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Nurture Science Program Team

The Nurture Science Program team includes diverse, world-class professionals among many disciplines, all dedicated to helping children and parents.

The team brings a multidisciplinary approach to developing, testing, and promoting nurture-based care – rooted in rigorous research – to help families establish and maintain emotional connection.

Learn more about the Nurture Science Program team below.

Leadership
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Martha G. Welch, MD | Director

Martha G. Welch, MD has been a pioneer in the treatment of emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders for over 40 years. Decades of clinical observations led her to create a new paradigm that employs the primacy of co-regulatory vs. self-regulatory processes in optimal child development.

Read more about Dr. Welch...

Dr. Michael Myers

Michael M. Myers, PhD | Co-Director

Dr. Myers is Professor of Behavioral Biology in Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and former Research Chief of the Division of Developmental Neuroscience at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. As Co-Director, Dr. Myers brings extensive research expertise to the Nurture Science Program.

Read more about Dr. Myers...

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Robert Ludwig | Associate Director

Robert Ludwig has worked closely with Dr. Welch for the last 20 years, first managing her private treatment clinic and subsequently, her research program at Columbia University Medical Center. He is currently the Associate Director of the Nurture Science Program and is responsible for managing the research team and coordinating the research program. He also coordinates the Nurture Science Program’s domestic and foreign research collaborations outside Columbia Medical Center.

With an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Mr. Ludwig has researched and worked out the theoretical aspects of Dr. Welch’s work and has been articulating the Calming Cycle Theory for Dr. Welch. In addition, he contributes to the design of research experiments and co-authors manuscripts for publication.

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Amie Hane, PhD | Director of Behavioral Coding

Dr. Hane is a developmental psychologist and an expert in the coding of maternal and infants’ and children’s behaviors. Her research focuses on the social regulation of biobehavioral stress responding in infants and children. As Director of Behavioral Coding for the Nurture Science Program, she collaborates on the development of behavioral assessments and directs the human behavioral coding projects.

Dr. Hane’s work translates rodent epigenetic models of postnatal programming to human samples, and shows that high-quality maternal caregiving behavior buffers against dysregulated biobehavioral stress responding in infants and children.

Dr. Hane received her PhD in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Maryland, completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Infant Behavioral Neuroscience, and a fellowship in Infant-Parent Mental Health. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Williams College in Massachusetts, where she is a member of the faculty for the programs in Neuroscience and Public Health. Dr. Hane is also a Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Developmental Neuroscience Division of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.  

Jasmine LaCoursiere

Jasmine LaCoursiere, MS | Assistant Clinical Director

Jasmine LaCoursiere oversees many aspects of the Nurture Science Program, including clinical research and strategic planning. She builds partnerships and large-scale collaborations focused on testing nurture-based interventions, and builds an evidence base for autonomic co-regulation and emotional connection. Ms. LaCoursiere received a Master of Science degree in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience from the University of Texas at Dallas, and designed her own major in Psychology, Communications, and Human Development at Cornell University.

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Suzanne Bryjak, MA, BSN, HN-BC | Training Initiatives

Suzanne Milkiewicz-Bryjak has been a neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse for 20 years. She has developed family support programming in several New Jersey hospitals, developing Parent Advisory Councils with an emphasis on strengthening parent and staff education on successfully supporting NICU families.

She holds a board certification in holistic nursing and is co-creator of Visionary Healing: Incorporating Holistic Care and Integrative Modalities in the NICU, which looks at stress reduction modalities for family and staff to incorporate improved outcomes. She has co-authored posters on integration of family-centered care in the NICU for the Vermont Oxford Network and the Gravens Conference and works on quality improvement initiatives to successfully involve families in NICU care. Her master’s thesis focused on identifying gaps in care in the NICU through qualitative interviews and narrative from both family and staff perspectives. She is currently working on a doctorate in medical humanities at Drew University. Her dissertation research will focus on evaluating medical narrative as a form of support in the NICU. Suzanne’s current work as a Nurture Specialist includes helping families in the NICU establish and strengthen emotional connection, as well as directing Nurture Specialist training initiatives for the Nurture Science Program.

Collaborators
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Myron A. Hofer, MD | Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychobiology and Special Lecture in Psychiatry

Dr. Hofer is the Sackler Institute Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychobiology and Special Lecturer in Psychiatry, as well as the founding director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Dr. Hofer’s research interests are centered on the role of parent-infant relationships as a major environmental influence on postnatal development. Working with animal models over many years, he discovered specific behavioral interactions within the early mother-infant relationship that exerted short- and long-term effects on infant physiology and behavior. He and his colleagues showed that prolonged early maternal separation resulted in significantly increased vulnerability to stress in adults and to laboratory models of diseases such as gastric stress ulcers and hypertension in adult life. Dr. Hofer contributes his years of experience and insight in weekly team meetings centered around Dr. Welch’s ongoing clinical studies designed to reduce the long-term developmental effects of the prolonged early maternal separation of preemies inherent in the NICU.

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Manon Ranger, PhD

Dr. Manon Ranger is a research scientist and registered nurse whose translational research focuses on integrating basic animal studies with clinical studies in preterm neonates undergoing intensive neonatal care to uncover mechanisms of vulnerability to early adversity (e.g. separation from the mother, stress, and pain) in relation to brain development.

Within the Nurture Science Program, her priority research areas are to undercover new biomarkers of risk for suboptimal neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants, with the overall goal to develop methods to mitigate the adverse effects of these undesirable events using animal models. She is looking beyond the boundaries of traditional nursing research by conducting cross-disciplinary translational research so that her work will have a direct impact for improving the health of the most vulnerable infants and their families.

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Raymond I. Stark, MD

Dr. Stark is a Professor of Pediatrics and Perinatology in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Neonatology at Columbia University Medical Center. He is also a retired Attending Physician in Neonatology at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.

In his animal work, Dr. Stark has studied the fetal baboon response to controlled maternal hypoxia and its effects on cardiorespiratory control. In his collaboration with the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Stark advises on study design and method. Dr. Stark brings years of clinical and translational experience to the research team, providing insights on patient care, sleep studies, and EEGs.

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Richard A. Polin, MD | Chief, Department of Neonatology; Vice Chairman Department of Pediatrics for Education and Global Activities

Dr. Polin is the William T. Speck Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and has been Director of the Division of Neonatology at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian since 1998.

An Associate Pediatrician at Babies Hospital, NY, NY, from 1975 to 1977, he was named Outstanding Pediatric Attending for 1976-1977. He won similar honors for 1978-79 and 1982-83 at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he held the positions of Director of the House Staff Training Program, Assistant and Associate Physician-in-Chief, Academic Coordinator of Pediatrics, and Acting Director, Neonatology. Temple University’s Medical School named Dr. Polin its outstanding alumnus in 1995. In 1998, Dr. Polin returned to Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NY-Presbyterian as the Director of Neonatology. In 2005, he received the Physician of the Year Award both from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center and the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, Division of Nursing. In the spring of 2006, Dr. Polin was the recipient of the National Neonatal Education Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Perinatal Pediatrics. He was the past Chair of the Sub-board of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine of the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Polin is the current Chair of the NICHD Neonatal Research Network Executive Steering Committee.

Analytic Core
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Philip G. Grieve, PhD

Dr. Grieve is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Biomedical Engineering (in Pediatrics). In his collaboration with the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Grieve focuses on developmental electrophysiology through the collection and processing of high density (128 lead) EEG.

Dr. Grieve’s work is focused on the differences in the development of brain function between extremely premature and term infants and their relationship to perinatal risk for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes.

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Joseph R. Isler, PhD

Dr. Isler is an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics. He has had a varied career, first as an academic physicist and then in commercial software development, before being trained in developmental neuroscience 10 years ago in the Department of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

His research interests include neural systems dynamics, especially in at-risk pediatric populations; development of novel techniques in EEG and ERP data analysis; and the perinatal development of the waking state and consciousness. Recently he has taken a lead role in the management and analysis of a massive trove of continuous physiological data from all of the NICU bedside monitors in the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian. He is very enthusiastic to be involved in the Nurture Science Program, having worked with this extraordinarily collegial group of diverse and highly talented colleagues for the past several years.

Data Coordinating Center
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Howard F. Andrews, PhD

Dr. Andrews is Director of the Data Coordinating Center (DCC) at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The DCC develops and implements web-based data capture and management systems for many large-scale clinical trials and epidemiological studies at Columbia University Medical Center, including research conducted by the Nurture Science Program, the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Dr. Andrews is an expert in the management and analysis of large data sets and multi-level data.

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Judy Austin, PhD

Dr. Austin began her professional training as an experimental psychologist focusing on research methods, study design, and data analysis.

At the Southern African Medical Research Council, Dr. Austin was a co-investigator on two cluster-randomized controlled trials of a behavioral intervention to increase treatment adherence among ambulatory tuberculosis patients: one in an endemic urban setting and the other in a rural farm setting. She then served in a tenured position at the School of Psychology, University of Natal, where she lectured in Statistics and, together with fellow faculty, co-authored a textbook, Numbers, Hypotheses and Conclusions: A Course in Statistics for the Social Sciences, published in 2002. Dr. Austin has consulted widely on statistical analysis in mental health, infectious disease, and reproductive health research, and serves as a reviewer for numerous international journals. Following a training fellowship in epidemiology at Columbia University, she focused on the development of sustainable monitoring and evaluation systems for public health services in low resource settings. Dr. Austin conducts database design, management, and maintenance and performs statistical analyses for all studies within the Nurture Science Program.

Consultants
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Joy V. Browne, PhD, RN

Dr. Browne is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, and Director of the Center for Family and Infant Interaction. Dr. Browne graduated with a Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of New Mexico with a specialty in developmental and health psychology.

She also has a B.S.N. and M.S.N. from the Medical College of Georgia with a specialty in maternal-child nursing. She also holds a Diploma from Georgia Baptist Hospital College of Nursing. Dr. Browne directs the Colorado Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program Training Center, the Family Infant Relationship Support Training, the Fragile Infant Feeding Institute and the BABIES and PreSTEPS programs. Her area of expertise is neurobehavioral assessment and intervention with high-risk infants and their families, especially as they transition from intensive care to the community, and infant and early childhood mental health. She consults nationally and internationally on systems change toward developmentally supportive and family-centered care. Dr. Browne plays a key role in the dissemination of the Nurture Science Program’s Family Nurture Intervention.

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David Rubenstein, MD

Dr. Rubenstein, a consultant for the Nurture Science Program, is a Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center. Since arriving at Columbia University, he has served as Medical Director for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, as Fellowship Program Director, and as Vice Chair of the Division of Neonatal Medicine.

He has worked with neonates hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia Campus since 1998. Prior to this appointment, he was a tenured Professor in Pediatrics and Associate Professor in Physiology at Temple University Health Sciences Center and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He has served as a Director of the Division of Neonatal Medicine at Temple University and Vice Chair, Department of Pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Children’s Hospital, as well as Fellowship Training Program Director and Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Christopher’s. His research interests were studying perfluoro chemical liquids as a respiratory medium in preterm lambs.

Basic Science
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Muhammed Anwar, MS

Mr. Anwar is a senior lab scientist with over 35 years of experience working with lab species including goldfish, rodents, dogs, cats, monkeys, and pigs.

Mr. Anwar performs all aspects of Nurture Science Program basic research, including blood draws, tissue cultures, perfusions, post-mortem excisions, and tissue processing. He has experience with immunocytochemistry and viral protocols. Students in the Nurture Science Program benefit from his extensive knowledge and experience, as well as from his strong mentoring. Mr. Anwar has been an integral part of our basic science program for nearly 20 years.

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Michael D. Gershon, MD

Dr. Gershon is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, the former Chair of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Columbia University Medical Center, and author of The Second Brain.

Dr. Gershon has devoted his career to understanding how the nervous system controls the behavior of the bowel. His 30 years of research have led to the extraordinary discovery that nerve cells within the gut act in a brain-like fashion to regulate gastrointestinal activity. His work has led to radical new understandings of a wide range of gastrointestinal problems. Dr. Gershon was an early collaborator with Dr. Welch, serving as co-director of the BrainGut Initiative. With Dr. Welch, Dr. Gershon discovered that intestinal nerve cells produce the nurture hormone, oxytocin, which helps to keep gastrointestinal inflammation from getting out of hand and ameliorates the adverse effects of prematurity on the gut. Dr. Gershon continues to work with the Nurture Science Program, helping to design experiments that study the effects of the molecules of nurture on brain-gut interaction during development.

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Jasmine Kaidbey, MS

Jasmine Kaidbey is a research technician working on animal models of neonatal separation and nurture. Her work involves study designing, behavioral assessment, routine animal care, tissue processing, and data analysis.

She started at the Nurture Science Program as a Master's student studying the effects of vagotomy on maternal-offspring emotional connection in rat pups and their dams. She also worked as a student researcher at Children's National Medical Center in fetal and neonatal brain imaging, which prompted her interest in early development.

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Benjamin Y Klein MD, PhD

Dr. Klein is an expert in protein chemistry and cell and molecular biology. He is interested in the study of symbiotic mother-infant nurture interaction as it relates to disease prevention.

In collaborating with the Nurture Science Program, he aims to look at breastfeeding between mother and newborn at the molecular level. He is particularly interested in the role of breast milk in tumor suppression processes in the mammary gland, and in doing so studies peptides, such as oxytocin, which are secreted in the milk that find their way to gut epithelium. He is interested in looking at these signals in the gut and in the brain as a mechanism to elucidate mental and physical development of the infant.

Columbia Nurture Science Program.  Dr Hadassah Tamir's lab.

Hadassah Tamir, PhD

Dr. Tamir works in the departments of Pathology and Cell Biology and Psychiatry. Dr. Tamir has a long-standing interest in the mechanism of storage and secretion of biogenic amines and in particular serotonin (5-HT).

Together with Dr. Gershon, she has been studying the parafollicular cells of the thyroid as a model of serotonergic neurons. More recently, Dr. Tamir has studied signal transduction pathways downstream of the 5-HT1A receptor. Dr. Tamir’s research has led her to be greatly interested in testing the activity of the peptide oxytocin on its receptors in the gut and finding the transduction pathways that may be activated. Dr. Tamir has been a valuable mentor to Dr. Welch for the past 15 years.

Nurture Specialists
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Mary Ann Austin, LCSW

Mary Ann Austin is a Nurture Specialist and licensed clinical social worker. She has worked with Dr. Martha Welch for nearly 40 years, primarily with mothering groups and multiple family groups.

Mary Ann has many years of experience as a pediatric social worker at the Pediatric Clinic at Stamford Hospital and the Norwalk Community Health Center. She was also the Southwest Connecticut Regional Social Work Coordinator for Children and Youth with Special Healthcare Needs. Currently, she works on  the Connecticut study for Preschool Family Nurture Intervention (FNI).

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Mary McKiernan, RNC

Mary is a Nurture Specialist with the Nurture Science Program. Previously, Mary worked as a certified registered nurse in the Neonatal ICU at Children’s Hospital of New York for over 20 years.

She also has experience working with special needs children in the home care setting. Mary facilitates Family Nurture Intervention, and helps collect medical data, both with families in the NICU and preschool-aged children enrolled in other Nurture Science Program’s studies.

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Beatriz Preter, LCSW

Beatriz Preter is a Nurture Specialist and a licensed clinical social worker, supporting the Connecticut study for Preschool Family Nurture Intervention (FNI).

She actively recruits families to be part of the study and facilitates the group sessions. She also translates all necessary documents from English to Spanish.

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Constance Rubenstein, BSN, RN

Constance is a Nurture Specialist with the Nurture Science Program. She screens and recruits participants and facilitates the Family Nurture Intervention.

This also includes documentation of all interventions and collaboration with the NICU staff, research assistants, and the principal investigator. She is also a Nurture Specialist at the Connecticut study site, which works with mothers and children ages 2.5 to 4.5 years who have behavioral and developmental concerns. At the weekly sessions, she assesses the emotional connection of the mothers and children using the Welch Emotional Connection Screen (WECS). She prepares the assessment materials and supports the mothers and children during the study days. Together with the other Nurture Specialists, she translates observations into strategies to promote further emotional connection.

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Katherine Velez, LMSW

Katherine Velez is a licensed social worker with experience working with vulnerable families in the nonprofit sector with a concentration on the Spanish-speaking population.

As the research coordinator in the Connecticut study for Preschool Family Nurture Intervention (FNI), she is part of a team conducting randomized clinical trials to validate the Nurture Science Program’s intervention. Katherine also works as a Nurture Specialist in our NICU FNI randomized controlled trial.  

Graduate Students
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Morgan Firestein, PhD Candidate

Morgan Firestein is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. Working closely with the Nurture Science Program and faculty in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, her research spans the prenatal period through early childhood years in order to understand influences of neurodevelopmental trajectories.

Specifically, her research explores prenatal and early postnatal factors that may contribute to the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders with an emphasis on the role of placental regulation. Her work with the Nurture Science Program has focused on studying placental biomarkers which may indicate risk for abnormal neurodevelopment among preterm infants and investigating how high maternal nurture in the early environment may buffer infants against behavioral phenotypes associated with autism. She was a 2012 Amgen Scholar and as a doctoral student, Morgan has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a Society for Pediatric Research Student Research Award. She is also a member of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, and the Society for Neuroscience.

Staff
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Joe Barone, BS, BFA

Joe Barone is a research coordinator at the Nurture Science Program. He started as a volunteer at the Nurture Science Program (NSP) in 2014, after working as an EMT in New York City.

Currently, he is involved with most aspects of the NSP, from basic and clinical research at CUMC to the growing number of off-site research locations, both in NICUs and community health centers across the country. Joe’s goal at the NSP is to continue his research and discover the biological basis of nurture and its positive effects on the long-term outcomes of both children and parents.  

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Mai Mitsuyama, BA

Mai Mitsuyama is a research coordinator at the Nurture Science Program. Previously, under the direction of Dr. Amie Hane, she worked on coding mother-infant interactions of four-month-old infants and their mothers for the original Family Nurture Intervention study.

She is currently an integral part of NSP as she recruits potential participants, administers questionnaires, collects samples, and conducts follow-up visits for the FNI RCT replication study and other studies conducted by NSP.

Publications

Mitsuyama, M. (May, 2016). Family Nurture Intervention and Mother-Infant Emotional Connectedness at Infant Correct Age Four Months. Honors thesis, Department of Psychology, Williams College

Mitsuyama, M., Wieman, S., Austin. J., Beebe. B.B., Ludwig, R., Myers, M., Hane, A., & Welch, M.G. Family nurture intervention and mother-infant social engagement at infant corrected-age four months. Presented as a poster at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.

Mitsuyama, M., Wieman, S., LaCoursiere, J.N., Myers, M.M., Ludwig, R.J., & Welch, M.G. Emotional connection in mothers and preterm infants and infant biobehavioral responding to the still-face paradigm. To be presented as a poster at the meeting of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, Washington, DC.

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Elizabeth Markowitz, MSc

Elizabeth Markowitz is a research coordinator at the Nurture Science Program. She is currently helping to recruit participants; collecting, tracking, and coding behavioral and physiological data from our Norwalk and Stamford studies; contributing to NSP writing projects; and guiding NSP interns.

Elizabeth is supporting the NSP’s research and community impact while strengthening her clinical research skills. She earned her MSc in Medical Anthropology from University College London with a thesis on female experiences of depression in an indigenous region of Guatemala.

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Leinne Ramirez Tamarez, BBA

Leinne Ramirez Tamarez is the Nurture Science Program’s administrative coordinator. She is responsible for the day-to-day business of the program.

Prior to joining the NSP, Leinne worked in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in various positions in the Department of Population and Family Health: as a Module Secretary, Program Coordinator, and Executive Assistant. Before that, she assisted the Director of Paterson Day Care 100, a universal pre-k for 3- and 4-year-olds, in New Jersey.

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Diana Litsas, BS

Diana is a research coordinator for the Nurture Science Program. She primarily works with the Welch Emotional Connection Screen (WECS), helping to develop programs to train clinicians and researchers to assess relational health.

Diana discovered her interest in human development and pediatric research after taking courses in the social and physical sciences at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. She is excited to work towards a future where emotional connection is treated in common practice nationwide.