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Michael Sanders

My hope is to research contextual and risk factors of aggression and social difficulties, so we can inform intervention designs and use that information to promote positive adjustment for high-risk kids.”
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Michael Sanders

Michael’s enthusiasm for psychology dates to his high school years when he volunteered at a camp for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware, Michael worked on an attachment-based intervention for parents who adopted children internationally. This work led to his interest in prevention science, including the statistical methods that show how and why these interventions work. Upon graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Philosophy in 2016, he wanted to continue exploring school-based preventative interventions. This led him to pursue his doctoral degree in Penn State’s Child Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program under the mentorship of Dr. Karen Bierman.

Michael’s graduate research uses data from Head Start REDI (REsearch‐based, Developmentally Informed), which is an emotion-knowledge and language focused preschool intervention. For his master’s thesis, he investigated how school-level poverty and academic achievement influence children’s aggression. He found that attending a middle school with many students scoring poorly on state achievement tests predicted increased student aggression, even after accounting for school-level poverty; however, this association did not hold in elementary school. Working with Dr. Janet Welsh and Dr. Bierman, Michael investigated how extreme adversity in preschool predicted feelings of distress and connection to others in high school. Children who experienced early adversity and also received the REDI intervention in preschool were buffered from negative outcomes. These children showed a similar level of distress and social connection to peers and teachers during high school as children who did not experience such adversity. Currently, Michael’s desire to work with children from high-risk backgrounds has led him to research how early executive functioning can predict adolescent risky behaviors and how early intervention may affect these pathways.

Through his Training Interdisciplinary Educational Scientists fellowship, Michael has been making the most of opportunities to pursue his career goal of conducting academic research. He hopes that through his research on contextual and risk factors in early childhood, he will inform intervention design to promote positive adjustment for high-risk children.