Professor, Students Collaborate on Infant Research

Kristine Kovack-LeshKristine Kovack-Lesh first started conducting research on infants during graduate school because of her interest in developmental psychology. “So much of how we learn happens at a young age, and I am fascinated by how many things can happen during infancy,” she says.

Kovack-Lesh is an assistant professor of psychology at Ripon College and focuses her area of interest in infant categorization, speech perception and motor development.

“Most of my training is in infant categorization,” she adds. “The infants I work with cannot talk yet, which has its positives and negatives. I am interested in what factors contribute to infants’ ability to respond categorically. I believe that categorization is helpful for learning language.”

She says she enjoys being in the lab because it is a place to collaborate and communicate with students on their how their research is going and what they learn. Each semester, Kovack-Lesh works with about three students who act as her research assistants. Together, they study such concepts as scene memory and categorization in infants from 4 to 11 months in age as the infants play with toys. “We look at how infants play and interact with others and what factors contribute to learning,” Kovack-Lesh explains.

“Over the years, I have found that many valuable teaching moments have come from working with the undergraduate research assistants in my lab,” Kovack-Lesh says. “I do consider my time with the undergraduate research assistants in my lab to be a time to teach them.”

Since Kovack-Lesh started her lab at Ripon College four-and-a-half years ago, research assistants have been accepted into summer research programs at Yale University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Medical College of Wisconsin; five have gone on to graduate programs, including one who did a summer program at Madison.

“These are all talented students in and out of the classroom, and I am hopeful that their experience in my research lab has played a small part in assisting them with furthering their education beyond Ripon College,” Kovack-Lesh says.

While she enjoys exposing students to the work of a research lab, she also acknowledges how much the students assist her in her work.

“Honestly, I could not do what I do in my lab without them,” she says. “In addition, many of the studies we are working on have come out of discussions with students to see where their interests align with my interests. As a result, I have been able to expand my research areas beyond what they were in graduate school.”

Article by Tsering Yangchen ’14
Madison, Wis.

To learn more about Psychology at Ripon College, visit www.ripon.edu/psychology

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