Our director, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conduct research that contributes to deeper understandings of early childhood development. Learn more about our team’s backgrounds and research interests.
Chen Su, BS – Lab Manager
Chen Su is the project coordinator for Continuing with Care at the University of Denver. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from University of Washington, Seattle. After graduation, she was an ABA therapist working with children with ASD before joining the Care Project in Denver. In the future, she hopes to pursue a PhD in developmental psychology to study factors that affect cognitive development for neurotypical and neurodivergent children. In her free time, Su enjoys cooking, hiking, weightlifting, and thrifting for vintage clothes.
Tessa Benefield, BS – Researcher
Tessa Benefield is a research assistant for the Care Project and Continuing with Care at the University of Denver. She received her bachelor's degree in family and child studies from the University of New Mexico and worked as a behavioral therapist with children with ASD after moving to Denver. In the future, Tessa plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology to pioneer new research with infants and their caregivers. In her free time, she enjoys doing yoga, hiking with her dog, and spending time in the mountains.
Natalie Thwaites, BS – Researcher
Natalie Thwaites is a research assistant for the Care Project and Continuing with Care at the University of Denver. She recently graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in psychology. She plans on applying to clinical psychology PhD programs in the future and becoming a pediatric neuropsychologist. She is interested in research topics such as intergenerational trauma, early childhood experiences, and neuropsychology. In her free time, she writes songs and poetry, plays the piano, rides horses, and enjoys the outdoors.
Erin Todd, BS – Researcher
Erin Todd is a research assistant for the Care Project and Continuing with Care at the University of Denver. She got her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and recently moved to Denver. For the next few years, she plans to explore the world of developmental psychology and eventually wants to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology to further her knowledge in her research areas of interest: developmental psychopathology and treatment resistant anxiety in youth and beyond. In her free time, Erin enjoys rock climbing, exploring Colorado, and spending time with friends, family, and her cat, Joey.
Postdoctoral Fellows and MomCare Providers
Sarah Perzow, PhD, is a Colorado native and has returned home after completing her PhD in clinical psychology at Penn State University and internship at the University of Michigan's University Center for the Child and Family. Perzow has experience providing clinical care for children, adolescents and adults facing a variety of life stressors and mental health difficulties, and is passionate about supporting women through pregnancy. In her free time Perzow loves outdoor adventures, cooking and live music.
Catherine Demers, PhD, received her PhD in clinical psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and completed internship at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Denver. Demers has experience in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety or reactions to significant life stressors using many evidence-based treatment approaches. In her free time, Demers really enjoys photography and capturing candid moments of family and friends.
Sarah Garcia, PhD, has over ten years of experience working with women, children and families from a variety of different backgrounds. Although she is originally from South Africa, her education and training has taken her all over the U.S., before bringing her to Denver to join the Care Project team. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family, including her cats, Wasabi and Chance.
LillyBelle Deer, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Denver. She is from Honolulu, Hawai’i and completed her PhD in developmental psychology at the University of California, Davis. Deer has experience working with children from infancy through adolescence. Outside of her work, she enjoys hiking, exploring Colorado and playing with her dogs.
Developmental Graduate Students
Özlü Aran, MS, is a fifth-year developmental psychology doctoral student at the University of Denver. Before joining the Care Project, she completed studies in her home country, Turkey. She has been working with mothers and babies in a research context for 5+ years and enjoys the cultural diversity her work provides her. You may meet her if you have an in-person infant visit at DU. In her free time, Aran enjoys exploring Colorado, trying new food, making travel plans and watching independent movies.
Melissa Nevarez Brewster
Melissa Nevarez Brewster, BA, is a second-year developmental psychology graduate student at the University of Denver. She completed her BA at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She is interested in learning more about prenatal maternal and infant sleep patterns, as well as the potential effects of prenatal depression on infant health and neurodevelopment. When she is not in the lab, Nevarez Brewster enjoys baking, hiking, paddle boarding, rock climbing and cuddling her puppy, Ender.
Kenia Rivera, MA
Kenia Rivera, MA, is a fourth-year developmental psychology doctoral student at the University of Denver. She received her BA in psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Her research interest focuses on how stress and early adversities influence mental and physical health through the lifespan. She is particularly interested in examining the biological and behavioral pathways of how stress influences health and development. When she is not in the lab, Kenia enjoys readings, drawing, and taking dance lessons.
Clinical Graduate Students
Ella Hennessey is a first-year clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Denver. She earned her master's degree in counseling psychology from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She is particularly interested in anxiety, stress and infant cognitive development. In her free time, Hennessey enjoys pretending she is on The Great British Baking Show, playing Wizards Unite, watching tennis and exploring Denver.