Meet the Start with Equity Fellows



Afua Adutwumwaa Ameley-Quaye (she/her)
Doctoral Student
Arizona State University, Design School

Afua is an experienced architect and currently a doctoral student in Design, Environment, and the Arts at Arizona State University (ASU). She doubles as a research assistant at ASU’s Children’s Equity Project. Her research work explores the intersection of architecture and early childhood education. Specifically, the design of early learning environments, architectural and pedagogical convergence, and childcare licensing systems that foster equitable care and learning experiences for children. Afua holds a B.Sc and a Masters in Architecture from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and an M.A in Learning Sciences from Arizona State University.


Evelyn Bigini (she/her)
Doctoral Student
University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing

Evelyn Grace Bigini is a Registered Nurse, Child Care Health Consultant, and doctoral student at the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing. At the UCSF California Childcare Health Program, Evelyn works with child care providers in California's Central Valley to promote children's health and safety, focusing on environmental exposures and physical activity.

Evelyn's personal and international, interdisciplinary backgrounds inform her doctoral interest. She aims to explain and address the intersections between natural environments and the mental health of newcomer children. Evelyn's upbringing in a non-traditional family structure has helped her listen, connect with people and places, and learn about how belonging and ‘remembering’ intersect with health. Evelyn also earned a Master of Science in Global Health (Delivery) from Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. You can likely find Evelyn smiling in the sun, whether she's providing training at a child care center, volunteering at a free clinic in San Francisco, or advocating for environmental justice locally or internationally.


Ireti Adegbesan (she/her)
Doctoral Student
University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Human Development and Family Studies

Ireti Adegbesan is a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) in the Human Development and Family Studies program. Upon graduation, she will have obtained a doctorate degree in Human Development and Family Studies and a doctoral minor in Educational Research Methodology. She holds both a master’s degree from UNCG and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in Human Development and Family Studies. Her research interests, broadly, are focused on young children and development, bodily autonomy socialization, consent curriculum, and policy implementation, and examining the sociocultural context and relationship context generally and pertaining to bodily autonomy socialization. The goal of her research is to establish the foundation for a developmentally appropriate lifespan consent curriculum from the lens of bodily autonomy socialization to address the gap in the consent literature and take a proactive approach to sexual assault prevention.

She is a firm believer that helping children understand and assert their bodily rights in age-appropriate ways from early on can support their well-being, promote healthy and safe relationships, and help guard against violations. She approaches this work from an intersectional lens, analyzing both contexts, such as socio-historical context and people’s intersectional identities, and relationships, such as those among children, parents, and teachers, with the aim of informing both practice and policy. One of the primary reasons behind my research interest is the impact of sexual assault on historically marginalized groups. It is her goal to advocate for young children such as myself who were never taught about boundaries, consent, and comfortability pertaining to touch at a young age and were left to self-navigate their experiences with violations.

Kiara T. Vann, PhD (she/her)
Postdoctoral Fellow
Vanderbilt University, Collaborative for STEM Education and Outreach

Dr. Kiara T. Vann is a postdoctoral fellow at the Collaborative for STEM Education and Outreach at Vanderbilt University, where she plays a pivotal role in instructing and implementing interdisciplinary science curricula for high school students in Nashville, Tennessee. She received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences with an emphasis in Neuroscience from Morehouse School of Medicine.

Dr. Vann is passionate about education and has extensive experience working with students of all ages, including involvement with organizations such as Jumpstart and Girl Scouts. For two years, she was a Society for Science Advocate, where she worked diligently to enhance the representation of underrepresented minority groups in high school research competitions. Her commitment to educational enrichment extends to her impactful contributions to childhood education, including spearheading research projects and conducting classroom observations. Dr.Vann is dedicated to enhancing early childhood education by exploring how STEM curricula can be effectively integrated to improve quality and accessibility.


Kyra Parker (she/her)
Doctoral Student
University of Virginia, School of Education and Human Development 

Kyra Parker is a third-year doctoral student in the combined Clinical and School Psychology program at the University of Virginia under the mentorship of Dr. Amanda Williford. She received her Bachelor of Science in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology from Virginia Tech in 2020. Kyra is committed to supporting families of color, uncovering bias, and supporting teacher-family and teacher-child relationships to reduce exclusionary discipline. Her work results from her experiences as a Black woman who attended predominately white early learning spaces and struggled with her relationships with teachers. During Kyra’s graduate school training, she co-led a service mapping project of community resources for children under five. Currently, she participates in Virginia’s pilot Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation as both a researcher and consultant. 


Amanda LaTasha Armstrong (she/her)
Doctoral Student
College of Health, Education, and Social Transformation, New Mexico State University

Internship Placement: Department of Health and Human Services - Early Childhood Development

Policy Project: "Equity in Edtech - Technology Practices in Early Education"

Amanda LaTasha Armstrong is a doctoral candidate at New Mexico State University (NMSU)’s College of Health, Education, and Social Transformation and the Lab Coordinator of NMSU’s Learning Games Lab team in the Department of Innovative Media Research and Extension. Her dissertation study examines traits, associated with racial, ethnic, and gender groups, found in characters of preschool apps.

Amanda LaTasha is also a research fellow with New America’s Education Policy Program’s Teaching, Learning, and Tech Team and a contributing writer for Edutopia. She was a 2020 CADRE Fellow with the National Science Foundation’s DRK-12 program and a member of the Technology Working Group to refresh the International Society for Technology in Education’s Standards for Educators in 2017. Prior to NMSU, Amanda conducted quantitative and qualitative research with Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative and was the program coordinator for the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center at Erikson, where she supported educators, families, and administrators in the selection, use, integration, and evaluation of technology and media in their settings.

Ashley Watts (she/her)
Doctoral Student
School of Sciences, Mathematics, and Education, Marymount University Arlington

Internship Placement: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

Policy Project: "(Re)Measuring Current Conceptualizations of Accessibility for Black Children & Families"

Ashley Watts is earning her doctorate degree in Leadership and Organizational Innovation from Marymount University Arlington. She is also a program director for the  ACE-YMCA of Greater Houston. Her roots began in early childhood as she operated both private and public programs for children from birth to five. She then transitioned to need-based programs where she worked with single mothers to address school readiness, quality care, and adult education. Ashley currently works with 1st - 5th graders predominantly underrepresented, in an expanded learning space to address learning disparities and campus-community needs. Her myriad of experiences has led her to her research and policy interest in early childhood initiatives, education equity, out-of-school time, family and community engagement, and youth development. She looks forward to addressing equity and advocating for early childhood education, the foundation for K-12.

Brandy Locchetta (she/her)
Doctoral Student
Department of Special Education, Vanderbilt University

Internship Placement: Department of Health and Human Services - Early Childhood Development

Policy Project: "11 Myths About IDEA (Part B, Sec. 619) for Preschoolers with Disabilities"

Brandy Locchetta is a behavior analyst and doctoral student in early childhood special education at Vanderbilt University. Brandy is from the metro Atlanta area where she spent more than 15 years building her career in early childhood education. Brandy has a wealth of experience across a variety of roles in early childhood from childcare teacher to center director, and leadership positions at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning where she was central to the establishment and expansion of the Inclusion and Behavior Support program. Increasing equitable access to high-quality inclusive early learning environments for young children with disabilities and their families is central to Brandy’s policy and advocacy interests. In partnership with her interests in policy and advocacy, her research interests include teacher-implemented interventions that improve outcomes for all children and the support systems necessary to sustain implementation, barriers to preschool inclusion, disproportionate discipline practices in early childhood, and positive behavior supports.

Carlos Pérez Valle (he/him)
Doctoral Student
Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, McGill University

Internship Placement: Start Early, Early Learning

Policy Project: "A Policy Review of Pre-service SLP Curricular Standards"

Carlos Pérez Valle is a doctoral student in Communication Sciences & Disorders at McGill University in Montréal. His research interests include the development and acquisition of written language in diverse pediatric populations and the use of diverse children’s literature in clinical interventions. Through this research, he hopes to learn research skills that will help him advance innovative and equitable change.

Carlos Pérez Valle was born in Tulcingo de Valle, México, and moved to New York City as a toddler. After high school, he became involved in promoting equitable educational opportunities for low-income and immigrant communities. He has worked for several nonprofit and government organizations such as the NYC Dept. of Education, Masa, The Parent-Child Home Program, Breakthrough New York, and various public and charter schools.

Diana Lucía Abarca (she/her)
Doctoral Student
Communication Science & Disorders, Florida State University

Internship Placement: Zero to Three, Early Childhood Development

Policy Project: "Equity in IDEA Part C"

Diana Lucía Abarca is a doctoral student in Communication Science and Disorders at Florida State University and a practicing early intervention speech-language pathologist in Tallahassee, Florida. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Central Florida. Diana was born in Costa Rica and is motivated by her upbringing as a Latina woman to center Black and Latino/Hispanic families in her research and clinical practice. Diana uses funds of knowledge, family-centered, and culturally sustaining frameworks to understand the knowledge, skills, values, priorities, and beliefs that minoritized families bring with them when involved in early intervention. She aims to develop and evaluate equitable early intervention practices that pre-service and practicing early interventionists can use to sustain the culture of minoritized families with children with disabilities.

Ozden Pinar-Irmak (she/her)
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Massachusetts Boston

Internship Placement: Department of Health and Human Services - Early Childhood Development

Policy Project: "Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Families’ Access to Early Learning: Challenges in HS/EHS Access and Policy Recommendation"

Ozden Pinar-Irmak is a doctoral candidate and teaching fellow in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Ozden received her M.A. in Early Childhood Education from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. She has extensive experience working with young children in multicultural settings and she held various positions as a teacher, coordinator, and leader. Her research interests include early intervention programs for refugee and immigrant children, trauma-informed policies and practices in early childhood education, and international inclusive education. In particular, her works aim to promote equitable early care and education systems and increase access to early education services for young children of refugees and immigrants. She believes that inclusive, high-quality, equitable, and affordable early care and education for children can be achieved through long-term collaborations between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.


Briana Bostic (she/her)
Doctoral Student
School of Education, Johns Hopkins University
Internship Placement: Office of Early Childhood Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Policy Project: “Enhancing the Provision of Early Care and Education in the Time of COVID-19” & “Improving Family Service Provision in Early Care and Education Settings”

Briana Bostic is a doctoral student at The Johns Hopkins School of Education. Her current research explores the relationship between school climate and student discipline outcomes in early care and education settings. Her broader interests include understanding how the socio-cultural/historical contexts of place influence how teachers and school leaders make meaning of their work. Her previous work focused on the persistence of segregation and the impact of civic unrest on aging adults in St. Louis. At the Center for the Social Organization of Schools, Briana assists the work of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools in their provision of “Promising Partnership Practices” to schools and districts internationally. She is a member of the WelLab, led by Lieny Jeon, Ph.D., which focuses on research related to teacher and student social-emotional well-being. She is also a member of the Poverty and Inequity Research Lab, led by Stefanie DeLuca, which investigates the consequences of systemic inequity in housing, education, and other resources in cities. She serves as co-chair of the Ph.D. Students Committee. Prior to her doctoral work, Briana was a preschool teacher in Chicago and was selected by Leadership for Educational Equity to serve as a Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellow in the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Social and Emotional Learning.

Catherine Gonzalez (she/her)
Doctoral Student
Community Research and Action Program, Vanderbilt University
Internship Placement: Early Childhood Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center
Policy Project: “Transforming Pre-K Learning Spaces: Five Reasons Dual Language Learning Matters for the Academic and Socioemotional Development of Latino Children” & “Analysis of DLL-Related Indicators in the Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS)”

Catherine Gonzalez is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Community Research and Action Program at Vanderbilt University. She is also completing a certificate in Latin American Studies. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with departmental honors and a certificate in Children and Society from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. During her undergraduate years, Catherine assisted with research on the mental health and academic outcomes of Latinx bilingual adolescents, including relevant underlying social factors. At Vanderbilt, Catherine works alongside her advisor to investigate the role of supportive community, school, and home environments in the resilience of rural youth’s mental health and academic outcomes. Her research interests focus on systemic barriers to equitable education and interventions that alleviate the effects of stigma and marginalization in racial and ethnic minority children and youth.

Darielle Blevins, PhD (she/her)
Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Children's Equity Project, Arizona State University
Internship Placement: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
Policy Project: “Black Girls in Early Learning Spaces”

Dr. Darielle Blevins is a postdoctoral research scholar with the Children’s Equity Project. Her goal is to use an intersectional approach to elevate communities’ voices in research to inform policy. Grounded in Black Feminist ways of knowing, Dr. Blevins’ work centers the need for love, equity, and justice, to ensure quality learning spaces in early childhood and beyond. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from San Diego State University and Claremont University and was named Outstanding Graduate of the Year.

Her dissertation on Black girlhood in education centered on the voices of Black middle school girls as they envisioned their inner selves and the self their teacher saw using self-portraits. She is particularly concerned about the relationship between power, culture, and identity development in the classroom context. Methodologically, she is interested in mixed methods with visual methodologies that provide an opportunity for children, who are usually acted upon, to express themselves and use their power. She has impacted the field of Child Development and early learning through her work as a preschool teacher, behavior specialist, and quality improvement coach. Through one-on-one coaching and behavioral support training for hundreds of parents and educators in San Diego County, she has provided educators with tools to engage in anti-bias, culturally responsive, and developmentally appropriate practice.

Meredith Dentes Powers, M.Ed. (se/her)
Doctoral Student
Curry School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia Meredith
Internship Placement: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation,  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Policy Project: “Compendium of Culturally Responsive Practice Measurement Tools”

Meredith Powers is a third-year doctoral student at the University of Virginia studying Clinical-School Psychology under the research mentorship of Dr. Catherine Bradshaw. She earned a Combined B.S./M.Ed. in Special Education and was named a Teacher of Promise by the Maryland State Department of Education prior to working as a public-school special educator.

Meredith has extensive experience conducting classroom observations from her role as Research Coordinator at Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC. As a doctoral student, she serves as a Student Leader for the National Association of School Psychologists and a Graduate Fellow for the UVA Power, Violence, and Inequality Collective. Meredith’s research explores how teachers’ cultural responsivity can address power-based differences between students and teachers to promote equitable instruction and enhance the classroom experience of racially minoritized students. In line with the Children’s Equity Project, her work aims to make a positive impact on critical societal issues including reducing educational disparities and improving equity and fairness in early childhood (PreK-5) classrooms. As a part of the Start with Equity Fellowship, Meredith hopes to extend her work using the Double Check cultural responsiveness framework (Hershfeldt et al., 2009) to make meaningful connections between research, policy, and practice.

William L. White Jr., M.Ed., Ed.S. (he/him)
Doctoral Candidate
Early Childhood Special Education, University of Washington
Internship Placement:
Child Care Aware of America
Policy Project: A Literature Review on Access to Gifted Education for Black Students & “Using Voice to inform Policy on the Impact of Black Male teachers in Early Childhood Education”

William L. White Jr. hails from Fredericksburg, VA, and is a doctoral candidate in early childhood special education at the University of Washington. William received his B.A. in political science/pre-law and his M.Ed. in special education from Virginia State University located in Petersburg, VA. William also holds an Ed.S. in Early Childhood Special Education from The Graduate School of Education & Human Development at The George Washington University. William worked as a special education teacher for ten years with experience in both Virginia and Washington, D.C. Currently, William is the co-designer and Director of My Brother’s Teacher which works to increase the presence of Black and Brown males in early childhood education. He also continues to provide pro-bono special education consulting to families of students in the Washington, D.C., and the Seattle area.