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Graduate Research Assistants

Jose Palma

Jose Palma headshotJose Palma’s research interests focus on addressing methodological challenges in research and measurement for the assessment of diverse and special populations. This has led him to work on topics such as improving item accessibility in the assessment of students with disabilities, investigating item parameter drift in socio-emotional development measures for Latino students, multilevel measurement approaches of educational disparities among underrepresented minority populations, and validity studies on the development of early literacy measures for Spanish-English bilingual preschool children. For Spanish IGDIs, Palma is a GRA and focuses on the areas that are measurement related including analysis on DIF, growth, cut scores and item calibrations.

Qinjun Wang

Qinjung WangQinjun's research interests focus primarily on the application of Item Response Models in applied educational assessments. As a GRA in IGDI-APEL and IGDI Eng-PM project, his works have included using item calibrations and item analyses to improve the reliability of item pools, constructing computerized adaptive testing (CAT) model to facilitate early literacy assessments, and addressing test development issues including item developing and standard setting through quantitative methods. Additionally, Qinjun is also interested in investigating the properties of response time in early literacy assessments and the practicality of implementing individual response time during CAT administration.

Kelsey Will

Kelsey WillKelsey's research interests include understanding the development and assessment of children's early literacy skills. She is working with the IGDI-APEL team to continue the development of a tablet-based early literacy assessment that helps teachers quickly and easily make data-based decisions. Kelsey works closely with preschool teachers to support their use of the application, and collect data in their classrooms. She enjoys visiting classrooms to work one-on-one with students, as well as learning about how research is applied to practice.

Kristin Running

Kristin RunningKristin Running is a graduate research assistant for IGDI Lab’s English progress monitoring project and a student in the University of Minnesota’s school psychology doctoral program. Her research interests focus on learning how to increase academic intervention effectiveness, specifically through maintaining procedural fidelity and treatment integrity. She is also interested in learning about the potential benefits of using MTSS and RTI program models to make data-based decisions in academic settings. IGDIs are particularly relevant to her research interests because they are specifically designed to be easy to administer and adaptable to various age groups and skill levels. This means that IGDIs can be broadly used in schools as an early developmental assessment.

Alyssa Schardt

Alyssa SchardtAlyssa is doctoral student in the School Psychology program at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests center around the use of educational technology to increase students’ academic engagement. As a graduate research assistant for the Age-3 IGDI project, Alyssa helps to identify predictors of early literacy and how they can be measured. Her particular areas of interest within the Age-3 IGDI lab include exploring how current IGDIs can be expanded to allow better understanding of three-year-olds’ literacy indicators, and how those indicators can be used to guide instruction to propel future reading ability.

Kristin Schuster

Kristin SchusterKristin Schuster is a graduate student in the School Psychology, Ed. S. program at the University of Minnesota. Past work incorporates using Applied Behavior Analysis in both school and home settings with children from primarily at-risk populations. Her research interests include early behavioral and academic intervention with students PreK-12 and the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic achievement. Kristin is a graduate research assistant for Age-3 IGDI project and focuses on identifying predictors of early literacy and how to measure them through an easily scored assessment format. She hopes to extend the practical array of tools for assessing language and early development among 3-year-old children to enhance multi-tiered systems of support.

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth SteinElizabeth is a graduate student in the Maternal and Child Health program through the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. Her interests involve how policy and research can intersect to support early childhood development and eliminate health disparities in her community. Elizabeth is excited to work with the Spanish IGDI team in supporting early literacy and language development for bilingual preschoolers! She previously worked as an Assistant Teacher at the University of Minnesota Child Development Center and is excited to learn about new ways to incorporate evidence-based decisions to improve educational outcomes.


Stephanie Brunner

Steph Brunner headshotSteph's research interests center broadly on school readiness, especially among populations characterized by socioeconomic and linguistic diversity. She approaches school readiness from an ecological lens, emphasizing how families, home environments, early childhood education experiences, neighborhood factors, language, and culture contribute to child outcomes at kindergarten entry and beyond. Her dissertation plans to explore the role of Head Start classroom quality in predicting social and emotional school readiness skills and behaviors. In her graduate research assistant responsibilities for the Spanish IGDI project, Steph designed and revised S-IGDI items for use in field studies; coordinated data collection efforts for Minnesota, Florida, Illinois, and Kansas sites; and continues to collaborate on peer-reviewed conference presentations and manuscripts. Particular areas of interest within S-IGDI work include exploring how variables like Spanish-English exposure profiles, classroom language of instruction, and instructional quality contribute to child performance on S-IGDIs and IGDIs; and facilitating teacher and paraprofessional ability to use S-IGDI and IGDI data to make instructional decisions for their bilingual students.

Hannah Jacobs

Hannah Jacobs headshotHannah Jacobs chose to study at the University of Minnesota because she wanted to learn from the best researchers in the field. Jacobs says, “Working with Drs. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman and Scott McConnell has definitely afforded me that experience. Over the past two years, my research interests have evolved into parent involvement of diverse families and early literacy. As part of the IGDI-APEL project I've had the opportunity to learn more about early literacy assessment, MTSS, and data-based decision making.” Jacobs works closely with preschool teachers to collect seasonal screening and progress-monitoring data and with the IGDI-APEL team to develop a tablet-based early literacy assessment that provides a host of data-based decision-making tools teachers can use in their classrooms.

Aleksis Kincaid

Aleksis Kincaid headshotAleksis Kincaid works on IGDI projects related to the Iowa Department of Education. He has investigated children’s early literacy growth trajectories, assisted in analyses to connect IGDIs with kindergarten measures of reading readiness, facilitated a progress monitoring project in Iowa, and developed online training modules for teachers using IGDIs. Aleksis’ research interests outside of the IGDI Lab include disproportionality in special education, the prevalence of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and systematic academic and behavioral interventions for children in PreK-12.

Jeanette Vyhanek

Jeanette VyhanekJeanette is interested in learning and understanding best practices in school counseling and working with diverse student populations. Recently, she worked for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in South Minneapolis. Working there inspired Jeanette to want to be more involved in students’ lives and to be able to better accompany them on their life’s journey. She's excited to be working with the IDGI team! Outside of school Jeanette enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, running, singing karaoke occasionally, and having a good cup of tea.