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Angela Narayan

Angela J. Narayan, Ph.D., L.P.

Dr. Angela Narayan is an assistant professor in the clinical child psychology Ph.D. program in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver (DU). She received her PhD in clinical child psychology from the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota and completed a predoctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Narayan has developed a program of research that examines how early childhood experiences have enduring effects on development across adolescence, adulthood, and parenthood. She is particularly interested in understanding intergenerational pathways of psychopathology and resilience in socioeconomically, ethnically, and culturally diverse populations. A current direction of her work is to study how early adverse and benevolent experiences of parents are carried forward to affect their transition to parenthood, romantic and co-parenting relationships, and infants' health and wellbeing.

Dr. Narayan's research focuses on uncovering resilience processes in development as they apply to theory, measurement, and translation of science to practice. An overarching goal of her work is to identify how basic research on family adversity may inform clinical practice with parents and children at risk for psychological trauma, emotional and behavioral difficulties, and relational problems. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Colorado and a clinical supervisor in the Child and Family Clinic in the DU Department of Psychology.

Graduate Students

Vicky Atzl

Vicky Atzl, B.S.

Vicky is a third-year clinical child psychology doctoral student in the PROTECT lab. She received her BS in Human Development from Cornell University in 2014. After graduation, she worked as a Clinical Research Assistant at the University of Maryland Center for Mental Health Services Research. Her primary project was a multi-family intervention for families in Baltimore City who have experienced complex trauma and/or chronic stress. Vicky is interested in how trauma impacts development, especially in terms of intergenerational continuity. In her spare time, Vicky likes to hike, bake and explore Denver!

Jill Merrick

Jill Merrick, B.A.

Jill is a second-year clinical child psychology doctoral student in the PROTECT lab. She received her BA in psychology from Macalester College in 2016 and has spent the last year working as Project Coordinator for Project Competence Research on Risk and Resilience at the University of Minnesota under Dr. Ann Masten. There, she manages and helps lead studies on risk and resilience processes in high-risk populations. Jill is interested in malleable protective factors, such as parenting, and their role in promoting resilience for families experiencing adversity. In her free time, Jill likes to cook, spend time with friends, and explore new places.

Laura River

Laura River, B.A.

Laura is a second-year doctoral student in the clinical child psychology program at DU. She received a BA in Psychology from Pomona College in 2015. For two years following graduation, she coordinated a longitudinal study of perinatal emotion and relationships at the University of Colorado, Boulder under Dr. Sona Dimidjian. Laura’s research interests center on attachment and parenting in the context of stress, trauma, and psychopathology, as well as interventions to promote greater parent-child and romantic relationship quality during the transition to parenthood.

Rebecca Spear

Rebecca Spear, B.A.

Rebecca Spear is a second-year clinical psychology doctoral student in the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology. She received a B.A. in Psychology and Early Childhood Education from Tulane University in 2015. After graduating, Rebecca spent two years working at Tulane University School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. There, she worked with families referred by the Department of Children and Family Services who had validated abuse and neglect cases of children ages birth-18 years. More recently, Rebecca completed an externship at the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD) with Child and Family Outpatient Services. Rebecca is specializing in infant and early childhood mental health and is interested in intergenerational trauma and the long-term effects of early childhood adversity. She is currently a clinical research interviewer/extern for the DU BE SAFE Pregnancy Study.

Undergraduate Students

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Miriam Castillo

Miriam is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Denver. She is pursuing a BA in Psychology and Spanish, and she is interested in Clinical Psychology. In Fall of 2017, Miriam will be studying abroad in Australia at the University of Tasmania. She enjoys watching and playing sports and spends most of her free time with friends and family. Currently, Miriam is helping to code the Angels in the Nursery Interviews from Spanish-speaking mothers who participated in the BE SAFE Pregnancy Study in San Francisco. She is also transcribing pregnant women's narratives for a graduate student-led project that aims to understand how mothers' and fathers' alignment about pregnancy wantedness affects the transition to parenthood and parental and infant wellbeing.

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Grace Meluso

Grace is a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of Denver. She is pursuing a BA in Psychology with minors in both Biology and Political Science. She has a strong interest in child development, and specifically in understanding the effects of trauma on psychopathology, and she loves working with kids. In the PROTECT lab, her current role is providing sibling childcare for the pregnant mothers and fathers-to-be that participate in the BE SAFE Denver Pregnancy study. Grace enjoys sports and participates in two club sports, in addition to intramurals. She also has a passion for music; she plays two instruments and is in a singing group on campus. Grace’s main goal is to help people and make their lives better in whatever way she can.

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Maria Rodriguez

Maria is a senior at the University of Denver. She is pursuing a BA in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Sociology. In the PROTECT Lab, she is currently helping to code data from the San Francisco BE SAFE Pregnancy Study on pregnant women and new mothers' Five-Minute-Speech Samples about their relationships with their babies’ fathers. Maria is interested in child psychopathology, as well as research on parenting styles across different ethnicities as they affect child development. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Maria also loves to bake, dance, and go on morning hikes.

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Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a senior honors student pursuing a BA in Marketing with a minor in Psychology. Her interests in psychology include exploring how trauma affects the brain, both in terms of daily functioning and long-term development. In the PROTECT lab, she helps with sibling childcare for the pregnant women and fathers-to-be in the BE SAFE-Denver Pregnancy Study who already have children, and she also works on a Five-Minute Speech Sample (FMSS) coding project along with two other RAs the lab. As a Colorado native, she loves to explore the city and the outdoors in her free time.

Staff & Consultants

Rachel Holm

Rachel Holm, M.S.

Rachel Holm is the OB/GYN Research Manager at Denver Health & Hospital. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and her Master’s of Science in Clinical Research Administration. She has been working for the OB/GYN department at Denver Health for over 5 years on multiple research studies under a wide variety of psychologists and physicians. These studies vary in type and focus including clinical trials for vaccines during pregnancy, observational studies on stress and anxiety during pregnancy, and service programs such as MotherWise and P3 (Pregnancy and Parenting Partners) group prenatal care. For the BE SAFE Denver Pregnancy study, she is the recruiter at Denver Health and at MotherWise. This includes approaching potential participants in their OB appointments, at the P3 group prenatal care classes, and at their MotherWise visits. Rachel and her fiancé live in downtown Denver and in their spare time enjoy sporting events, concerts, hiking and caring for their 2 kittens!

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Nina Lillehei, B.A.

Nina is a recent graduate of DU and currently a Professional Research Assistant for the Neurodevelopmental Research Program, directed by Dr. Elysia Davis in the DU Department of Psychology. Nina continues to collaborate with the PROTECT Lab and recruit for the DU Pregnancy Study (BE SAFE Denver) at Denver Health. She has interests in women’s reproductive health after spending many years as an intern and peer educator at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In addition, Nina has always been interested in women’s relationships following trauma as a result of her membership in the student government group, SCESA (Student Coalition to Eradicate Sexual Assault) while an undergrad at DU. In the PROTECT Lab, Nina is currently working on a methodology project that validates a five-words task with the Five-Minute Speech Samples (FMSS) of pregnant women speaking about the babies' fathers.

Maddie Sayyah

Maddie Sayyah, B.A.

Maddie recently received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. While earning her degree, she worked in the Adolescent Development and Preventive Treatment (ADAPT) Lab under Dr. Vijay Mittal and studied youth at risk for developing psychotic disorders. Maddie's research interests focus on protective factors and risk markers during childhood and adolescence that buffer against or contribute to the development of various mental health disorders. Maddie is a clinical research interviewer for the DU BE SAFE Pregnancy Study and is also involved in coding pregnant women and their partners’ romantic relationship dynamics from the Five-Minute Speech Sample (FMSS). In her free time, Maddie enjoys being outdoors with friends, watching football and soccer, and reading.

Jane West

Jane West, L.P.C.

Jane West is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed school counselor specializing in early childhood issues. She runs Heart of the West Counseling, LLC, a company that provides therapeutic services to families and consulting services to early childhood programs such as Early Head Start, Head Start, and private preschools. In 2005, she was chosen to be a Harris Fellow in Child Development and Infant Mental Health at the University of Colorado's Child Psychiatry Department. In 2006, Jane became a statewide trainer for Colorado's Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative. In 2007, Jane was chosen as a national fellow for the Leaders of the 21st Century program at the Zero to Three organization. Jane was responsible for shaping the early years of Early Childhood Partners’ coaching and consultation program and she remains an active consultant and speaker on such topics of early childhood toxic stress and resilience. Jane is also an internationally accomplished journalist and an Emmy-award winning producer of documentaries for PBS and the BBC. In addition, Jane serves as the executive director and founder of The Two Lilies Fund, a small foundation that gives grants in under-resourced parts of the world to support young children and their caregivers’ social and emotional development. She is delighted to be consulting on infant mental issues with the PROTECT lab.


- Maddie Schmidt, B.A. (2018, University of Denver), Current Position: Research Coordinator, UCLA Depression Grand Challenge.

PROTECT Lab Collaborators

The PROTECT Lab collaborates with other faculty within the Department of Psychology and at the DU SEED Center (Stress, Early Experiences, and Development) and has collaborations with individuals at several other institutions, including the University of California-San Francisco/Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Emory University.