Human Development and Family Sciences

Laura Cutler

Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Sciences

I decided to pursue a Ph.D. because I always knew I wanted to be a professor and researcher. Having received my undergraduate degree from University of Delaware’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS), I was familiar with the quality of the program and the professors. So, after earning a master’s degree in special education from the University of Maryland and teaching and working in early childhood assessment and professional development for several years, I returned to UD and HDFS where I knew I could flourish around scholars who shared my interests.

What I appreciate most is that the professors and researchers have a wide range of interests—but all within the context of the family. I am interested in the various contexts that promote early literacy development and how early childhood literature shapes identity development in young children. Specifically, I investigate fathers’ contributions to young children’s literacy development as well as the types of messages pictures books send to children and families.

Additionally, my fellow students and I appreciate that each member of the HDFS faculty has their own strengths—skills they are willing to share with students through the courses they teach, through meetings with students or through professional collaborations.

Recently, with guidance from Dr. Rob Palkovitz—a scholar widely known in his field—I revised a class paper into a manuscript for publication. Having the opportunity to coauthor a paper with a professor who consistently publishes high quality work in top journals was an invaluable experience.

I also worked with Dr. Martha Buell on creating an instrument to analyze gender portrayals in contemporary children’s picture books. We built upon previous instruments, combined and modified them and, eleven iterations later, we finalized the coding sheet and completed the analyses.

I have presented my research at local and national conferences, including the Society for Research in Child Development conference, the International Literacy Association conference and Read Aloud Delaware, and I write book reviews on children’s and young adult literature for the Literacy Daily Blog.

In 2016 I received the Professional Development Award from UD’s Office of Graduate and Professional Education—an award that helped fund a trip for me to participate in an international forum in Patras, Greece. Additionally, in 2017 I became the inaugural recipient of the Lynn R. Okagaki Graduate Tuition Scholarship in Human Development, and in 2018 I received the Amy Rextrew Graduate Student Award.

HDFS has a tremendous graduate student community that provides support to its students. The community has been cultivated from within to create camaraderie and collaboration among the graduate students. Among other undertakings, we established the monthly Graduate Student Brown Bag Series and run an active Facebook group that serves as a platform to share ideas, ask questions and plan social events. We, as students, are here to support each other to be successful.