Lab Team

Principal Investigator

Melanie Spence


The Infant Learning Project is conducted by Melanie J. Spence, PhD. She received MA and PhD degrees from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is currently a professor and associate dean of undergraduate education in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. Her research includes findings that newborn infants recognize speech properties and the mother’s voice heard during the last weeks of pregnancy. Her more recent published work has shown that 6-month-old infants detect differences in intonation patterns used by adults to communicate different meanings to babies, such as expressing approval or comfort. Current work in the lab explores infants’ perception of emotional messages communicated by both infant-directed speech and facial expressions.

View Dr. Spence’s BBS faculty page

Current Graduate Students

Naureen Amjad


Naureen is doing her second master’s in the psychological sciences program, She has completed her bachelor’s in psychology, economics and sociology. She then went on to do her postgraduation in counseling psychology and did her applied behavior analysis certification as well. She is hoping to pursue a doctoral degree and eventually set up her own clinic to facilitate the treatment of children. She has also won awards from the United Nations for her artwork. She likes to listen to music, dance and try new restaurants in her free time.

Kaitlin Lawler


Kaitlin is a second-year student in the masters of psychological sciences program and is focusing on developmental psychology. She graduated with her bachelor’s of science in psychology from Southern Utah University in 2019. She’s been involved with the Infant Learning Project lab since 2020 and is serving as one of two lab managers. After graduation, she is hoping to pursue a career in early childhood intervention or youth rehabilitation. When not in class or working in the lab, Kaitlin enjoys reading, painting, and jogging.

Current Undergraduate Students

Nethra Giri


Nethra is a sophomore majoring in cognitive science. Outside of Lab, she is a part of Rangam and AMWA, and is the treasurer for WHI. She also likes to bake, cook, and spend time with family and friends. After graduating, she is hoping to go into the medical field and work with kids. 

Isa Hernandez


Isa is a third-year student at UT Dallas double majoring in psychology and child learning and development. She has been an undergraduate research assistant for the Infant Learning Project since January 2021 and plans to study counseling psychology in the future. After receiving her undergraduate degree, Isa hopes to attend graduate school for counseling psychology and become a licensed psychologist. Outside the lab, she serves as treasurer for IGNITE and is involved in several other clubs on campus including active minds and the period project. In her free time, Isa enjoys hanging out with her friends, taking care of her indoor plant collection, playing with her cat and hiking. 

Lasya Manne


Lasya is a sophomore neuroscience major on the premed track. She is also involved in the Social Cognition and Interaction in Autism Lab here at UTD and several clubs/organizations, including UTD Science Outreach, the American Medical Women’s Association, and The Freshman Mentor Program. After graduating from UTD, she hopes to go to medical school and pursue a career in pediatrics. Outside of school, she enjoys running, editing videos, baking, watching Netflix, and hanging out with friends and family. 

Anaum Rizvi


Anaum is a junior at UT Dallas double majoring in psychology and child learning and development. She has been involved with the lab since August 2021. Outside of the lab, she is involved with organizations on campus such as the Neuroscience Student Association and Medical City Dallas Volunteers. In her free time, she enjoys baking, reading, watching movies & dramas, and playing video games. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school for either speech-language pathology or occupational therapy.

Ginni Strehle


Ginni is a junior majoring in psychology. She has been involved with the lab since January of 2020 and is now serving as one of two lab managers. She plans to pursue research in face perception and visual perception disorders in the future. Outside of the lab, Ginni also works at the Face Perception Research Lab at UTD and is currently working on her honors thesis. Additionally, she serves as the vice president of Psi Chi at UTD, a freshman mentor, and is an active member of her sorority. When not in school, Ginni enjoys the company of her close friends, reading, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and rock climbing.


Kristen Kuhlman Atchison


Kristin received her PhD in psychological sciences from The University of Texas at Dallas. She graduated with a BS in psychology from Texas A&M University. Kristin is currently a lecturer here at UTD, teaching courses in psychology and development. Kristin previously taught across the country at, California State University, East Bay, University of North Georgia, Nevada State College, and most recently at Georgia State University (GSU). At GSU, Kristin was a part of several teams that conducted research on successful teaching methods using technology. Kristin’s research as part of the ILP aimed to help us understand if infants can categorize emotions in infant-directed speech. Kristin’s dissertation research focused on the role of synchrony of the face and voice in infants’ categorization abilities.


Mariah earned her associate degree from Arkansas State University and relocated to Texas in 2011. She earned her bachelor of science in psychology from The University of Texas at Dallas in 2013. She graduated with a master’s degree in psychological sciences in 2019 after several years in the master’s and doctoral programs. While at UT Dallas, Mariah’s research focus was infant facial scanning patterns within varied infant-directed speech messages.

Mariah is now a Clinical Research Coordinator and Regulatory Specialist at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, working in federally funded psychiatric clinical trials. Mariah’s role includes a specialty in regulatory monitoring and quality assurance. She aspires to grow into a long-term career at UTSW, working on psychiatric studies within the Clinical Trials Network and the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care.

Madeline Hale


Madeline graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a BS in speech-language pathology and audiology and neuroscience in the spring of 2021. She completed her honors thesis in the lab titled, “Acoustic Properties of Infant-Directed Speech in Video Chat Versus In-Person Interactions.” In the fall, Madeline will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a combined MS/PhD in speech-language pathology. Her research will focus on the cognitive-communication changes found in normal aging and in neurodegenerative disease, specifically focusing on Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Outside of school Madeline enjoys traveling and trying new foods.

David Hughes


David Hughes graduated from UTD with a BS in speech-language pathology and audiology. He is currently attending graduate school in order to obtain an audiology doctorate at Rush University in Chicago. Beyond working in the lab, David enjoys musicals, traveling, and volunteering with family and child-oriented organizations.

Priscilla Jacob


Priscilla graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas with a BS in psychology, and child learning and development, and an MS in psychological sciences. During her time at the lab, Priscilla completed an honors thesis titled, “Infants’ Eye-Tracking of Static and Dynamic Facial Expressions,” worked with multiple research projects, and was instrumental in the progress and success of the lab. Priscilla is now pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology at Texas A&M University where she will continue research in infant development and begin clinical work with children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Hannah Pourchot Neale


Hannah earned a bachelor of science degree in communication sciences and disorders at the University of Oklahoma and a master’s of science in speech-language pathology at The University of Texas at Dallas. She recently completed her dissertation in the communication disorders PhD program. Hannah is interested in the speech and language development of pediatric cochlear implant recipients. She has also worked clinically as a Speech-Language Pathologist with children of varying disorders.

Meg Mickelsen


Meg is a senior at The University of Texas at Dallas. She is a psychology major and joined the lab in the summer of 2018. Meg is passionate about psychopathology and hopes to one-day help families in crisis. She appreciates working with children and parents and is interested in learning about the non-verbal ways infants communicate. Outside the lab, Meg enjoys volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline, baking, and oil painting. She hopes to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology after graduation.

Alexandra Neenan


Alexandra recently earned her BS in psychology from The University of Texas at Dallas. She will continue on to the clinical psychology PhD program at Eastern Michigan University to continue her work in psychological research. Her research and clinical focus will be on helping families whose children are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Claire Noonan


Claire graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Columbia University in 2009. Her work as an ABA therapist for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) inspired her to earn her master of science degree in psychological sciences with a concentration in developmental psychology at The University of Texas at Dallas. Her research interests include developmental psychopathology — especially the early identification of developmental disabilities such as ASD — as well as infant cognition. Claire graduated from the master’s program in May of 2014 and has moved to Louisiana to pursue her doctoral degree in the field at Tulane University in order to both work clinically with children as well as carry out psychological research.

Samia Razvi


Samia graduated from UTD with a BS in neuroscience. She is currently on her way to medical school to obtain an MD and pursue her dream of becoming a pediatrician. She is interested how social and environmental factors play a role in health outcomes. In the future, Samia hopes to utilize that knowledge to take care of families in underserved areas.

Hollis Ratliff


Hollis graduated with a BS in neuroscience from The University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Tennessee. Beyond research, Hollis enjoyed running on the UTD women’s cross-country team and playing the violin for the University Orchestra.

Sarah Rehman


Sarah graduated from UT Dallas in 2021 with an MS in speech-language pathology. She hopes to complete her clinical fellowship and work as a Speech-Language Pathologist in the adult medical rehabilitation setting with a focus on culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Her time with the lab has been meaningful to her growth as a clinician. Outside of her professional interests, Sarah enjoys baking, art, and learning new languages.

Abbie Roberts


Abbie graduated with a BS in speech-language pathology and audiology from The University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently pursuing her MS in communicate disorders at UTD. Beyond working in the lab Abbie was also involved in other organizations on campus such as the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, and was a UTD Orientation Leader.

Sarah Rouhani


Sarah graduated magna cum laude from The University of Texas at Dallas in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology, and a minor in child learning and development. Sarah is continuing her education at The University of Texas at Dallas in the communication disorders graduate program. Her areas of interest include preschool language development and bilingual therapy practices. After graduating in 2017, Sarah plans to obtain her licensure and work as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

Kate Shepard


Kate earned her PhD in psychological sciences from The University of Texas at Dallas. She graduated from Colorado State University with a BS in human development and family studies and a minor in French. She received her MS degree in communication disorders from The University of Texas at Dallas. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist with experience working with infants and toddlers in early intervention. Kate’s research focuses on infants’ early communicative behaviors, with a specific interest in how infants perceive infant-directed faces or the exaggerated facial expressions we make when interacting with and talking to babies. Current projects are investigating how infants look at our faces when we are talking to them by using an eye-tracking system to track babies’ eye movements. Future work will investigate the role of the face in infants’ language development.

Emily Touchstone


Emily received her MS and PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas. Currently, Emily is practicing as a Speech-Language Pathologist and collaborating with research in the Infant Learning Project. She also was recently awarded the Aage Moller Teaching Award for her contributions to The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Her research is based on infants’ perception of emotional expressions. She investigates 6- and 10-month-old infants’ abilities to categorize expressions on dynamic faces. Her research catalogs differences in infants’ categorization abilities based on the age of the infant and design of the experiment.