Emotion-related conversations among family members and the potential impact it can have on the socio-emotional development of children is the focus of Erika Hernandez’s research and doctoral dissertation. Her transdisciplinary approach and integration of theory and methodology from both developmental psychology and linguistics has helped Hernandez better understand the dynamics of family discourse and how family members share their perspectives and experiences through storytelling.

This research has also earned Hernandez a coveted Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship through the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

“Receiving a Ford Foundation fellowship has been a career goal of mine throughout my time in graduate school, largely because I admire the dedication to diversity and inclusion in the Academy that the Ford Foundation represents,” said Hernandez, a Ph.D. student in Developmental Psychology. “I believe that the culmination of my research, service, and teaching experiences embody these values, and being awarded a Ford Foundation fellowship affirms that.

“During my graduate school career, my research trajectory has shifted to focus on racial and ethnic minority youth. Given the prestige of the Ford Foundation in this area of scholarship, I am humbled and honored to receive this fellowship.”

Through its fellowship programs, the Ford Foundation focuses on increasing the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximizing the educational benefits of diversity, and increasing the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral fellowships are awarded through a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

Hernandez’s dissertation fellowship will help her build upon prior graduate school research on how parents indirectly communicated emotional content of emotion-laden reminiscing, and investigation of links to preschoolers’ emotion regulation and social competence. Her dissertation titled, “Grandmothers’ and Mothers’ Emotion Socialization through Intergenerational Reminiscing in Underrepresented Families in the U.S,” will further examine intergenerational reminiscing in underrepresented families in the United States including African American, Latinx, and Appalachian.

In each of these family structures, Hernandez said grandmothers often play a key role in caregiving, but the literature has not considered how extended kin networks influence children’s socio-emotional development.

“I will be able to use the coding scheme created for my master’s thesis to examine indirect communication during emotion-laden reminiscing, and consider the influences of mothers’ and grandmothers’ experiences related to race, ethnicity, and social class in relation to children’s social outcomes,” Hernandez said.

In psychological science, Hernandez said most research is conducted with middle-class European American families. “These practices are not inclusive, and just plain bad science, and as a minority scholar, I hope that my work, as well as the other work in this field, helps contribute to a more inclusive developmental science,” said Hernandez. “It is my hope that diversifying the work in the field will also contribute to diversifying the composition of scholars in developmental science and psychology in general.”

The Ford Foundation fellowship will allow Hernandez to overcome some of the challenges associated with conducting research on minority families. “My dissertation topic requires me to travel to collect data, which can be difficult, time consuming, and requires a lot of resources,” Hernandez said. “The fellowship will provide me with the flexibility to do this research while funding my graduate stipend for my dissertation year.”

After completing her dissertation, Hernandez hopes to conduct postdoctoral research focused on conversations about race, ethnicity, and culture, including links to physical health and socio-emotional outcomes in minority youth. She hopes this focus will help build on her program of research before seeking a tenure-track faculty position at a research-focused university.

“It took me a while to figure out my academic identity during graduate school,” Hernandez said. “I am so fortunate to have an outstanding professional network that has helped guide me when I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and supported me when I started to figure out what I wanted. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to build your own professional network in academia.”

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