Autism, Family, Culture, and Communication Education Lab



Veronica Kang, PhD, BCBA-D, is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the University of Maryland at College Park. Dr. Kang's research focuses on culturally relevant and family-centered practices that support early language/literacy, social communication, and daily living skills; training families and professionals; and understanding the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse families to identify barriers and facilitators to inclusive, socially valid, and equitable practices in early intervention and special education. Dr. Kang is a board-certified behavior analyst, a faculty affiliate at the University of Maryland Autism Research Consortium, a member of the Inclusive Education Working Group of the Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies, a Member-At-Large of the Family, School, Community Partnerships Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association, and a co-chair of the Division for Early Childhood Consortium for Innovations in Doctoral Excellence.


Elnaz Safarha is a second year PhD student in the International Education Policy program, while obtaining a graduate certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies both at the University of Maryland. She has a master’s degree in International Development Economics from University of San Francisco in California, and an undergraduate degree in Economics from Allameh Tabatabaei University in Iran. Elnaz has gained over eight years of academic and professional experience conducting research and evaluations on education, gender, and child labor projects using mixed methods approach in 17 countries around the globe. Throughout these years, she has developed interests in inclusive education policies with respect to gender, sexuality, and disability in international policy discourse. 

Shehzad Headshot

Shehzad Iqbal Awasi is a Ph.D. candidate in the International Education Policy Program at the University of Maryland, where he is also a Fulbright Scholar. He holds a Master's in Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Germany as a DAAD Scholar, as well as a Master's in Public Administration from Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan. With over 13 years of experience in education, administration, and human resources management, Shehzad's research interests include Education Policy, Education Reform & Innovation, Marginalized Students, Teacher Policies, Teacher Quality, Low-Fee Private Schools, and Sustainable Development Goals. He has authored a book titled “Education Policy Pakistan: The Problem of Dropout in Public Primary Schools in Rural Punjab

Headshot of Melody

Melody Mann is a first year PhD Special Education student working under the mentorship of Dr. Veronica Kang. Melody has completed her BA Child & Adolescent Development / Minor Early Childhood Special Education from San José State University as a McNair Scholar, her MS Special Education (Mild to Moderate) from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, and her MA Psychology (Cognition and Development) from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Professionally, Melody has 5+ years of classroom teaching experience in general and special education settings, served as an mentor for first generation college students, and was an academic coach for students with learning disabilities. Melody's research has focused on the mental health, educational enrichment, and accessibility of students and families who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In her doctoral program, Melody aims to investigate South Asian, specifically Punjabi, families experiences in navigating special education and topics of disability. Her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion informs her research objective to create holistic representation for historically underrepresented populations in academia. 


Jung-Eun Kim is a PhD student in the International Education Policy program in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Development and Cooperation from Yonsei University and completed her master’s degree in Development Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has mainly studied education in the context of international development. Currently, her main research interest is how various inequalities, such as socioeconomic status (SES), race, gender inequality, and disabilities, interact with education. That is, how do inequalities affect the learning experience of students and how does education resolve, maintain, or exacerbate these inequalities?   


Isabel Ruiz (she/her/Ella) is a School Counseling candidate student, from the School Counseling M.Ed. program at the College of Education, at the University of Maryland College Park. Before joining the program, Isabel obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, double majoring in Psychology and Social Work. Her primary research interest involves understanding the implications of stigma on mental illness within the Hispanic community. She is also interested in the impact that culture and religion have on mental health. Isabel hopes to bring forth more information and resources about the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges to this community. In her free time, Isabel enjoys taking care of her orchids as well as spending time with her family, and husband and caring for her two young siblings who both were diagnosed with autism, church community, cohort group, and her two-year-old dog Milo!

leslie kim

Leslie Kim is currently an undergraduate student majoring in Biology with a Physiology and Neurobiology specialization at the University of Maryland. She is interested in connections between childhood development and family dynamics within minority communities. In the future, she aspires to enter dentistry and provide accessible care to all populations.


Hadiza Moulaye is a current Undergraduate Biological science major, with a focus on neurobiology and physiology, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Hadiza has a passion for research and is interested in learning more about how health and education are related. In the future, she is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in global/public health.


Raina Saraiya is an undergraduate student majoring in Neuroscience at the University of Maryland at College Park. Her research interests include the effects of childhood upbringing and experiences on perspectives and cognition. She loves working with children and is interested in pursuing a career in medicine. In the future, she hopes to provide accessible care to all.


Jasmine Stephens is currently a Master's student in the International Education Policy (IEP) Program at the University of Maryland. Go Terps! While earning her Master of Arts in IEP,  she is taking time to explore her research interests centering on education in emergencies or conflict, as well as equity at the intersection of race and gender in the educational settings. Prior to her graduate studies, she taught as a fourth-grade teacher for 3 years in her home state of North Carolina. Additionally she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia focusing on improving literacy instructional practices in primary schools. She is a lover of all food and nature. Jasmine enjoys hikes, yoga, kayaking, and beach trips. Community is very important to Jasmine, so she feels honored to be working with students at CCACC Academy through the summer program.


Emmanuel Wanjala is a doctoral student in the International Education Policy program at the University of Maryland. His research interests include the internationalization of higher education, inclusive education, youth empowerment, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development.


Youngsun Lee is a PhD student in the Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership program in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. She received M.A. in Educational Administration from Seoul National University, and B.A. in Education from Kyungpook National University, both in South Korea. With experience teaching students at all school levels, she had primarily taught middle and high school students English, math, and academic writing in the social sciences. Youngsun's current research focuses on the diversity among Asian immigrant students, including their social-emotional learning, school discipline, and disengagement. She also examines the school experiences of low-income Asian immigrant students and the model minority stereotype. Youngsun is passionate about examining the inequities within K-12 schools in the United States and the role of public schools in supporting marginalized students. She welcomes further discussion and collaboration on these topics.


Vrisha Sookraj is a current psychology major and disability studies minor at the University of Maryland,College Park. She is deeply interested in research and working with minority communities. Additionally, she loves working with kids and is interested in child clinical or counseling psychology for the foreseeable future. She is super excited to be on the team!


Shizhan Yuan is from China and he is currently enrolled as a graduate student in the M. Ed Curriculum and Instruction World Language Certification program in the College of Education, UMD. He previously obtained a PhD in Education. Hehad rich research experience on Chinese immigrant children and he had conducted research on the language and culturelearning of the children in the community-based Chinese heritage language schools.


Dhara Patel is a first year graduate student in the M.P.S in Clinical Psychological Sciences program at UMD. She completed her BS in Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is planning on getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology after completing her Master's degree. Currently, her main research interests focus on childhood resilience and child psychopathology in minority populations. Dhara will attend the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine's PsyD program this coming Fall 2024. 


Emily Bamberger is an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and receiving a minor in Human Development at the University of Maryland at College Park. She is concentrating her studies in early childhood development and abnormal development. She is planning on getting her master’s degree in childhood development or early intervention. She has mainly completed research in ABA therapy and intervention methods for children with ASD. Currently her main research interest is early intervention in preschool-age and toddlers with ASD and parent training. Emily will be attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County to pursue a Master of Arts in Human Services Psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis this coming Fall 2024.