackin, psychology major, College of Liberal Arts

Learn more about Varma’s research.

Instructor profile: Marguerite Ohrtman, CSPP, director of school counseling and M.A. clinical training

Marguerite Ohrtman didn’t always want to pursue teaching and counseling.

“My original plan was to major in history to then attend law school, but my mom encouraged me to also get my teaching license,” she recalls.

As a student teacher, Ohrtman taught eighth graders and loved it which led her to pursue a career in teaching. Her first permanent position was as a middle school and high school history teacher in a small, rural town in Iowa where she also coached volleyball, basketball, and cheerleading.

After teaching for two years, Ohrtman discovered she enjoyed working with students on a more personal level and decided to pursue a career in school counseling. She earned both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Ohrtman worked as a school counselor at Shakopee High School while earning her doctoral degree and was also an adjunct professor during her doctoral program.

Today, Ohrtman is the director of school counseling and M.A. clinical training in the Department of Educational Psychology, specifically within the counseling and student personnel psychology (CSPP) program. When asked about her position here Ohrtman says, “I feel fortunate that I get to combine my two passions—teaching and counseling—in my current job.”

Ohrtman is a leader in the field of school counseling. In 2016, she was awarded the College of Education and Human Development’s New Career Excellence Award. She is the Lakes Area Counselors Association (LACA) president and treasurer. For the last four years, she’s been the vice president of post-secondary institutions for the Minnesota School Counselor Association Board. And she was recently elected President-Elect of the Minnesota School Counselor Association for 2018-2019.

“The most exciting part of my job is definitely working with our students.” Ohrtman says.

“I love mentoring and advising students as they progress through our program.”

Ohrtman’s advice to students: “‘Don’t stew, just do.’ Often times we get in our own way of our dreams and goals. I encourage students to do more and to challenge themselves each day. I also tell them, ‘Ask your advisors and mentors for help when you need it.’ We all want to help if we can!”

Outside of work, when not chasing her two toddlers, Orhtman loves traveling with her husband and mom, especially to California and Europe. She also enjoys going to Twins and Gopher games, shopping, taking her children to the zoo, photography, and wine.

“I am proud to say that I work for the University of Minnesota and the Department of Educational Psychology,” Ohrtman says. “I have amazing colleagues in the CSPP M.A. program.”

“I look forward to continuing to connect with others here at the U!”

Panayiota Kendeou: 5 Tips for fending off fake news

Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou

Misinformation and misconceptions have always been a part of our lives. However, since 2016 misinformation and orchestrated “fake news” on the internet and social media have added dimensions and intensity that we have not seen in the past. Associate Professor Panayiota Kendeou is conducting research to help educators and parents understand the problem and help provide students with tools to identify and refute fake news and misinformation. Read more.

Education Week features MYDRG student research on how healthy habits increase college aspirations

Julio Caésar Cabrera head shot
Julio Caésar Cabrera

Julio Caésar Cabrera—Ph.D. candidate in the quantitative methods in education program in the Department of Educational Psychology and member of the Minnesota Youth Development Research Group (MYDRG)—has been featured in Education Week for research he presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting.

Using Minnesota Student Survey data, Cabrera and his MYDRG colleagues found students who practiced healthy habits—like sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and avoiding alcohol and drugs—were more likely to both plan to attend college and to achieve the level of academic success necessary for a college student.

“Not one variable alone can explain everything that’s going on in students’ outcomes,” Cabrera told Education Week. “It has to be almost a synergistic movement where we tackle all these [health factors] at the same time. When we take these four variables together, they have a huge impact.”

Cabrera’s was one of 11 MYDRG presentations at this year’s AERA and National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) meetings.

Read the full article in Education Week

Q&A with Diamonique Walker, QME student

As a teen mother, Diamonique Walker dropped out of high school. After struggling to find an educational path that suited her needs and allowed her to still provide for her daughter, Walker decided to get her GED at 19. She followed that up with a two-year degree at a local community college and, later, a B.A. in psychology at Augsburg University. During her time in undergrad, Walker became interested in the application of statistics to psychology.

With help through her participation in the McNair Scholars Program at Augsburg, she began looking for a graduate program with compelling faculty research and a commitment to supporting the communities around it. Walker wanted a program that involved education, psychology, and statistics and says, “I found just that in the QME (quantitative methods in education) program.”

Now a Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Psychology, Walker’s research interests lie in standardized tests, specifically, making them more culturally sensitive and fair for nonwhite and low-income students. In addition, she wants to better understand the achievement gap through the use of statistical models.

We asked about her experience as a QME student and what insights she’d like to share with prospective students. Here’s what she said:

Q: What is most exciting about your work?

“I can confidently say that I love what I am learning. Although this is a challenging experience, it is molding me into being a critical thinker and the detail-oriented professional I want to be.”

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your experience in your program? Has anything surprised you?

“I feel like I am in the right place with my program because I am around people who I can ask questions, who have strikingly similar interests as me, and who are always willing to help! I am surprised with how fast this first year has gone by. I am almost through one year of graduate school and I can hardly believe it. I am one year closer to having my Ph.D. than I was last year and that is so amazing to me.”

Q: What would you like prospective students to know about your program? Any advice for them?

“Prospective students should know that this department is committed to students’ success. Students can get the support they need from faculty, through connecting with other students, and instructors. It’s a very supportive environment. I would advise them to take advantage of opportunities, whether that be as part of a research project, an internship, etc. This will help with professional development and build connections and common interests with faculty and staff. I’ve also found that this helps narrow your interests once you’ve exposed yourself to different opportunities.”

Q: Do you have hobbies or activities that you do outside of work?

“I enjoy spending time with my daughter, my partner, and my dog. I also love bicycling, baking and reading.”

Q: What’s next for you?

“This summer I am hoping to find an internship that relates to my field of study to get more relevant professional experience as a data analyst.”

Ed Psych grad students attend Inaugural SRCD Tricaucus Preconference

Educational Psychology students participating in tricaucus preconference
L-R: Jose Palma, Eva Tseng, Isabel Lopez, Carlos Chavez, Jimin Park, Tai Do, Astrid Schmied, and Mireya Smith

Eight graduate students from the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education and psychological foundations of education programs attended the Inaugural Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Tricaucus Preconference on April 11 at the University of Minnesota during the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Biennial Meeting.

The students met in small groups of Asian, Black, and Latino Caucuses to discuss career development and network with mentors.

The event was co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Departments of Psychology, Educational Psychology, Family Social Science, and the Institute of Child Development.

Butterfuss receives Graduate Student Research Excellence Award from AERA

Reese Butterfuss

Reese Butterfuss, a Ph.D. student in the psychological foundations of education program in the Department of Educational Psychology and a member of the Reading + Language Lab, has been awarded the 2018 Graduate Student Research Excellence Award by the American Educational Research Association (AERA; Division C; Learning and Instruction). This award represents Division C’s continuing efforts to recognize excellence in graduate student research. Butterfuss will receive his award at the division’s annual business meeting at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in New York City, April 13-17.

Butterfuss—under the mentorship of faculty member Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou—conducts research on the role of higher-order cognition on knowledge revision during reading comprehension. He has published several papers in this area. Read more about his most recent work on executive functions (EFs) and reading comprehension here. In addition to this award, Butterfuss received the Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) from the Society for Text and Discourse and the Research Excellence Award from the psych foundations program in 2017.

Butterfuss is currently a Graduate Research Assistant on the TeLCI project, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. In his role on the project, Butterfuss, along with Britta Bresina, are leading the investigation on the role of EF in young children’s inference making.

Im selected for AERA graduate student seminar on learning and instruction

Soo-hyun Im

Soo-hyun Im, Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Psychology’s psychological foundations of education program and member of the Cognitive Architecture Lab, will attend the 2018 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division C Graduate Student Seminar, Thursday, April 12th and Friday, April 13th in New York City. Im is one of only 19 graduate students across the country selected to attend the seminar.

The objective of the 2018 Division C Graduate Student Seminar is to provide students with an opportunity to receive mentoring and advice from a diverse group of Division C: Learning & Instruction affiliated faculty members. At the event, current and future leaders within the field have a chance to connect and begin building professional relationships. The seminar is intended for full-time, advanced level doctoral students who are members of the division and are approaching the dissertation phase of their programs.

Learn more about Soo-hyun and his research.


Wolff co-leads fragile X imaging study revealing differences in infant brains

This could lead to earlier intervention and potentially better treatment outcomes.

Image from fragile x study

For the first time, researchers have used MRIs to show that babies with the neurodevelopmental condition fragile X syndrome had less-developed white matter compared to infants that did not develop the condition. Imaging white matter can help researchers focus on the underlying brain circuitry important for proper communication between brain regions. These findings could lead to new and earlier interventions, and potentially better treatment outcomes.

The study— co-led by University of Minnesota researcher Jason Wolff, Ph.D., and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researcher Meghan Swanson, Ph.D., and published in JAMA Psychiatry —shows that there are brain differences related to the neurodevelopmental disorder established well before a diagnosis is typically made at age three or later.

“Our work highlights that white matter circuitry is a potentially promising and measurable target for early intervention,” said co-first author Wolff, an assistant professor of educational psychology in the College of Education and Human Development. “These results substantiate what other researchers have shown in rodents—the essential role of fragile X gene expression on the early development of white matter.”

Jason Wolff

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder and the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability in males. Symptoms include intellectual disabilities, problems with social interaction, delayed speech, hyperactivity, and repetitive behaviors. About 10 percent of people with fragile X experience seizures. About one-third of people with fragile X meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

“One of the exciting things about our findings is that the white matter differences we observe could be used as an objective marker for treatment effectiveness,” said co-senior author Heather C. Hazlett, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine.

For this study, Wolff, Hazlett, and colleagues imaged the brains of 27 infants who went on to be diagnosed with fragile X and 73 who did not develop the condition. The researchers focused on 19 white matter fiber tracts in the brain. Fiber tracts are bundles of myelinated axons—the long parts of neurons that extend across the brain or throughout the nervous system. Think of bundles of cables laid across the brain. These bundles of axons connect various parts of the brain so that neurons can rapidly communicate with each other. This communication is essential, especially for proper neurodevelopment during childhood.

Imaging and analytical analysis showed significant differences in the development of 12 of 19 fiber tracts in babies with fragile X from as early as six months of age. The babies who wound up being diagnosed with fragile X had significantly less-developed fiber tracts in various parts of the brain.

“It’s our hope that earlier diagnosis and intervention will help children with fragile X and their families,” said Swanson, co-first author and postdoctoral research fellow at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC. “We also hope that this knowledge might inform drug development research.”

So far, drug clinical trials have failed to demonstrate change in treatment targets in individuals with fragile X.  One of the challenges has been identifying good treatment outcome measures or biomarkers that show response to intervention.

Other authors are Mark Shen, Ph.D., Martin Styner, Ph.D., and Joseph Piven, M.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Annette Estes, Ph.D., of the University of Washington; Guido Gerig, Ph.D., of New York University; and Robert McKinstry, M.D., Ph.D., and Kelly Botteron, M.D., of Washington University in St. Louis.

Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Simons Foundation.

This study, which used data collected from 2008 to 2016, would have been impossible without the dedication to research from families who had another older child already diagnosed with fragile X syndrome.

News coverage

MN Daily: U of M research works toward early diagnosis for rare developmental disorder