A classroom of children with hands raised

Language, Experience, and Development (LEAD) Lab



Picture of PI Rachel Romeo

Dr. Rachel Romeo (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor in department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology within the College of Education at the University of Maryland College Park and the Director of the LEAD lab. She is also faculty in the interdisciplinary program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, holds a courtesy appointment in the department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, and is a member of the Language Science Center, the Field Committee in Developmental Science, and the Brain Behavior Institute. Dr. Romeo is interested in how children's early experiences influence their brain and cognitive development, and how we can leverage those findings to inform education, clinical practice, and social policy. Dr. Romeo received her BA in Psychology and Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, and then received a Fulbright Fellowship at University College London where she completed a MSc in Language Sciences. She earned her PhD in 2018 in the joint Harvard/MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology, during which she also completed clinical training in Speech Language Pathology at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. Dr. Romeo holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech Language Pathology from the American Speech Language Hearing Association, and is licensed to practice in Maryland. She also completed postdoctoral training in neurodevelopmental disorders at Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to Maryland. Outside of the lab, Rachel is a slow-but-steady long distance runner, loves to try new foods but is an abysmal cook (just trust her), and is still trying to make her cats internet famous. She can be reached at romeo@umd.edu


Headshot of graduate student Gavkhar Abdurokhmonova

Gavkhar Abdurokhmonova (she/her/hers) is a first-year doctoral student in Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her combined Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology from Lomonosov Moscow State University and her Master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Long Island University. Before coming to UMD, she worked as a project coordinator of an NIH grant with Dr. Beatrice Beebe running mother-infant interaction visits at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Gavkhar also worked as a research assistant with Dr. Kimberly Noble (NEED lab) coding mother-child interaction videos for the Baby’s First Years study and with Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple Infant & Child lab) assisting with various projects on playful learning. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rachel Romeo at the LEAD lab, Gavkhar is interested in examining how early language experiences, and the quality of early caregiver-child interactions specifically, shape children’s neurocognitive skills essential for their academic success. She hopes to use these findings to inform interventions on promoting optimal learning for children from diverse SES backgrounds. In her free time, Gavkhar enjoys going on long walks, reading and chatting with her family in NYC and overseas. 



Headshot of graduate student Victoria Alexander

Victoria Alexander (she/her/hers) is a second-year student in the Human Development doctoral program and the Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences certification program. She is primarily advised by Dr. Kelly Mix in the UMD Learning and Cognition lab, and co-advised by Dr. Romeo. Victoria is a first generation American of Caribbean descent. She grew up watching many of her peers discredit themselves from pursuing STEM fields within higher education. This has inspired her to find ways to build a bridge between socioeconomic status and academic achievement and to increase diversity within STEM fields. She is eager to explore the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning mathematics such as spatial reasoning and executive function, and to find creative ways to strengthen the cognitive skills necessary for academic success within mathematics. She is also interested in identifying ways the arts can be used to foster mathematical learning. In doing so, she hopes to enhance math learning and achievement especially among underrepresented populations. Victoria believes it is important to understand the neurological underpinnings and cognitive mechanisms involved in the aforementioned processes among diverse populations in order to better serve the next generation. Outside of academia, Victoria is a singer/songwriter, and loves to bake sweet treats with her friends.


Headshot of graduate student Alexa McDorman

S. Alexa McDorman (they/them/theirs) is a third-year doctoral student in the Human Development program at the University of Maryland. Their research interests are focused on early childhood protective systems in families with low socioeconomic status. They work to parse out key positive and negative factors in young children's development, with the intent to inform strengths-based policy and intervention. Alexa is a first generation student who received their BS in Psychology from William & Mary. Before grad school, they obtained work experience implementing social policy for state agencies in West Virginia and Virginia as well as managing large educational data sets at the American Institutes for Research. Alexa has a grey tuxedoed feline named Mister who provides crucial support in the form of cuteness. They love to play games with friends, grow plants, and spend time with family, such as their THIRTEEN niblings between ages 0-13.


Headshot of graduate student Ellen Roche

Ellen Roche (she/her/hers; they/them/theirs) is a first-year doctoral student in the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program at UMD College Park. She holds bachelors degrees in English and Music from University of Maryland and a Master’s in Education from Harvard University. Prior to joining the LEAD lab, Ellen worked for two years in the Early Learning Project lab with Dr. Rachel Barr at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, she primarily focused on a study of how infants built sensitive relationships with their socially-distant grandparents via Zoom during COVID-19. Ellen started her career as an educator, teaching Pre-K as well as middle and high school English/Language Arts, and most recently served as Executive Director of Trust for Learning, a philanthropic partnership working to support ideal learning environments for all children in publicly-funded programs, prenatal - eight. She also has eight years of experience as a researcher, writer, and strategist focused on progressive campaigns and candidates. Ellen hopes to advance antiracism and inclusion in scientific research, and is exploring the diverse ways children and families use language to support emotional development and regulation in the first few years of life. In her spare time, you might catch her singing, birding, or writing a sonnet. 


Picture of Ellie Taylor

Ellie Taylor (she/her/hers) is the LEAD Lab’s inaugural Lab Manager, and she is broadly interested in exploring how early contexts, experiences, and relationships impact infant and toddler neural and cognitive development, future wellness, and resilience. In addition to working in the LEAD Lab, Ellie is a Georgetown University Educational Transformation Masters student with a concentration in Advocacy & Policy, and she graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Arts in both Cognitive Science and Writing Seminars and a minor in Psychology. Ellie is deeply committed to community partnership and science communications efforts and seeks to increase the accessibility of involvement in and engagement with scientific research. She aims to pursue a career at the intersection of research and advocacy after pursuing further training at the graduate level. Outside of the lab, Ellie loves spending time with her rescue beabull, becoming a regular at local restaurants and coffee shops, and enjoying a healthy balance of time in the great outdoors and the great indoors. She can be reached at ektaylor@umd.edu


Headshot of research affiliate Amy Carolus

Amy Carolus (she/her/hers) is a research affiliate in the LEAD Lab, where she is investigating how early life language exposure relates to executive functioning and psychopathology outcomes. Originally from Upstate New York, she graduated from Harvard College in May 2021 with an A.B. in Psychology. As an undergraduate, she worked on multiple projects in Harvard’s Stress and Development Lab and she is currently a full-time lab manager at the CIRCLE Lab at UNC Chapel Hill. In the future, Amy hopes to pursue a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology. Outside of research, she enjoys baking, getting lost in a good book, and drinking coffee.



Headshot of research affiliate Eusabia Mont

Eusabia Mont is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the director of the Cultural-Linguistic Diversity Emphasis Program for the MA in Speech and Language Pathology, and she leads the Mentorship Network. Her specific clinical interests include communication across the lifespan, emphasizing language development in children and dementia-related communication disorders. She is also interested in infusing diverse perspectives into course design and culturally responsive service delivery to reduce health disparities. Ms. Mont consults with the LEAD lab on the PLANES study (and others) on the ethical and appropriate assessment and analysis of language development in children from racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds, as well as culturally sensitive dissemination of findings to avoid biased and discriminatory findings for children from minoritized communities.  



Headshot of research affiliate Amanda Rosenberg

Amanda Rosenberg (she/her/hers) has a diverse academic and professional background. She is a graduate of New York University, where she earned a master's degree in Psychology from the College of Arts and Science in 2022, and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts in 2004. As a graduate student, she was a postgraduate research fellow at Harvard University, where she completed her master's thesis with Dr. Romeo on how parents’ emotional regulation strategies influence cognitive and socioemotional development.

For the past 18 years, Amanda has been a top producing real estate agent in New York City, and has been invited as a guest lecturer for MBA students on the subject of negotiations at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, UCL School of Management at University College London, Peking University, and Wisconsin School of Business. In addition to her professional career, she is interested in mental health research, treatment, and awareness. The study of environmental experience in relation to brain and behavioral development is central to Amanda’s research interests, with a particular focus on the identification of early markers of anxiety and trauma in childhood that may impact the risk of psychopathology. She believes that continued research is crucial in implementing effective and innovative treatment methods for those at risk of psychopathology due to adverse experiences during childhood and adolescence. She hopes to contribute to research that will make a positive impact on policy, and to provide resources to people regardless of socioeconomic status.

Amanda is a member of numerous environmental and animal welfare organizations, and has adopted two rescue Chow Chows. She resides on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she frequents the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park, and is pursuing a second master's degree at New York University in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness.

Headshot of Undergraduate RA Ama Arhin

Ama Arhin (she/her/hers) is a senior psychology major with a minor in human development. She is specifically interested in researching the effects of early childhood experiences on literacy and executive functioning skills. Outside of the lab, Ama enjoys reading, watching movies, and playing sudoku. 


Headshot of Undergraduate RA Alex Haralanova

Alex Haralanova (she/her/hers)  is a sophomore Neuroscience major at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a first generation American of Bulgarian descent. Her main interest in the lab is developmental psychology and cognitive development of children, but she would also like to explore the connection between parenting styles and mental health later in life. Most of her childhood and teenage years, Alex has been babysitting and working with kids, inspiring her to gain a deeper understanding on how childhood experiences affect individuals. She hopes to increase individuals’ chance of success through research generating insight on how to help kids with different backgrounds and experiences in school. Outside of the lab, she can usually be found painting, hiking, journaling, or working for the Grey Matters Neuroscience Journal.

Headshot of Undergraduate RA Jun Ikeda

Jun Ikeda (any pronouns)  is a third year undergraduate student in the Department of
Psychology at the University of Maryland minoring in Neuroscience. Their future aspirations are to become an in-patient psychiatrist while also performing research. They are currently
interested in how early childhood factors such as language exposure can affect childhood development later on. Prior to joining the LEAD Lab, they have been a summer intern at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center working with liver cell regeneration in zebrafish and also a student under the Undergraduate Research Employment Program at the Mayo Clinic using measles viruses to develop methods for gene editing and reprogramming in cells. Also, in their free time, they enjoy various artistic hobbies such as making jewelry, playing the cello, or sketching.

Headshot of Undergraduate RA Natalie Sharbin

Natalie Sharbin (she/her/hers) is a senior at the University of Maryland studying Psychology and Criminology & Criminal Justice. Natalie is excited to interact with the participants and their families. Over the past summer, she spent her time working at a pediatric hospital with two and three year olds and loved her experience! Additionally, Natalie is excited to investigate how socioeconomic status may be related to the efficacy of learning interventions. On campus, Natalie is a volunteer at UMD’s Help Center, a peer crisis and counseling hotline. In Natalie’s free time, she enjoys trying out new recipes, working out, and going on walks with her sweet dog Georgie. 

Headshot of undergrad Abria Simmons

Abria Simmons (she/her/hers) is a sophomore studying Psychology. Abria is interested in exploring how anti-bias and antiracism approaches can positively affect children’s development in the long run. Outside of lab, Abria enjoys reading, crocheting, and playing video games.

VIP = "Very Important Pets"


Photo of cat Shea Romeo

Shae Romeo came to the LEAD lab as a rescue in Dr. Romeo's first year of graduate school. She recently completed her doctorate in knocking items off desks with a certificate in sitting on keyboards. Once she even shut down an international zoom presentation by leaping straight into a computer monitor. She is currently learning how to fetch, but struggles with the "bring it back" part. She instantly loves everyone who has the potential to feed her and enjoys copious naps in inopportune places.




Photo of cat Maya Romeo in a box

Maya Romeo was also adopted into the LEAD lab during Dr. Romeo's first year of graduate school. She had a difficult early life on the mean streets of Boston, but she is the picture of resilience to adversity. Maya is currently working on her masters' degree in squeezing into impossibly small spaces, and has developed a remarkable new method of transforming herself into an aqueous state to slide under furniture with only inches of space underneath. Maya makes you earn her love, but once you're in her inner circle, it is incredibly rewarding. 




Photo of cat Mister McDorman sleeping by a rainbow pillow

Mister McDorman was adopted from City Dogs & City Kitties Rescue at the beginning of Alexa's first year in graduate school. She wears a fancy grey tuxedo and loves cuddling, playing, looking out windows, and generally lurking. She's shy of strangers, but adores her humans and prefers that they remain with her at all times.





Photo of dog Tofu Rosenberg

Tofu Rosenberg is a rescue Chow Chow/Shiba Inu mix who was adopted through Petfinder. She is a giant fluffball from Tennessee who now lives in New York City, where she spends the greater part of her day snoring in the shower, admiring herself in the mirror, and waiting for Upper East Side doormen to give her treats (which she has trained them to do on a daily basis). As an honorary New Yorker, Tofu Rosenberg's favorite food is bagels, and she has developed the uncanny ability to sleep through sirens and loud construction. Her one fear in life is lightning.



Photo of dog Bonita Taylor-Robinette

Bonita Taylor-Robinette is a rescue Beagle/English Bulldog mix. As a seven year-old beabull, Bonita is entering her golden years, and she knows exactly what she likes: Whimzees brand dental chews, long naps, walks through the snow, and lots of snuggles. Long before she was rescued by her current family, Bonita was named after A Tribe Called Quest’s 1999 hit “Bonita Applebum,” so her parents joke that her full name is Bonita “Gordita” Rosalinda Applebum Taylor-Robinette. Bonita is honored to be considered a VIP researcher.



Photo of Victoria Alexander's pet dog Happy

Oso Happy Alexander is a rescue Labrador Retriever/American Staffordshire Terrier mix. He is learning a lot about the world still as a puppy, but he is very curious and eager to climb up the academic ladder. He’s probably the first dog you’ll meet with a middle name, but if you met him you’d understand exactly why “Happy” had to be included! His favorite thing to do is go to a drive though because he gets to observe new people and discover new smells. This VIP researcher takes his job seriously to motivate his human by snuggling up to her whenever she’s doing her work.

Ananya Devadiga (she/her/hers), Human Development Internship Student (2021-2022) 
Grace Kim (she/her/hers), HGSE Masters Student (2021-2022)
Klaudia Kulawska (she/her/hers), Research Assistant/Research Affiliate (2020-2022)
Daniel Pyo (he/him/his), Human Development Internship Student (2021-2022)