The Biopsychosocial Development & Diversity Laboratory

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Mills-KoonceI was born in Washington, NC, which is a small town in Eastern North Carolina.  I lived there throughout my childhood until I attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (a residential high school in Durham, NC) for my last two years of high school.  After graduating in 1996, I enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I received a B.A. in Psychology in 1999.  During my junior year at UNC Chapel Hill I completed two sessions of undergraduate independent research working alongside Dr. Madeline Crockett at the Butner Psychiatric Institute. However, during that time I also took a course titled “Biological Bases of Behavior”, taught by Dr. Jean-Louis Gariepy, and I was hooked on the study of “Development”.  My last year at UNC Chapel Hill I volunteered in his developmental psychobiology laboratory, during which I studied rodent models of the development of aggression. One year later I was fortunate enough to be accepted and enroll in graduate school in the Developmental Psychology Program at UNC Chapel Hill under the mentorship of Drs. Gariepy and Martha Cox.

Although I spent my early years in graduate school with Dr. Gariepy studying themouse pups maternal behaviors of mice selectively bred for high and low levels of aggression for over 40 generations, then I transitioned to studies of humans under the mentorship of Dr. Cox.  Interestingly, with human samples I was able to continue exploring many of the same basic developmental questions I previously had examined with rodent models, such as the role of early maternal caregiving behaviors as predictors of later aggressive behavior in offspring.  During this time I was trained in coding parenting behaviors by Dr. Cox, coding child attachment quality by Drs. Alan Sroufe and Elizabeth Carlson, and coding atypical parental behaviors by Dr. Karlen Lyons-Ruth and Elisa Bonfman.

After defending my dissertation, I took a position at the Center for Developmental Science as a Co-mother infantDirector of the Family Life Project (FLP), an NICHD-funded longitudinal study of a random-stratified sampling of children and families living in rural poverty in the United States. In addition to continued collaboration with Dr. Cox, my work on the FLP allowed me to train and collaborate with leading developmental researchers, including Drs. Clancy Blair, Douglas Granger, Mark Greenberg, and Lynne Vernon-Feagans, and Michael Willoughby. I continue to work on this study as a Co-PI for the Family Process Project within the FLP, with specific interests in the familial and biological correlates parenting behaviors, parent-child relationships, and child regulatory abilities and externalizing behaviors from infancy through middle childhood.

Over the last few years I have also begun a series of studies that have expanded the scope of my research program, including the studying of family processes within families headed by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) parents (the New American Family Studies- NAFS) and the study of children’s regulatory behavior in the context of youth team sports (Children’s Healthy Athletics for Mental and Physical Success- CHAMPS).  Related to the topic of LGBT parent-headed families is a collaboration with Dr. Nicole Heilbron at Duke University that produced the Family Diversity Research and Service Initiative, a joint UNC Greensboro, UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke effort designed to enhance the quantity and quality of research on and services for LGBT populations.  Related to the topic of children’s development in the context of youth sport is a collaboration with several leading kinesiologists, sport psychologists, and developmental researchers in the creation of the CHAMPS (Children’s Healthy Athletics for Mental and Physical Success).  For more information on these topics or any others, please contact me.