fourth-year clinical psychology graduate student Sarah Curci stands smiling, with arms folded, in front of a tree on ASU's Tempe campus

Psychology grad student receives Faculty Women’s Association award

By

Robert Ewing

Sarah Curci, a fourth-year clinical psychology graduate student, was recently announced as a recipient of the 2021 ASU Faculty Women’s Association Distinguished Graduate Student Award.

The award seeks to recognize doctoral and master’s degree students who have distinguished themselves through exceptional scholarship, research, creative activities and noteworthy performance in leadership and service. The students are nominated by faculty mentors in an effort to highlight the important role that graduate students play in their research.

“Sarah embodies the spirit of the Faculty Women’s Association Distinguished Graduate Student Award with research that is not only of high quality but can inform public policy. Her research examines the resiliency and stressors of cardio-metabolic health disparities in ethnic minority mothers and their children,” said Marisol Perez, associate professor of psychology and co-mentor of Curci.

Curci conducts research in the Las Madres Nuevas Project with professors Linda Luecken and Perez on the socioemotional health of Mexican American families from the perinatal period to early adolescence. The longitudinal study was initially focused on postpartum adjustment, but the focus has since shifted to research on child development — both socioemotional and physical health in children and their mothers. The project is currently looking at health indicators like weight, cardiovascular functioning, inflammatory markers and mental health.

“It has been so fun and meaningful to be part of this project and watch the children grow up while we are conducting our data collection,” said Curci.

Curci is heavily involved in much of the project, organizing and executing direct data collection with the families as well as managing undergraduate coding teams. Her main research interest is on the first few years of life and early developmental processes and how they predict long-term outcomes for both the child and the mother.

“Sarah is a brilliant young scientist whose research and community service with families facing considerable socioeconomic challenges focuses on strengths rather than deficits. She is thoughtful, generous and socially minded, and is truly deserving of this recognition from the Faculty Women’s Association,” said Luecken, a 2019 recipient of the Outstanding Doctoral Mentor Award from the ASU Graduate College Mentoring Network herself.

Curci appreciated being nominated by her mentors even more than actually winning the award. Curci was also nominated by Rebecca White, an associate professor of family and human development in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University.

“Just being nominated — that alone meant a lot to me because they are three women in science that I look up to on both a personal and professional level. So to win was icing on the cake, but it was just special to be acknowledged by people that I admire,” said Curci.

Her research focuses on the perinatal period, or the time immediately prior to and after childbirth, as well as the first few years of life. She is investigating the bidirectional pathways of maternal and child health during this time, including how different child characteristics and behaviors impact mothers, and the contextual factors that impact these processes.

In addition to her research, Curci was also nominated because of her volunteer work with ASU’s Prison Education Program. This program allows volunteer instructors to develop and deliver semesterlong curriculum and courses on various topics. Curci created courses on the science of parenting, child development and improving maternal mental health.

“This was a really important and meaningful opportunity because it allowed me to take the research that I am passionate about and share it with a new audience of mothers in an approachable way,” said Curci. “My students in those classes were so excited to participate and learn, and I’m really hopeful for their futures.”

Curci hopes to complete her clinical internship with an emphasis on early childhood and then focus on a combination of clinical work and research in the future.

“It is so exciting to me that the things that are happening during this early period are so impactful for lifelong health and just having the ability to work with families during this period is exciting,” said Curci.

 

Video of Sarah Curci Award Winner

Video by Robert Ewing, marketing and communications manager in ASU's Department of Psychology