Friends of the Life Span Institute GRA Awards

Friends of the Life Span Institute GRA Awards


In 2005 the Friends of the Life Span Institute, a philanthropic group of LSI researchers, families and friends, launched a new endeavor to assist the research and professional development of outstanding graduate research assistants affiliated with an LSI project.

The Friends of LSI GRA Awards, established with the KU Endowment Association, were originally designed to recognize one GRA annually with an honorarium. The awards quickly expanded, and since 2006, the program has recognized two doctoral students each year, with the intention of awarding one at the advanced (dissertation) stage and another in the early stages of graduate study.

Since their creation, the awards have helped to launch the careers of the following new scientists who have already made significant contributions to research and training that is directly relevant to the mission of the Life Span Institute.


Friends of the Life Span Institute

  • Ron and Pam Borchardt
  • Scott and Julie Borchardt
  • Bill and Nancy Brady
  • John Colombo and Dale Walker
  • Steve Fawcett and Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett
  • Charles Greenwood and Judy Carta
  • Vance Hall
  • Frances Degen Horowitz
  • Amy McCart
  • Lee McLean
  • Virginia Merrill
  • Mabel Rice
  • Dick and Muriel Saunders
  • Richard Schiefelbusch
  • Carolyn Schroeder
  • Karrie Shogren
  • Dale Slusser and Sherry Fowler
  • Joe and Rita Spradlin
  • John and Linda Stewart
  • Rud and Ann Turnbull
  • John and Patty Turner
  • April Waldron
  • Frances Waldron
  • Gary Waldron and Sunny Foster
  • Steve Warren and Eva Horn
  • Mike and Kathryn Wehmeyer
  • Bruce and Melinda Wetherby
  • Glen and Nancy White
  • David and Dee Yoder
  • Mary Ann Zamarripa


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The Friends of the Life Span Institute awarded Katey Burke the 2018 advanced stage graduate student award. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Special Education and is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Kansas University Center of Developmental Disabilities and the Beach Center on Disabilities. Katey with Senior Scientist and Professor Karrie Shogren on a Department of Education Leadership Grant. Her focus is on researching and advocating for self-determination, quality of life, and participation in the community for people living with disabilities.


Corinne Walker was selected to receive the 2018 early stage graduate student award. She is a doctoral student in Speech Language Pathology in the Intercampus Program in Communicative Disorders, working with Professor and Scientist Nancy Brady and Assistant Professor Brenda Salley, who directs the Child Development Lab. Corinne’s research centers on augmentative and alternative communication intervention programs for individuals with speech and language impairments.


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The Friends of the Life Span Institute selected Kristen Muller to be the 2017 advanced stage graduate student award. She is a Ph.D. candidate in speech-language pathology and graduate assistant under the direction of Professor Nancy Brady. Her primary research interests involve communication in individuals with autism who have minimal verbal skills.

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Kevin Pitt was selected as the recipient of the 2017 early stage graduate award. Pitt is a doctoral student in speech-language- hearing with an emphasis on neurology and the application of brain-computer interfaces for augmentative and alternative communication. His long-term goal is to translate laboratory based BCI research into clinical applications.



Rouzana Komesidou was selected as the recipient of the 2016 advanced graduate student award. She is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing under the direction of Holly Storkel, SPLH professor and chair. Komesidou's research focuses on the interdependent influences of phonological and orthographic processes on the development of spelling abilities.

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The Friends of the Life Span Institute recognized Lindsay Huffhines with the early stage graduate award in 2016. Huffines is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Clincal Child Psychology Program. She is interested in research investigating whether family cohesion moderates the association between maltreatment and inflammation.



Simone Huls was selected as the recipient of the 2015 advanced graduate student award. She is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing assisting Holly Storkel, professor and chair. Huls researches the assessment of speech and language in bilingual children with a current focus on children with Specific Language Impairment through an interdisciplinary perspective that draws on linguistics, second language acquisition and speech-language pathology.


The Friends of the Life Span Institute recognized E. Alice Zhang with the early stage graduate award in 2015. She is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Applied Behavioral Science. Zhang, an international student from China, published in Chinese peer-reviewed journals and presented seven research studies at international conferences while she was a master's degree student. Her thesis project on how to increase parking opportunities for people with lift-equipped vans has been widely disseminated and is in press. She is currently involved on a project designed to address the health concerns of people with disabilities.



Nichol Castro received an award for the early stages of graduate study for 2014 in purusit of a dual-title Ph.D. in Psychology and Gerontology with a Quantitative Minor. Castro’s research interests focus on how language processing changes with healthy aging using sophisticated cognitive models, the mathematical tools of network science and sensitive eletrophysiological measures working with Professor Jonathan Brumberg's Speech and Applied Neuroscience Laboratory and Professor Michael Vitevitch’s Spoken Language Laboratory.


Charles Sepers, Jr., also received an award for the early stages of graduate study for 2014. As a GRA in Behavioral Psychology with a concentration in Community Health and Development, and working with the KU Work Group for Community Health and Development, he assisted with the development of a monitoring and evaluation system to track Ebola response efforts in Western Africa as part of the Work Group’s WHO center staff.



Joy Gabrielli received the 2013 advanced graduate student award while working toward her doctorate in Clinical Child Psychology conducting research on child and adolescent psychopathology specializing in risk and resilience processes.


Luke McCune received the early stage 2013 graduate award while working in a doctoral program in Quantitative Psychology. He developed ways of conducting developmental research more methodologically efficiently and states that his "driving passion" is to close the gap between methodological research and applied research.



Tracy McElhattan was the early stage award winner for 2012 as a doctortoral student in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood and a GRA for Juniper Gardens Children's Project.


Heather Aldersey was selected for the advanced graduate student award for 2012 as a doctoral student in a Special Studies program. Aldersey has a special interest sub-Saharan Africa and her long-term career goals include fostering partnerships between U.S. and African institutions and academics to increase the quality of life of  people with ID and their families and to improve public policy, develop interventions and create partnerships to benefit people with disabilities globally.


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Lalit Venkatesan received the advanced graduate research assistant award for 2011. Venkatesan is in his fifth year with the Intercampus Program in Neuroscience and as a GRA in the Communication Neuroscience Laboratories of Steven Barlow, professor of speech-language-hearing and LSI affiliated scientist. Barlow extols Venkatesan’s multidisciplinary training as a model of the LSI mission, citing his contributions to pioneering work as a doctoral student in neuroscience informed by his M.S. in computer engineering. Venkatesan’s research interests include sensory neurophysiology, adult stroke, neuroimaging and sensorimotor integration. Most recently he has been prototyping a means of assessing neural pathways with possible application to correct motor disorders of individuals who have had strokes and sensorimotor integration disorders of individuals with hypersensitive Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Kaston Anderson, Jr., was the 2011winner of promising early career doctoral student award in Behavioral Psychology and a GRA with the KU Work Group for Community Health and Development, an LSI-affiliated center. Anderson was involved in the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant (SPF-SIG ) research project that focused on reducing underage drinking in 14 Kansas counties using evidence-based prevention strategies.



Andrea Courtemanche received the advanced student award in 2010 as a fourth-year doctoral student in behavioral psychology and a graduate teaching assistant for James Sherman and Jan Sheldon in Applied Behavioral Science (ABS) and a research assistant for Stephen Schroeder in a project that promoted the early identification of neurodevelopment disorders and problem behavior in Peruvian children.

Clarice Wang

Clarice Wang received the early stage award in 2010 as a second-year clinical psychology graduate student working with David Johnson, assistant professor of psychology and gerontology and director of the Clinical Neuropsychology and Aging Laboratory. Wang focused her doctoral work on Alzheimer's Disease, using neuroimaging techniques to study how patients with AD process expository text (logical presentation and support of a thesis) versus narrative stories (such as a fairy tale).


Emily Zimmerman

Emily Zimmerman received the advanced stage award as a fifth-year doctoral student in developmental speech physiology and neuroscience and a GRA in KU's Communication Neuroscience Laboratories looking at how vestibular stimulation that varies in frequency and acceleration can encourage respiratory and oromotor patterns in pre-term infants.

Kimberly Hu

Kimberly (Hiaoyi) Hu received the 2009 early stage award as a third- year special education doctoral student at the Beach Center on Disability working with Ann Turnbull and Rud Turnbull, studying family support, family quality of life and inclusive education for children with developmental disabilities.


Audra Sterling

Audra Sterling, the 2008 advanced stage award winner. She worked with several LSI scientists including Steve Warren, John Colombo, Mabel Rice and Nancy Brady. She also managed the NIH-funded Fragile X lab. Sterling's dissertation focused on the language development of children with Fragile X.

Daniel Schober

Daniel Schober won the 2008 early stage award as a doctoral student in applied behavioral science and preventative medicine and public health and a GRA for the Work Group for Community Health and Development working with LSI scientists Stephen Fawcett and Glen White. Schober was part of a community-based participatory research project funded by the Centers for Disease Control.


Sara Gould

Sara Gould was the 2007 advanced stage award winner as a doctoral student in clinical child psychology, working with Yo Jackson, and a GRA in the Juniper Gardens Children's Project, working with Dale Walker. Gould researched the associations between printed materials, parent- child interactions and child language development.

Brandon Aylward

Brandon Aylward was the 2007 early stage award winner as a doctoral student in clinical child psychology working with John Colombo, Ric Steele and Michael Roberts focusing on the impact of risk on the developmental course of visual attention in premature infants.


Christa Anderson

Christa Anderson was the 2006 advanced stage award winner working primarily with John Colombo and Steve Warren focusing on pupil size and associated neural responses in children with autism.

Meredith Poore

Meredith Poor (first row, far right), was the 2006 early stage award winner as a doctoral student in developmental speech physiology working with Steven Barlow investigating orofacial kinematics in infants five to ten months of age that allow the onset of pre-speech vocal babbling in infants.


Tiffany Hogan

Tiffany Hogan was the first recipient of the LSI Friends award while she was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) pre-doctoral fellow in speech-language hearing. She worked with Huge Catts, Mabel Rice and Holly Storkel.