Northwestern Professor Ellen WartellaEllen Wartella, Ph.D.

Al-Thani Professor of Communication,
Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy
Director, Center on Media and Human Development
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Ellen Wartella is the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-thani Professor of Communication and professor of psychology, human development and social policy, and medical social sciences at Northwestern University. She is Director of the Center on Media and Human Development and chair of the Department of Communication Studies.  She is a leading scholar of  the role of media in children’s development and serves on a variety of national and international boards and committees on children’s issues.    She is co-principal investigator on two National Science Foundation grants: a three year multi-site grant entitled  “Media Characters: the Unhidden Persuaders in Food Marketing to Children (2013-2016)” and  a five year multi-site grant entitled “Collaborative Research: Using Educational DVDs to Enhance Young  Children’s STEM Education (2013-2018).”

Dr. Wartella currently serves on the Board of the World Summit Foundation, The Public Good Projects, and the Council on Contemporary Families.  She is a Trustee of Sesame Workshop and serves on the PBS Kids Advisory Board.  She is a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  She is a past member of the Board on Children, Youth and Families at the National Academy of Sciences and served on the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine’s Study on Food Marketing and the Diets of Children and Youth (2006); she chaired the Committee on Examination of Front of Pack Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols (2010-2011) at the Institute of Medicine; she was a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Accelerating Progress on Obesity Research (2010-2012) and the Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity (2012-2013).  She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research in Child Development and is past president of the International Communication Association.

Dr. Wartella earned her PhD in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota in 1977 and completed research in developmental psychology at the University of Kansas in 1981.  Before joining the faculty at Northwestern, she was Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California-Riverside (2004-2009) and dean of the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin (1993-2004).


Alexis R. Lauricella, Ph.D., M.P.P.

Associate Director, Center on Media and Human Development
Faculty Lecturer, Communication Studies
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Alexis R. Lauricella is Associate Director of the Center on Media and Human Development working with Dr. Ellen Wartella at Northwestern University and a lecturer in the Communication Studies Department.  Dr. Lauricella earned her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and her Master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.  Her research focuses on children’s learning from media,  parents’ and teachers’ attitudes toward and use of media with young children, and the effects of food marketing on obesity and health. Recent publications include empirical research articles in Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of Children and Media, Computers & Education, Media Psychology, Merrill Palmer Quarterly and reports for the Fred Rogers Center and the Center on Media and Human Development.



Postdoctoral Fellow


Kelly Sheehan, Ph.D.

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Kelly Sheehan is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center on Media and Human Development. Dr. Sheehan earned her Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Cognitive Psychology from Northwestern University. Her research focuses on how children use and understand symbols and symbolic mediums, such as maps, scale models, and television. She is particularly interested in children’s understanding of new symbolic mediums, and her recent research involves toddlers’ use of a touch-screen tablet as a spatial symbol. Some of her recent research has been published in Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology and Frontiers in Developmental Psychology.



Graduate Students


Fashina Aladé, M.A.
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Fashina Aladé is a PhD candidate in the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University. Her work lies at the intersection of media effects, developmental psychology, and early childhood education, with a focus on preschoolers’ comprehension of and learning from educational media. Her research has won top paper awards from the International Communication Association, and has been published in journals such as Media Psychology and the Journal of Communication. She is the Assistant Editor for the Society for Research in Child Development’s Social Policy Report, and she has also worked with WTTW Chicago and MediaKidz Research and Consulting, Inc. on a variety of projects evaluating children’s television programs and online games. She holds an MA from Ohio State University and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, both in Communication.




Silvia Lovato, M.A.
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Silvia Lovato is a children’s interactive media producer turned researcher. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Media, Technology & Society at Northwestern University, where she works at the Center on Media and Human Development. She has over 15 years of experience developing educational games and other interactive features for children ages 2 to 12. She has worked on a range of projects, from formal curriculum areas like math and science to music, consumer education and emotional well-being. Silvia has spent much of her career with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) where she led the effort to launch the award-winning PBS KIDS streaming video players. She currently researches how young children understand and use media and communications technologies. A native of Brazil, Silvia started her career in online journalism before moving to the United States. She has a master’s degree in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University.




Sarah Pila, M.A.
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Sarah is a second year doctoral student in the Media, Technology, and Society program working in the Center on Media and Human Development with Ellen Wartella. Before starting at Northwestern, Sarah spent two years (and two very snowy winters) in Somerville, MA earning a Master of Arts in Child Study and Human Development from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. Before that, she completed her BA in Psychology with minors in Family, Youth, & Community Sciences and Mass Communication at the University of Florida. Her research interests focus on the benefits of prosocial and educational media for young children.




Naledge 10photosJabari Evans, MSW

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Jabari Evans is is a MA/Ph.D. student in the Media, Technology, and Society program. He received his B.A. in Communication and Culture with a minor in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Evans went on to earn his MSW from the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work. Prior to Northwestern, Jabari has enjoyed a decorated career as a hip hop songwriter and producer performing under the moniker of “Naledge” in the rap group Kidz in the Hall. Jabari‘s research interests revolve around the cultural production of hip-hop, African Americans as a media market and exploring the role media plays in the socialization, self-efficacy and self-image of youth in urban environments. Jabari has founded his nonprofit organization (The Brainiac Project Inc.) to leverage a commercial recording studio as a safe haven and means for violence prevention in Chicago’s South Side communities. Website:



Brianna Hightower, B.A.
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Bri Hightower is a first year Ph.D. student within the Media, Technology, and Society program at Northwestern University and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Her main research interests revolve around understanding how technology and media can enhance learning and communication for families and children. Since joining the doctoral program, Bri has worked on projects that include understanding parent attitudes about science and math learning and media for preschool children, investigating how families with preschool children engage in science talk, and discovering how digital haptic feedback within a science engagement app may affect how children engage in outdoor nature activities. Previously, Bri conducted research at the Center for Children and Technology, providing support to projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and Heising-Simons Foundation. Bri received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies at Northwestern University. When not researching, Bri can be found reviewing books on her blog, knitting, FaceTiming her niece, or exploring Chicago’s beer scene.




Sabrina Connell, M.A.
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An artist-turned-academic, Sabrina is a sixth year doctoral student in the Media, Technology, and Society program. Her research interests broadly center on children, technology, and transmedia play. She is specifically interested in joint media engagement between children and their parents during digital gameplay. Additionally, she explores issues related to the maker movement, children’s creative media production, and their participation in affinity spaces and DIY-centered social networks. Prior to coming to Northwestern, she received a Master of Arts in Child Development from Tufts University and a Master of Arts in Puppetry and Technical Design from the University of Connecticut. In addition to academic pursuits, her professional experience includes working with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre and two Emmy-award winning preschool television shows, Between the Lions and Arthur.



Undergraduate Research Assistants

Yannik Kumar
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Yannik is an undergraduate research assistant at the Center on Media and Human Development. As a junior in the School of Communication at Northwestern University, he is studying Communication Studies and Integrated Marketing Communications. He is also a member of the Digital Media Module. Currently, Yannik works with Fashina Aladé on research concerning children’s media and STEM learning.




Abigail Blum
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Abby is an undergraduate research assistant at the Center on Media and Human Development working with Bri Hightower and Silvia Lovato on a National Science Foundation project that explores preschool-aged children’s learning of science and math through media. As a sophomore in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, she is double majoring in English and Psychology, with a minor in Spanish. She is also involved in Special Olympics, GreekBuild, and Soul4Real Acapella. In her free time (which is fleeting), she enjoys hiking and writing short stories.




Nadalyn Bangura
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Nadalyn Bangura is a first-year premedical student in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She is currently pursuing an English degree with a concentration on creative writing, and weirdly still loves to read for fun in her spare time. At Center on Media and Human Development, she assists in data tracking and works to construct her own summer research project on children’s advertising in the form of internet games. Outside of academics, Nadalyn enjoys other things that start with the letter ‘n’, such as Netflix, Naps, and Nutella right out of the jar. When she is not in class or literally asleep, she also takes great joy in her friends and family.


CMHD Affiliates


Rachel Flynn, Ph.D.
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Rachel M Flynn is a Research Assistant Professor in Medical Social Sciences and the Associate Director for the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci). Dr. Flynn received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Riverside and her MA in Clinical Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her primary research examines the mechanisms of media’s impact on cognitive development. Dr. Flynn’s most recent research has focused on the cognitive, social and physical benefits of Active Video Game play (i.e. Wii Fit, Just Dance) for children.




To learn about CMHD Alumni click here.