Our Research Team

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac, Associate 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.

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac leaned up against a stone wall smiling at the camera.

Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac (she/her)

Associate 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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Nahal Fakhari (she/her), PhD student

Research Coordinator, Mobilizing Innovative Models in Early Childhood Education and Care for Newcomer Families and Children: A Pan-Canadian Environmental Scan

Email: nahal.fakhari@msvu.ca

Nahal is originally from Iran and moved with her family 11 years ago to Halifax. She graduated from the Mount in 2020 with her honours in the BA Child and Youth Study program. Her honours thesis was about exploring e-health behaviour among Child and Youth Study students. Nahal also completed her MA in Health Promotion at Dalhousie IN 2022. Her Master’s thesis was titled “Child Immigrant Post-Migration Mental Health: A Qualitative Inquiry into Caregivers’ Perspectives.” Nahal just completed her first year of PhD in the Interdisciplinary program at Dal.

Nahal’s research has been focused on newcomer families and children’s wellbeing. Nahal has been coordinating a number of projects at ECCRC such as the Looking Through the Lens of Newcomer Families Photo Exhibit. Currently, she is working on a scoping review to better understand newcomer educators’ experiences in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, Nahal enjoys travelling with her partner, swimming, doing yoga, hiking, reading books, watching movies, and spending time with family and friends.

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Randi Cummings (she/her), BA CYS, BA PSYC

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

Email: randi.cummings@msvu.ca

Randi began her journey at MSVU in 2015 when she enrolled in the BA in Child and Youth Study. After graduating she worked as an Early Childhood Educator for some time before returning to MSVU to complete her BA in Psychology. Since graduating, Randi has enjoyed having the opportunity to continue to work with and learn from her colleagues at the ECCRC.

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

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. You can always find her with a good book!

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Robyn Ashley (she/her), MA CYS

Research Coordinator, Mobilizing Outdoor Play Through Participatory Action Research, Pyramid Model Evaluation

Email: robyn.ashley@msvu.ca

Robyn is a recent graduate of 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 and perspectives of child-nature relationships. Her MA thesis explored child-nature relationships as they are constructed in early learning and child care (ELCC) curriculum frameworks across the cultural contexts of Nova Scotia and Aotearoa New Zealand. 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, cross country skiing, gardening, working through her long list of ‘To Be Read’ books, and attempting new hobbies such as quilting!

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Sarah Caldwell (she/her), MSc

Research Manager, and Research Coordinator CELEBRATE Feeding project

Email: Sarah.Caldwell@msvu.ca

Sarah has an MSc in Nutrition and Behaviour from Bournemouth University (UK), and a BSc in Psychology from Cardiff University (UK). Sarah works at the ECCRC as the Research Manager where she assists with the personnel and financial aspects of the projects, and as the Research Coordinator for the CELEBRATE Feeding project. Sarah has always been keen to promote good health and wellbeing, and has been involved in well-being workshops, volunteered at a soup kitchen, and has been a first aider for St. John ambulance. Her interest in research specific to early childhood sparked from her work as a child and youth care worker, where she saw firsthand the impact that early childhood experiences have on future health and well-being.

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 husband and their puppy, Riley!

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Julie Campbell (she/her), MSc, PhD Student

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.

Kiara Sexton, BA Sociology

Research Assistant, Exploring the application of Africentric principles and pedagogy to the realities of early childhood practice

My name is Kiara Sexton and I’m an Acadia alumni with a BA in Sociology. As an African Nova Scotian, I’m interested in the research surrounding cultural principles and pedagogies being applied in early childhood practices. Access to connect with culture is something that is important to me. Prior to this position, I worked with high school students (grades 9-12) as a support worker.

Fun: yoga is a passion of mine. I sometimes teach community classes and I volunteer at my local studio. I also enjoy reading and Beyoncé.

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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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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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Olga Levin, (she/her), RD, MSc

Data Analyst, CELEBRATE Feeding project

Email: olga.levin@msvu.ca

Olga is a registered dietitian with diverse clinical and research expertise in the field of early years nutrition. Originally from Israel, Olga holds a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science and a master’s in applied human nutrition from MSVU. Olga’s master’s thesis delved into the infant-feeding culture in Nova Scotia, shedding light on the shifting norms and priorities among young men towards infant feeding, while also revealing their prevailing sense of alienation.

Although Olga is primarily working as the qualitative data analyst for the Celebrate Feeding project at ECCRC, she is also involved in a scoping review for numeracy and literacy learning through play project. Olga is passionate about large-scale projects and finding new discoveries that can contribute to children’s well-being.

Fun Stuff:

In her free time, Olga enjoys hot yoga, hiking, and spending quality time with friends. She is also a busy mother of two daughters and a furry golden retriever baby who has recently joined their family.

Dr. Elizabeth Jean Larson (Jeannie), (she/her)

Postdoctoral Fellow, Atlantic Connections and Pyramid Model Evaluation Projects

Email: elizabethjean.larson@msvu.ca

Jeannie recently received her PhD from OISE/U of T. In her dissertation work, she utilized a novel theoretical framework blending Complexity Theory and Test Validation to explore the validity of a test of teacher candidate competency in supporting multilingual learners in Ontario schools. One of the main goals of her dissertation is to provide comprehensible, meaningful data about teacher candidates to those who shape curriculum and policy within the program. Jeannie brings to the ECCRC her 8 years of mixed-methods research experience in early childhood education, language and literacy education, and social work. Before her time as a researcher, she taught English as a Foreign Language in Tokyo, Japan and Hamburg, Germany.

Fun Stuff:

Jeannie is an avid baker and loves finding any possible reason to provide folks with baked goods. She travels whenever/wherever she can. Her 4-year-old twins also keep her quite busy.

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Dr. Christine McLean (she/her)

Associate Professor and Chair of the 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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Janice Osei-Essah (she/her), MA

Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator, Connections 2023

Email: Janice.Osei-Essah@msvu.ca

Janice is a passionate communications practitioner with an MA in Communication studies and a BA in History and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana, in Ghana West Africa. She is currently enrolled in the MA communication program at the mount to hone her research skills and master her craft in the field of academia.

Janice is excited to join the ECCRC as a Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator. She believes in the power of advocacy and development communication to advance society. She especially loves organizing events and also bringing ideas to life. Janice will be assisting on the Connections 2023 project. Watching her two curious toddlers grow and helping them understand their surroundings has piqued her passion for research in the Early Childhood Space, especially in guiding early childhood development.

Fun Stuff:

Janice loves music, dancing and exploring new sites with her family. Her serene space is the beach on a very sunny day! Emphasis on “very” because she is from a tropical climate, Ghana.

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Hannah Cosman (she/her), BSc

Research Assistant

Email: hannah.cosman@msvu.ca

Hannah is a research assistant working on the Pyramid Model Evaluation analyzing data. She has been working at the ECCRC since April 2023. Hannah has a Bachelor of Science with a double major in biology and psychology from Dalhousie University.

Hannah enjoys hanging out with her cat when she’s not at work.

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Jordyn Riou (She/Her)

Research Assistant

Jordyn is a Research Assistant on the Outdoor Play project with the ECCRC and is completing her undergraduate program in Child and Youth Study at MSVU. Her home is Yellowknife, Northwest Territories where she lives and works when she is not engaged in her studies at the Mount.

She is passionate about seeing the perspectives of children and youth made visible in their communities, especially related to our world’s rapidly changing social and environmental conditions.

Fun stuff:

She adores dance and music, dabbles in any visual artform she can find, is a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and feels most at home when she is playing in snow or the Northern waters that have sustained her throughout her life.


Emilee Fackelmann, Ph.D. Students, M.Ed., B.A.

Research Assistant

Emilee is a PhD student in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University, studying inclusion and belonging in children and youth who experience disability in Nova Scotia. Prior to arriving at Dalhousie, Emilee completed her PME (Masters of Education) at Queen’s University. Her research aims to understand how social, cultural, relational, and political conditions shape disabled children and youth’s experiences of social inclusion and belonging and how these conditions reinforce and maintain social inequities. Emilee is a disability rights advocate living with Epilepsy and hearing impairments, which lead to double hearing aid use. Her passion for inclusion and disability studies stems from her personal experiences and struggles with disabilities. Emilee is also an Emerging Leader for the Healthy Populations Institute.

Fun Stuff:

In her spare time, Emilee re-finishes furniture for her small business and spends quality time with her 3-year-old son, husband and Corgi.

Abigail Patey, BA (Hons) CYS

Research Assistant

Abigail Patey is a research assistant currently working on the Development of a Quality Assurance and Improvement System for the Nova Scotia project. Abigail has a BA (Hons) in Child and Youth Study with a minor in psychology.  Abigail is passionate about promoting high-quality spaces in early child care settings whether through research or on-the-floor practices.

Fun Stuff:

Abigail enjoys hikes, reading, and spending time with friends and family.

Cheryl Crocker, M.A.Ed (Lifelong Learning)

Research Assistant

Cheryl is an Early Childhood Educator and student in the M.A.Ed. (Lifelong Learning) program at MSVU. She has worked in Family Home Child Care and developed home-based preschool and afterschool programs with an emphasis on outdoor play and learning with nature. Now she is focusing on ECE training and development. Her research interests include play-based learning, childhood wellbeing, and social determinants of health. Her M.A.Ed. thesis will explore connections between professional development and quality of care in the context of family home child care.

Fun stuff:

In her spare time, Cheryl enjoys exploring NS destinations that are off the beaten path with her family. She also belongs to a group of stitchers and sewers who create blankets to donate to community groups. In the summers, she paddles with the Dragon Beasts on Lake Banook.

Join Our Team!

Check out our current employment opportunities

Elizabeth Dickson, MHSc, RD, Early Years Nutrition Coach – CELEBRATE Feeding research project

Dr. Joan Turner, Professor Emeritus (Retired / Part-time Faculty)

Sarah Perry, Research Assistant

Marlene Flores Ramos, Research Projects Manager

Laken Crowell, Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator

Taylor Hill, Graduate Research Assistant

Dina Mohamed, Research Assistant

Emma Coughlan, Research Assistant

Nicholas Hickens, Research Assistant

Emma Cameron, Research Coordinator

Minakshi Gonzalez Cerdeira, Graduate Student

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