Freedheim Graduate Student Fellowship

Previously named the Brisky Fellowship, the Freedheim Graduate Student Fellowship is awarded annually to full-time graduate students in Psychology pursuing a PhD on a child-related topic that bridges research, practice and policy. It is renamed in honor of Dr. Donald K. Freedheim, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Founding Director of the Schubert Center for Child Studies. Please contact Dr. Arin Connell ( for more information about applying for the fellowship.

2022-2023 Freedheim Fellow

Alexandra Piedra's photo

Alexandra Piedra, M.A. is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology doctoral program on the child and family track.  Her research interests are focused on improving interventions for child anxiety, with a focus on how patient contextual factors can be used to tailor treatments or make them more accessible.  Her dissertation is aimed at LGBTQIA adolescents and their parents. Through surveys and interviews, Alexandra asks queer adolescents and their parents about their preferences for treatment.  These include preferences for different third-wave evidence-based interventions, as well as stylistic differences.  This study will explore the associations between treatment preferences and contextual factors, including the presence of family conflicts, past discrimination experiences, and attitudes toward mental health.  She hopes to find patterns that therapists can use to tailor their approaches to fit the needs of patients earlier on, improve rapport-building, and prevent premature patient drop-out


2021-2022 Freedheim Fellow

Photograph of Ellen Doernberg, a white woman with glasses, medium-length hair and a smile

Ellen Doernberg's broad research interests are in characterizing and ameliorating the social, emotional, and behavioral functioning of children diagnosed with autism and related developmental disorders. Ellen first began her foray into working with children with developmental disabilities by volunteering at a special needs summer school program for children with autism in northern New Jersey, where Ellen grew up. Ellen continued her pursuit of studying typical and atypical child development during her undergraduate education at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, and across her post-baccalaureate positions at Brown University's Advanced Baby Imaging Lab and Montefiore Medical Center's Autism and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders Program. Ellen began her Ph.D. in clinical child psychology at CWRU in 2017 under the dual mentorship of Drs. Anastasia Dimitropoulos and Sandra Russ. She is currently in her 5th year of the program, applying for residency programs and working on her dissertation. Ellen's dissertation is focused on further developing a naturalistic, efficacious, and accessible remote play intervention for school-aged children with ASD. With this project, Ellen is extending and improving upon the successful impact of her Master’s pilot intervention work, where she demonstrated the efficacy of a short in-person pretend play intervention for children with ASD on improving their cognitive play skills and related emotional understanding abilities (Doernberg, Dimitropoulos, and Russ, 2021). Ellen's long-term career goals are to work with children with neurodevelopmental disorders in a multidisciplinary academic medical setting, researching the design and implementation of easily implemented, efficacious, evidence-based practices for children with ASD that can be disseminated widely into the community. 

2020 - 2021 Freedheim Fellows

Photograph of Kelsey Magee

Kelsey Magee, MA is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology with a specialization in children and families.  Her research employs multi-method approaches to examine developmental models of risk for depression, suicidality, externalizing disorders, and substance use.  For her dissertation, Kelsey is harmonizing data across three family-focused prevention trials and one longitudinal study of depression risk in girls to conduct developmental analyses examining peer (i.e. rejection, deviance) and self-regulatory (i.e. impulsivity) risk processes related to age of onset, frequency and co-occurrence of depression and conduct problems in relation to suicide-risk.  Aggregating multiple data sets will facilitate the tailoring of prevention programs to subpopulations of youth with distinct patterns of emotional and behavioral problems.  In the future, Kelsey plans to pursue a career as a clinical scientist, conducting developmentally focused research with applications to clinical practice through prevention and intervention efforts.

Photograph of Lexi Smith, a white woman with blond hair and a big smile

Lexi Smith, MA is a fifth-year doctoral student in the child clinical psychology doctoral program. Her primary research and clinical practice interests are in childhood anxiety disorders, with a specific focus on the parental influences that contribute to the development, maintenance, and treatment of anxiety and related concerns.  Lexi is also heavily involved in state leadership, and most recently served as Chair for the Ohio Psychological Association of Graduate Students.  

Her clinical experiences throughout her training have shed light on disparities in psychological treatment, particularly for underserved children and families.  These insights inspired her dissertation to investigate sociodemographic predictors, including childhood ACEs, of mental health care utilization and unmet needs over twelve months in a nationally representative sample of children.  Using data from the 2019 National Health Interview Survey for noninstitutionalized children, she hopes to obtain knowledge that will help reduce disparities in mental health care by informing change both at the level of individual practice and broader policy reform.

2019 - 2020 Freedheim Fellows

Sarah Danzo, MA

Sarah Danzo, MA is a fifth year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Case Western Reserve University with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on developmental risk trajectories for internalizing disorders and associated risk behaviors, with translational implications for prevention and intervention efforts. For her dissertation, she is examining the relationship between perceived stress, maternal emotion and cognitive control capacities, and parenting behaviors in a high risk, low SES population. This study aims to identify how environmental and cognitive factors interact to impact parenting risk, in order to identify targets for intervention, to be able to more effectively tailor parenting interventions to this high-risk, high-need population to yield improved outcomes for youth and families. In the future, Sarah hopes to continue researching developmental risk trajectories related to internalizing disorders and associated risk behaviors in childhood and adolescence, as well as to continue her clinical work focused on providing assessment and intervention services to children and families.

Jessica Kusina, MA

Jessica Kusina, MA is a fifth year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Case Western Reserve University with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on the interplay of religion/spirituality and body image/eating during adolescence. For her dissertation, she is examining how various religious and spiritual beliefs relate to body image. She will also explore whether a brief school-based intervention that emphasizes values and identity effectively improves adolescent body image. In the future, Jessica is interested in practicing as a clinical psychologist through therapy, assessment, and school consultation.

Alexis Lee, MA

Alexis Lee, MA is a fifth year doctoral candidate in the Clinical Psychology PhD program at Case Western Reserve with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on pretend play and predictors of later creativity and creative self-perceptions. Alexis, with her advisor, Dr. Sandra Russ, have collaborated on research projects in the past few years with a number of schools in Northeast Ohio. For her dissertation, she is examining differences in creativity between typically developing children and children with ADHD, with a specific focus on the role of inhibitory control as a moderating variable in the relationship between ADHD and creativity. In the future, Alexis plans to focus her career as a child clinical psychologist providing assessment and therapy services to children and families, as well as providing consultation services in schools.

2017 -2019 Freedheim Fellows

Laura Hlavaty, MA

Laura Hlavaty, MA is a fifth year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at CWRU with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on understanding cognitive, emotional, and social difficulties faced by youth diagnosed with ADHD. For her dissertation, she is examining developmental differences within children with ADHD who are referred for psychological evaluation in early childhood versus adolescence. This study also aims to identify how risk and protective factors contribute to differences in symptom severity, impairment, and diagnostic age of onset. In the future, Laura hopes to continue researching the implications of ADHD during transitional phases from childhood to adolescence, as well as continue her clinical work focused on providing assessment and intervention services to children and families. 

Olena Zyga, MA

Olena ZygaMA is a fourth year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at CWRU with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on better understanding social cognitive aspects of both typical and atypical development, including factors such as pretend play, imagination, emotion regulation, and social interactions. For her dissertation, she is examining the relationship between social cognitive ability in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how these abilities relate to biological factors, such as oxytocin and cortisol, and parent-child interactions. She is also examining if a telehealth parent training intervention program for parents of preschoolers with ASD can then impact social cognitive skills and biological factors, such as hormone expression. In the future, Olena hopes to continue her research in an academic setting on developmental disabilities and informing intervention practices across this population.

2016 - 2017 Freedheim Fellows

Jennifer Birnkrant, MA

Jennifer Birnkrant, MA is a fifth year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at CWRU with a specialization in children and families. Her research focuses on risk factors and protective factors in the development of anxiety and depression in lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and trans* (LGBTQ) youth. For her dissertation, Jenny is working to develop and validate a novel measure of parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward trans* youth in the hopes that it results in improved research and intervention related to transphobia directed toward children and adolescents. In the future, Jenny hopes to work with and support gender diverse youth and their families.

 Hannah McKillop, MA

Hannah McKillop, MA is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at CWRU focusing on children and families. Her research interests center on the mechanisms by which children develop difficulties such as depression, and the role that family factors may play in this process. This research has primarily been conducted with adolescents and parents with depression, investigating the relationship between affect, physiology, and parent-child interaction. Recently, this emphasis has expanded to include youth with chronic pain, and this is the focus of her dissertation.

The goals of her dissertation research are twofold:

  1. To examine whether subgroups or profiles exist within a pediatric chronic pain sample, and
  2. To examine whether treatment response varies according to, or as a function of, subgroup. Hannah hopes to continue providing interventions for and conducting studies with children and families, particularly in the hospital setting.

2015 - 2016 Brisky Fellows

Kimberly Dunbeck Genuario, MA

Kimberly Dunbeck Genuario, MA is a fifth-year clinical psychology graduate student specialized in children and families. Her research interests center on the interrelationships between family dynamics, internalizing symptoms, and wellbeing and adherence to medical regimen in children with chronic conditions. Her dissertation is investigating the relationships that exist between parent and adolescent beliefs about diabetes and adherence to medical regimen in adolescents with type 1 diabetes. Further, the study aims to understand what types of variables (i.e. depression, executive functioning, division of responsibility) interfere with adherence despite appropriate health beliefs.

Claire Wallace

Claire Wallace is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Case Western Reserve University, focusing on children and families. Her research emphasis has been on investigating the role of pretend play in child development, with the goal of identifying how pretend play can improve treatment outcomes for children and families.

The title of her dissertation is “Improving the Parent-Child Relationship in ADHD: A Pretend Play Intervention.” It is an intervention study focused on improving the parent-child relationship among young children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Many parents of children with ADHD describe that they spend so much time managing their children’s behavior that they have little energy left for fostering a positive relationship with their child. The goal of her dissertation study is to use play to help parents develop a more positive relationship with their children through a mutually enjoyable activity. Moving forward, her goal is to discover more about the nature of the parent-child relationship, especially in the context of a stressor such as a medical illness. If play proves to be a useful tool in improving the parent-child relationship among children with ADHD, she would like to extend the intervention to children and parents in the hospital setting.

2014 - 2015 Brisky Fellows

 Emily Patton, MA

Emily Patton, MA is a doctoral candidate in child psychology at Case Western Reserve University. She is interested in how to understand, treat, and prevent mood disorders affecting children, with particular attention to family factors and parent-child relationships. For her dissertation, she is measuring how youth emotion is regulated via the brain, breathing, and heart rate pattern. She is then comparing differences across adolescents whose mothers have varying levels of depression and parenting styles. The aim of her study is to expand understanding of emotional processes in mental health and to improve assessments and interventions for adolescents and children in high-risk families. Emily hopes to continue teaching psychology, treating youth, and conducting research. 

2013 - 2014 Brisky Fellows

Susan Klostermann, MA

Susan Klostermann, MA is a graduate student in clinical psychology at Case Western Reserve University.For her dissertation, she is working with the Chardon School District to examine the role that emotion regulation, coping strategies, and family functioning play in predicting response to a manualized, school-based treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. Her project aims to better understand the individual and family level factors that contribute not only to a child’s functioning in the wake of a traumatic event but also to treatment response, in order to design better prevention and treatment programs.

 Nicole Pucci, MA


Nicole Pucci, MA is a fifth-year graduate student in CWRU’s clinical psychology doctoral program, specializing in children. Her dissertation examines the efficacy brief cognitive behavioral skills group, compared to a peer support group, at reducing internalizing symptoms and increasing adolescent connectedness in behaviorally inhibited female adolescents.

2012 - 2013 Brisky Fellows

 Julie Fiorelli

Julie Fiorelli is a fifth year student in CWRU’s clinical psychology doctoral program, specializing in children. For her dissertation she is exploring positive and negative mood in children’ daily life and in play. Fiorelli is specifically interested in examining how mood and affect expression are differentially related to areas of overall functioning, such as coping ability, humor, prosocial behavior, health complaints, anxiety and depression.

Abby Hughes-Scalise, MA

Abby Hughes-Scalise, MA, is a doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program, with a focus on children. Hughes-Scalise received her MA from CWRU studying the relationships between adolescent depression symptoms, physiological mechanisms of emotion regulation and family interactions. Her doctoral study examines interactions between socio-emotional processing skills (including attention bias and emotion recognition), family emotion socialization processes, and eating disorder symptoms in adolescents with anorexia nervosa. She believes this study will better inform the conceptualization and treatment of adolescent anorexia nervosa.

 Maia Noeder

Maia Noeder is a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program. Noeder is interested in the challenges faced by children diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Her dissertation research aims to better understand the impact of parent-child play relationships on the development of children with disabilities by assessing the reliability, validity and diagnostic utility of three clinical parent-child play measures. 

Leah Orchinik

Leah Orchinik is a doctoral candidate the clinical psychology program. Her research interests include individual self-regulation and behavior and the factors, such as interpersonal dynamics, that affect such regulatory capacities. Orchinik’s dissertation focuses on emotional responses to laboratory tasks in 3-year-olds with low birth weight compared to normal birth weight children.

2010 - 2011 Brisky Fellows

 Kelly Christian, MA

Kelly Christian, MA received her BS in human development from Cornell University; she received her M.A. in 2008. Ms. Christian’s clinical and research interests include children’s coping with stress, risk and resilience factors affecting the development of child psychopathology, and developing interventions to help children strengthen their play abilities. Her dissertation, Playfulness, Adaptive Behaviors, and Early Play Abilities, will be one of the first studies to explore whether playfulness relates to aspects of temperament, coping, emotion expression, emotion regulation, and actual play processes. Ms. Christian hopes that this study will refine our understanding of the construct of playfulness and contribute to the meaning of playfulness throughout a child’s development. Further, this study is an important step toward increasing our understanding of the predictive role of early play processes in manifesting adaptive behaviors later in childhood. Ms. Christian’s future career goals include working in a clinical or medical setting where she can be involved in therapy, research, and teaching.

2011 - 2012 Brisky Fellows

 Karla Fehr

Karla Fehr is a doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at Case. She received her BA in psychology and honors from the University of North Dakota. In 2010, Ms. Fehr received her MA and her master’s thesis, “Pretend Aggression in Play, Aggressive Behavior, and Parenting Style,” is currently under review for publication. Her career goals include working with children and their families in a hospital setting. She plans to continue her research on effective prevention and intervention methods for young children.

Ms. Fehr’s dissertation examines the effectiveness of a developmentally appropriate adaptation of cognitive-behavioral therapy in 40 children (ages 4-6 years) with sleep difficulties. The intervention uses pretend play to teach coping skills and is the first empirical examination of the benefits of adding a child component to parent management of sleep problems in young children. The aim of the intervention is to decrease bedtime noncompliance and child distress and increase parental compliance. Ms. Fehr is hopeful that her studies will be fruitful in providing an evidence base for developmentally appropriate prevention or treatment approaches for young children.

Jessica Dillion Hoffmann, MA

Jessica Dillion Hoffmann, MA is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, child and family track working with Dr. Sandra Russ. She received her BA in psychology and sociology from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. In 2010, she received her MA studying the relationship between children’s fantasy play, creativity, and storytelling ability and emotion regulation. Her master’s thesis, “Pretend Play, Creativity and Emotion Regulation in Children” is currently in press with the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. In the future, Ms. Dillion Hoffmann hopes to conduct clinical work with children and families from under-served populations, and continue researching how children can use pretend play as a forum for building other adaptive skills.

Ms. Dillion Hoffmann’s dissertation is titled, “A Pretend Play Group Intervention for Elementary School Girls”, the study will be conducted through the Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School. The study explores the effects of a 6-session pretend play intervention on students’ creativity, storytelling ability, emotion regulation, and overall well-being in school. For the intervention sessions, students will meet in groups of four to make up fantasy stories and act them out using dolls and other toys, led by Ms. Dillion Hoffmann and a teacher as co-facilitators. The intervention, titled “Creativity Club”, is meant to help children develop imagination, organization of storytelling and emotional expression, all qualities that have been shown to relate to positive affect and creative production in the past. If the intervention is successful, Creativity Club could be more widely used within schools as a preventative or low-level intervention to help elementary school students showing difficulty adjusting in school.