The Emerging Scholar Awards were established to recognize and support outstanding research projects from budding scholars whose research focuses on developmental disabilities.  The 2016- 2017 awards go to Julia Beattie, HaiVo, and Megan Rich.  

Julia Beattie is a Graduate Trainee in the Department of Psychology whose mentors are Dr. Lawrence Ver Hoef and Dr. Roy Martin. Julia’s research project involves investigating the basic structural neuroanatomy of human memory. 

Hai Vo, is a Graduate Research Assistant in the lab of Dr. Gwen King. His research focuses on brain development and functions across lifespans and the devastating effects of neurodevelopmental disorders.   

Megan Rich is a pre-doctoral neuroscience student being co-mentored by Drs. Mark Bolding and Farah Lubin. Megan’s research highlights the importance of precision brain-specific drug delivery for the treatment of epilepsy disorders that affect patients with developmental disorders. 

The Whit Mallory Award was established in 2013 in memory of Whit Mallory and his dedication to research and clinical activities in the field of developmental disabilities.      The 2016 – 2017 Whit Mallory Award recipient is Melissa Thye.  Melissa is a Graduate Research Assistant in Dr. Rajesh Kana’s lab in the Department of Psychology. Her research will be examining the impact of a social skills intervention on functional and anatomical aspects of the social brain in adolescents and young adults with autism.  

Since 2005, the McNulty Civitan Scientist Award has been awarded to outstanding scientists with a long term career commitment to research on developmental disabilities.  The award is given each year in honor of the McNulty family who were long-time members of the Chesapeake District of Civitan International. Tom and Mary McNulty with their son Tommy were the driving force behind the creation of the Civitan International Research Center and the research focus of Civitan International Foundation. To date the award has provided support for a number of successful research projects and helped to develop successful clinical programs benefitting individuals with developmental disorders.  

Dr. Fred Biasini is the 2016-2017 recipient of the coveted McNulty Civitan Scientist Award. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and he is the director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Program.  His research and teaching interests include autism spectrum disorder, developmental disability, social development and children of substance abusers.

This year, Ms. Lebersfeld along with her mentors, Dr. Maria Hopkins and Dr. Fred Biasini, and other members of the Social Technology for Autism Research Lab (STAR Lab) made considerable progress in the development and implementation of a robot-based social skills intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and below-average cognitive ability. Study approval was obtained from the UAB Institutional Review Board to carry out this research. A programmer and fellow psychology graduate student was consulted regarding the specifics of the robot-based control group activities. It was determined that this Socially Animated Machine (SAM) would produce a variety of different dance moves and other motor movements as selected by the child on a tablet screen. We worked diligently on this and all programming related to the control group robot activities has been completed.

Data collection procedures and materials were developed and modified in order to measure social skills improvements at home, at school, and in the classroom for this population. Undergraduate research assistants were trained on reliable completion of a peer interaction observation in order to assess social skills in a naturalistic setting as well. The lab began recruitment and outreach to families of children with ASD who may be interested in participating in this project. 

They have successfully completed a full, eight-week run of the intervention program with one participant. This serves as preliminary evidence that it is feasible for an individual with ASD and below-average cognitive ability to complete this intervention. Results from this participant show social skills improvement in some areas, including school-based social skills, as reported on a teacher questionnaire. Anecdotally, this child was incredibly motivated to complete the intervention and was excited to do so each week. This further contributes to the hypothesis that technology-based interventions, such as this robot-implemented social skills intervention, are motivating and effective for children with ASD and below-average cognitive ability.

They aim to complete recruitment and data collection within one year. The effectiveness of the SAM intervention will be analyzed to determine whether the intervention group demonstrates significantly improved social skills compared with controls. They hope to present the findings at national conferences and publish the results in an academic, peer-reviewed journal.

Funding from the 2015-2016 Civitan Emerging Scholars Program was instrumental in helping make this project a success! As the research continues in the coming years it was funding from the Civitans that helped get this project off the ground.

The Research Civitan Club held its silent auction on October 20, 2016 in the atrium of the Civitan International Research Center.  The "Just Friends" band serenaded the group while vicious bidding wars were fought throughout the evening. There were many victorious winners who fought to the final second and were awarded the ultimate goal of taking home their favorite piece(s) of art.

Congratulations to the Research Civitan Club for a successful event!

Art Show 2016 Group