Our Research Team

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac, Assistant Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Early Childhood: Diversity and Transitions, is the Principal Investigator and Director of ECCRC.

Our multidisciplinary research staff consists of professionals and students from diverse disciplines at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We support capacity building and skills development through intentional goal-setting and teamwork.

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Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac (she/her)

Assistant Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Early Childhood: Diversity and Transitions with the Faculty of Education and Department of Child and Youth Study

Email: jessie-lee.mcisaac@msvu.ca

Jessie-Lee McIsaac holds a Ph.D. in Public Health, an MSc in Health Promotion from the University of Alberta, and a BSc in Kinesiology from Dalhousie University. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship on policy interventions and knowledge mobilization with the Healthy Populations Institute (Dalhousie University) and Propel Centre for Population Health Impact (University of Waterloo).

The goal of her program of research is to enhance well-being during early childhood by ensuring policy and practice support families as they transition across early learning environments. McIsaac studies early childhood and educational policy initiatives using an engaged scholarship approach to co-produce research that mobilizes knowledge and experiences for and with marginalized families. She collaborates with researchers, community, policymakers and research participants to inform policy and program design and decision-making.

Fun stuff:

When not doing research in early childhood, she is doing the practice of early childhood with her sons, Michael and Henry.

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Marlene Flores Ramos (she/her), MA 

Research Projects Manager

Email: marlene.ramos1@msvu.ca

Before joining ECCRC as Research Projects Manager in the fall of 2019, Marlene worked in various research administration capacities as Research Grants Officer and Project Coordinator. Marlene completed her MA in Women and Gender Studies through the joint MA program at Mount Saint Vincent University and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She also holds a BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines and a BFA in Textiles from NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Marlene is also a part-time faculty member in the Art History and Contemporary Culture Division at NSCAD University. Her personal research interests are rooted in Art History, Material Culture, and Museum Studies, where she explores the impacts of colonialism and globalization on identity and representation.

Fun stuff:

When Marlene is not at work, you can find her sea kayaking or paddling in the nearby lakes.

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Laken Crowell (she/her), BPR

Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator

Email: laken.crowell1@msvu.ca

Laken is a fourth year public relations student at Mount Saint Vincent University, minoring in marketing and communication technology. She completed two co-operative education opportunities with the ECCRC and is continuing to work full-time at the centre after she completes her degree in September. Laken is a very energetic individual and she loves listening to and learning from people. Laken enjoys working with people of all ages, especially youth. Previously, she was a day camp leader and she has coached basketball for years. She has taken a keen interest in ECCRC’s work and she enjoys learning from the various partners of the ECCRC. She also has an interest in graphic design and assists with creating infographics, reports, social media posts, and other resources to share with the public.

Fun Stuff:

Other than working and attending classes, Laken enjoys coaching basketball, walking her dog, and going on road trips with friends!

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Randi Cummings (she/her), BA CYS  

Research Coordinator, Supporting Numeracy and Literacy in Play-Based Early Learning Programs

Email: randi.cummings@msvu.ca

Randi has recently graduated with a BA in Child and Youth Study from MSVU through which she discovered her passion for supporting the social-emotional and cognitive development of children. Randi worked as an Early Childhood Educator for some time and then returned to MSVU and completed her BA in Psychology. Randi’s research interests broadly include how early childhood experiences such as attachment, traumatic experiences, and diverse needs, can affect the social-emotional and cognitive development of the child.

While Randi’s primary role at the ECCRC is Research Coordinator for the Numeracy and Literacy Project, but she also works on the Pyramid Model Evaluation and the Positive Solutions for Families projects.

Fun Stuff:

Growing up in a small fishing town has led Randi to love the ocean, and in her free time, she goes home as often as she can to enjoy the beautiful beaches and her family. She also loves to travel and does so as much as possible!

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Nahal Fakhari (she/her), BA CYS, MA HPO 

Research Coordinator, Mobilizing Innovative Models in Early Childhood Education and Care for Newcomer Families and Children

Email: nahal.fakhari@msvu.ca

Nahal is originally from Iran and moved with her family 10 years ago to Halifax. She graduated with her honours in the BA Child and Youth Study program with a minor in Biology. Her honours thesis was about exploring e-health behaviour among Child and Youth Study students. Nahal just completed her MA in Health Promotion at Dal. Her Master’s thesis was titled “Child Immigrant Post-Migration Mental Health: A Qualitative Inquiry into Caregivers’ Perspectives.”

Nahal was also the Research Coordinator for the photovoice project exploring the experiences of newcomer families with young children and organized the Looking Through the Lens of Newcomer Families Photo Exhibit.

Fun Stuff:

She enjoys travelling with her husband to see historical sights, historical museums, and art museums. In her free time, Nahal likes to go to the gym or do yoga, watch movies, and read books.

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Robyn Ashley (she/her), MA CYS

Research Coordinator, Mobilizing Outdoor Play Through Participatory Action Research

Email: robyn.ashley@msvu.ca

Robyn is a current student in the Master of Arts in Child and Youth Study program at Mount Saint Vincent University. Her research interests broadly include outdoor and nature-based play. Her thesis in progress is focused on child-nature relationships as they are constructed in early learning and child care (ELCC) curriculum frameworks across cultural contexts. Robyn holds a BA in Psychology from St. Thomas University and a Level One Certificate in Early Childhood Education from NSCC.

Robyn’s primary role at the ECCRC is Research Coordinator for the Outdoor Play project which uses participatory action research to collaborate with early childhood educators in implementing increased outdoor play opportunities in ELCC settings and explore stakeholders’ perspectives of outdoor play across different weather and seasons. She also works on the Pyramid Model Evaluation project and is the Research Assistant for Dr. Christine McLean’s Framework project.

Fun Stuff: 

In her spare time Robyn enjoys camping, hiking, gardening, working through her long list of ‘To Be Read’ books, and attempting – though not always successfully- new hobbies such as crocheting!

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Sarah Warwick (she/her), MSc

Research Coordinator, CELEBRATE Feeding project

Email: Sarah.Warwick@msvu.ca

Sarah has an MSc in Nutrition and Behaviour from Bournemouth University (UK), and a BSc in Psychology from Cardiff University (UK). She is very excited to be involved in the CELEBRATE Feeding project as she is passionate about helping promote good health and well-being, with a particular interest in nutrition. She has previously been involved in well-being workshops, volunteered at a soup kitchen, been a first aider for St. John’s ambulance, and worked as a child and youth care worker. These experiences have shown her first-hand the impact that early child experiences have on future health and well-being which has sparked her interest in research that focuses on the younger years. Sarah has been involved in a few health-related and nutrition projects and is keen to be involved in a project that aims to support healthy feeding behaviours in early childhood and help provide children with a foundation for lifelong health.

Fun Stuff:

Originally from the UK, Sarah moved to Canada in 2016. In her free time, she loves exploring new places, baking, travelling, and going on walks with her partner and their 7-month-old puppy called Riley!

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Elizabeth Dickson (she/her), MHSc, RD

Nutrition Coach, CELEBRATE Feeding Research Project

Email: elizabeth.dickson@msvu.ca

Elizabeth is a Registered Dietitian, nutrition educator, and communications professional. She holds an MHSc in Nutrition Communication from Ryerson University, as well as a BSc in Applied Human Nutrition from Mount Saint Vincent University. Elizabeth’s dietetic focus has been her work as a pediatric nutrition educator in the community, with a particular interest in providing support to primary and secondary schools. Her work focuses on building eating competence and supporting responsive feeding environments. She is passionate about delivering evidence-based content that is easy-to-consume, and appropriate for the audience. More recently, Elizabeth joined the MSVU Applied Human Nutrition Department as a part-time faculty member.

Elizabeth is excited to be putting her experience and passion to work as the Nova Scotia Nutrition Coach for the CELEBRATE Feeding project.

Fun Stuff:

When not at work, Elizabeth spends her time with her daughter, Olivia and their pet dog. She can often be found outside hiking, skiing, tending to her plants, or visiting her family’s farm in New Brunswick.

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Julie Campbell (she/her), MSc

Data Analyst, CELEBRATE Feeding Project

Email: Julie.Campbell7@msvu.ca 

Julie is a PhD student in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University, studying outdoor learning and play with school-aged children. Before starting her PhD at Dalhousie, she completed a BSc (Hons) in Kinesiology with a minor in Nutrition at the University of Prince Edward Island and an MSc in Kinesiology (Physical Activity Epidemiology) at Queen’s University. Through her research and work, she is passionate about promoting healthy lifelong habits for children through supportive environments, whether for nutrition or movement behaviours.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, Julie loves to play recreation sports, cook, spend time outdoors, and hang out with friends and family.

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Emma Cameron (she/her), MA HPRO

Project Coordinator, IURN-Play Research Project

Email: emma.cameron3@msvu.ca

Emma is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Health Promotion program at Dalhousie University. She completed her BSc (honours) at Dalhousie University in Psychology. Her master’s thesis focused on access to postnatal care for resettled Syrain refugee women in Nova Scotia. Emma has additional research interests in sexual and reproductive healthcare for refugee, asylum-seeking, and migrant women, and the experiences of discrimination among refugee youth in Canada. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia and is the co-founder of the Women’s Health Interest Group at Dalhousie.

Fun Stuff:

Emma has two greyhounds and loves camping, hiking, cycling, and travelling with her partner.

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Milena Pimentel (she/her), BA CYS

Research Assistant, IURN-Play Research Project and Pyramid Model

Email: milena.pimentel@msvu.ca

Milena is currently enrolled in the (BA) Child and Youth Study program at MSVU and has worked at the Child Study Centre since the summer of 2018. She loves to work with children of all ages but has found that she thrives in infant/toddler spaces. Milena’s interests lie around the social-emotional wellbeing of children and ECEs and in cultural diversity within early learning settings. Her goal is to complete an honours thesis that would allow her to explore her interests in a little more depth. Milena was born and raised in Bermuda and of Brazilian ethnicity. As a child, she visited Brazil every summer and lived there as a teenager for 5 years. She loves the rich culture and diversity within Brazil and the FOOD!

Milena works primarily on the IURN-Play Research Project and the Pyramid Model Evaluation, but she has assisted with almost every project at the ECCRC in some capacity.

Fun Stuff:

Her hobbies are whatever her kids are into! They love the water, and are still discovering Nova Scotia and have found some pretty awesome spots, the water is a tad too cold though! They love summers here in Halifax and all the fun events that happen such as Busker Festival, Rib fest (yes they are Foodies!) and they love Canada day celebrations. Strawberry picking and blueberry picking has quickly become a tradition, and they love apple and pumpkin picking in the fall!

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Nicholas Hickens (he/him), BSc

Research Assistant, IURN-Play Research Project

Email: nicholas.hickens@msvu.ca

Nicholas is a graduate of the Bachelor of Biology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology program at Dalhousie University, and a student and researcher at Mount Saint Vincent University. He holds an associate degree in Natural Science from Queens College, Guyana. His research has focused on global health frameworks, addressing systemic issues among vulnerable communities, and advancing social justice in healthcare sectors, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. He is also a collaborator on a co-investigation team on race and racism in dietetics and healthcare. Nicholas also has additional research interests in psychology brain studies research, and biochemical related metabolic and disease studies. Currently, Nicholas is working at ECCRC as a research assistant, with Emma Cameron and Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac for the IURN-Play Research Project to understand the perceptions of play-based education in African Nova Scotian communities.

Fun Stuff:

In his spare time, Nicholas loves travelling the world, exploring new cultures, histories, and cuisine. He also enjoys playing basketball, writing poetry, painting, singing, and athletic training.

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Heather Podanovitch (she/her), BSc

Research Assistant, CELEBRATE Feeding project and Supporting Numeracy and Literacy in Play-Based Early Learning Programs

Email: Heather.Podanovitch@msvu.ca 

Heather has a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Psychology from the University of New Brunswick. She is also currently a student in the Applied Human Nutrition program at Mount Saint Vincent University. She spent several years working in a child care centre, which sparked her interest in support child development. As a research assistant, Heather will be assisting with the Numeracy and Literacy project and the CELEBRATE Feeding project.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, Heather loves to bake and garden. She also likes to spend time outdoors, especially camping, biking, and being near the ocean.

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Emma Coughlan (she/her), BA Psychology (Honours)

Research Assistant, Mobilizing Innovative Models in Early Childhood Education and Care for Newcomer Families and Children

Email: Emma.Coughlan@msvu.ca 

Emma recently completed her Bachelors of Art in Psychology with Honours at Dalhousie University. Her honours thesis was on the relationship between personal projects, the basic psychological needs, and well-being. Emma plans to continue on to graduate studies with the hope of obtaining a Doctorate in Psychology and to become a clinical psychologist. In line with her interest in psychological intervention, Emma spends her summer working as a specialized camp counsellor who facilitates the integration of children with special needs within the camp setting. Additionally, Emma works on various research projects, aiming to advance the field of mental health.

Fun Stuff:

Enjoys cooking, hiking, camping, and swimming.

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Dina Mohamed (she/her), BScPharm, MAEd (c)

Research Assistant, Supporting Numeracy and Literacy in Play-Based Early Learning Programs

Email: Dina.ElMahdy@msvu.ca 

After years of working in the field of early childhood education in Cairo, Egypt, Dina came to Halifax, N.S in 2021 to settle with her family and pursue her master’s degree. Dina is a graduate student in the MAEd Curriculum Studies program at MSVU and her thesis is on promoting early Literacy skills through play. Although Dina has a Bachelor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, she has made a shift early on in her career triggered by her love for children and education. Dina has experience with various roles within early childhood education, including teaching, managing ECE programs, curriculum development and education reform. Before coming to Nova Scotia in 2021, Dina was a program associate at UNESCO Cairo, supporting the education team in bringing about change and in reforming the Egyptian Education system. Dina recently joined the ECCRC team as a research assistant with an interest in early childhood research that stems from her passion about education and belief in continuous improvement.

Fun Stuff:

In her free time Dina spends time with her family exploring the beautiful nature in Halifax, like the so many wonderful trails, beaches and parks.

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Minakshi Gonzalez Cerdeira (she/her), MAHN

Graduate Student, CELEBRATE Feeding Project

Email: minakshi.gonzalezcerdeira@msvu.ca

Mina is no stranger to the Mount community. She completed her BSc in Applied Huma Nutrition in 2010 and then went on to completing her Masters in Applied Human Nutrition in 2013. Since graduating, Mina has been a part-time instructor with the department of Nutrition for the past 5 years and more recently has been in a term position with the Department of Business and Tourism as a lab instructor. Mina is excited to join the Responsive Feeding Project as a Graduate Student working towards her thesis.

Mina has worked in the food and nutrition industry within healthcare as a Diet Technician and Supervisor. Upon completion of her Masters, Mina joined the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) as a Research Associate in the primary healthcare sector. Mina has supported numerous primary and community health related initiatives in her time with NSHA including being part of teams that have won Performance Quality Excellence Awards such as: Reducing wait times to care for complex patients by providing a “Voice to the Patient” (Gold), Strengthening Primary Health Care for Frail Persons (Silver). Mina has also led a healthy eating demonstration for a Chronic Disease Innovation Fund for the province.

Mina moved on to working with First Nations as a Project Manager of Health and managed project activities to plan and facilitate community engagement sessions with community leaders and members to understand their interest  towards a preferred health model(s) for Atlantic First Nations. This experience has been extremely valuable and meaningful, Mina continues to learn and apply the knowledge, values and culture she gained from this experience to her role today.

Fun Stuff:

In her free time, you can find her cooking and recreating dishes in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on long walks with her goldendoodle and spending time with her husband and three children.

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Taylor Hill (she/her), MA

Graduate Research Assistant

Email: taylor.hill1@msvu.ca

Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Experimental Psychology with a methodological interest in quantitative analysis and knowledge synthesis. Her research interests include measuring and promoting well-being through a social-ecological perspective. Her doctoral research is on the psychological factors (e.g., personality, motives) that promote positive mental health.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, she enjoys shopping, baking, and talking to cats.

Join Our Team!

Check out our current employment opportunities!

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Dr. Christine McLean (she/her)

Associate Professor, Department of Child and Youth Study at MSVU

Email: christine.mclean@msvu.ca 

Christine received her PhD in Applied Psychology and Human Development from OISE, University of Toronto. She has a M. Ed in Early Childhood Education from the University of Cincinnati, a B.Ed from Acadia University, and a Bachelor of Child Study from Mount Saint Vincent University. Christine has been involved in the field of early childhood education in a variety of capacities since 1988 with most of that time being spent in St. John’s, N.L. In 2016, she moved from St. John’s to Halifax to join the Child and Youth Study faculty at MSVU where she continues her involvement in the ECE sector through her teaching, her research, and her work with provincial and national early learning and child care organizations. Christine’s research areas include reflective practice in early learning settings, play-based learning, pedagogical documentation, and the application and interpretation of jurisdictional early learning frameworks.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, Christine enjoys completing her required book club readings, playing with water colour and acrylic paints, going on walks with her husband and their dogs, attempting to play golf, battling with goutweed in the garden, and chatting/texting with her two grown up kids.

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Dr. Joan Turner (she/her), PhD., CCLS

Professor and Chair of Child and Youth Study at MSVU

Email: joan.turner@msvu.ca

Dr. Joan Turner is a Professor and Chair of Child & Youth Study at Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Canada. Professional interests are supported through engagement with the field of early years care and education in Nova Scotia with the Association of Child Life Professionals internationally. Her collaboration with the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre (ECCRC) research teams involves a range of ongoing early years and early childhood education related research studies, including Co-PI on “the impact of the global pandemic of the adjustment and adaptation of families” research in the Maritime Provinces, Canada. Her collaboration with the Physical Literacy and the Early Years (PLEY) project – a research project with a focus on physical literacy, outdoor play and play with loose parts in Nova Scotia – are ongoing. Joan also collaborates with professionals in the field of child life on research to support and document the growth and development of the profession, scholarship, and research and received the Association of Child Life Professionals Distinguished Service Award in 2018 in Washington DC.

Fun Stuff:

Joan is an animal lover, avid traveler and aspires to read as much as she can – when she can. Originally from Winnipeg, she enjoys the landscapes of Nova Scotia and relatively “milder” climate.

Past Team Members

Marla Smith, Research Coordinator

Madison MacQuarrie, Project Coordinator

Stephanie Geldart, Project Coordinator

Jane Harley, Research Projects Evaluator

Dr. De-Lawrence Lamptey, Postdoctoral Fellow

Sarah Morris, Project Coordinator

Oriana Mooney, Research Assistant

Brenna Richard, Project Coordinator

Leah Crowell, Project Coordinator

Samantha Rioux, Graduate Research Assistant

Chris Mitchell, Communications Assistant

Brittney Roughan, Research Grants Manager

Patrick Carolan, Research Project Manager

Sandeep Dhillon, Graduate Research Assistant

Sherry Stevenson, Evaluations Coordinator

Odeisa Stewart, Graduate Research Assistant

Alison Brown, Project Coordinator

Denver Hilland, Project Coordinator