Psychology and Child Development

College of Liberal Arts

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PSYCD Department Welcomes Three New Faculty

The Psychology and Child Development Department welcomed three new, full-time, tenure-track faculty for the 2016-17 year: Kelly Bennion, Laura Cacciamani and Jessica Kaczorowski.

KellyKelly Bennion’s research focuses on the selective effects of sleep on memory, with one line investigating how sleep and stress selectively enhance memory for emotional stimuli, and another line investigating how we can manipulate conditions during studying to better use sleep as a tool to enhance memory for information that we want to remember. Bennion earned her Ph.D. in Psychology (concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience) at Boston College.


LauraLaura Cacciamani does research that focuses on how we use our senses to perceive and understand the complicated world around us. Research in her lab uses both behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to explore these and similar questions. Most recently she has focused on perception in the absence of vision, such as in individuals who are blind and severely visually impaired. She investigates how the other senses compensate for this sensory deficit, as well as how the brain reorganizes to represent non-visual information. Cacciamani earned her Ph.D. in Psychology (Cognition & Neural Systems emphasis) at The University of Arizona.

JessicaJessica Kaczorowski’s program of research focuses on understanding brain-behavior relationships in children with neurodevelopmental disorders. Her earlier research focused on understanding neurological, genetic, and neuropsychological risk factors in child and college-aged populations identified as vulnerable for schizophrenia. More recently, her research and professional efforts have focused on understanding neuropsychological factors associated with a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disability, learning disorders, genetic syndromes and emotional and behavioral disorders. Kaczorowski earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

We had a question and answer session with our new faculty about Cal Poly, teaching, passion and life on a desert island. Here’s what they had to share:

What is your favorite thing about Cal Poly so far?

KB: My favorite thing about Cal Poly is the energy in the classroom. The students are bright, motivated and actively engaged, which makes me even more excited to come to class each day than I would be otherwise.

LC: The people! Everyone is so friendly, welcoming, and happy to be here, and it's contagious. The bright students have made the classroom engaging and fun, and the faculty and staff have been so supportive that my transition to life at Cal Poly has been an easy one. I feel very lucky to be here! This is truly my dream job.

JK: The people. All the faculty, staff, and students have been so welcoming during my first year here. I enjoy coming to work every day.

What is your favorite class to teach and why?

KB: I love teaching Research Methods. Even though it is a required class and the content matter may not sound inherently interesting to all students, I love finding mnemonics and examples that make the concepts come alive. It is also an indescribable feeling to see students get excited about conducting research, especially if they did not necessarily think they would enjoy it to begin with.

LC: My favorite class to teach is definitely Sensation and Perception. I think it's fascinating how the brain can be "tricked," such as in visual illusions, and even if we know it's an illusion, we sometimes still can't change our perception. I love using real-world examples like "the dress," which became infamous for causing heated disputes based on people's differing perceptions (I still swear it's white and gold). I also find it interesting to discuss the highly specific perceptual deficits that can arise due to brain injury or stroke. When you realize how things can go wrong, it really makes you appreciate what is going right.

JK: I love teaching CD 431 “Assessing Children’s Development and Environment.” I see this class as an integration of research methods and child mental health. My goal is for students to apply their knowledge of research methods and normal development, to understand how we think about assessing abnormal development.

What do you think will change in the field of Psychology in the next five or 10 years?

KB: I think the boundaries between Psychology and Neuroscience will become increasingly blurred, as has been the trend in recent years. With so many technological advances, I imagine that more psychologists will use neuroimaging methods to understand the relationship between brain and behavior.

LC: I think that our understanding and application of neuroimaging and neurostimulation techniques will greatly improve over the next 5-10 years. Technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), and transcranial magnetic or direct-current stimulation (TMS and tDCS) are still relatively new to the field of psychology. Many researchers are currently exploring how to use these techniques to visualize neural activity and even treat psychological and neurological disorders through electrical currents. I think (and hope) that the research in this area will continue to rapidly advance such that these techniques can be better understood, interpreted, combined and applied to real-life situations like rehabilitation.

JK: The way we think about, classify, and diagnose mental health disorders, including both childhood and adult disorders. Specifically, I think there will be a shift from focusing on the symptom level (i.e., behaviors), to focusing on integrating multiple levels of information from genes, to cognitive factors, to behavior. It will be interesting to see how the DSM changes over the next decade or two.

Are there any scholars or individuals that have inspired you?

KB: Besides my parents, who have inspired me in every way, my undergraduate professors certainly inspired me to become a professor and were very helpful along the way. Mentorship is extremely important to me, and my primary goal is that I, too, will have the same influence on students’ lives as my professors had on me.

LC: My mother has been the most inspirational person in my life. She taught me from a young age that with strength, positivity, and perseverance, any challenge — big or small — can be overcome, whether it's getting a Ph.D. or just keeping my cool at the DMV. She always reminds me to enjoy the little things and not take life too seriously — an important reminder in the sometimes stressful academic life.

JK: My two-year-old son, Lyle. I love watching him learn, explore, and make sense of the world around him. His happy and easygoing spirit reminds me of what is important in life.

Besides work, what are your passions?

KB: Lately, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know SLO and the Central Coast by finding different trails to hike. I also love arts and crafts, so I’ve enjoyed decorating my home and office in my spare time. Feel free to stop by my office hours to see the neuroscience puns that I’ve painted on my bookshelves!

LC: I have always been passionate about dance (mainly contemporary and hip-hop) and generally being active. I also enjoy being outdoors-y with my fiancé, in any capacity (camping, kayaking, or just relaxing by a backyard bonfire). And of course, spending time with my fur family: Tia the husky, Buxley the cockapoo, and Zeus the cat.

JK: I love spending time with family and friends, traveling, yoga and running.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could bring one personal item, what would it be?

KB: I would bring a camera of some sort because I love taking photos. I imagine that, eventually, I would get off the island and absolutely would want photos to help me remember my adventures.

LC: Does a person count as a personal item? If so, I'd bring my fiancé, because he's very entertaining. If not, then perhaps just a photo album of my family/friends. Clearly, I don't like being alone...

JK: Running shoes.

What’s the "best" advice you didn’t take — or wish you had taken?

KB: The best advice I didn’t take was to study abroad during college. Spanish was one of my majors, and I was registered to study abroad in Spain, but then decided that I loved my alma mater (Middlebury College) so much that I could not be away for a semester. Since then, I’ve taught English in Costa Rica and have done research as a visiting scholar in Singapore, but I think there is something special about studying abroad during college that is unique relative to any other abroad opportunity.

LC: Study abroad! Such great advice, but I never did it. College would have been a great time to travel, but I guess it's never too late!

JK: Many people thought I was crazy to go to graduate school so far from home and advised against it. But if I would have listened to them, I never would have met my husband (Taylor Smith) or had my son. 

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