Outstanding graduate student sets the stage for high-level translational work

Emily Schworer, lab coordinator at the Developmental Disabilities Research Laboratory, uses bubbles to play with a research participant. Photo by Maria Farias

It’s not what Emily Schworer will miss the most about Colorado State University, but who she will miss the most. 

During her last three years in the doctoral program in Applied Development Science, Schworer has been the lab coordinator for the Developmental Disabilities Research Laboratory in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and a lead and project coordinator for an intervention project for infants with Down syndrome. 

Intervention research

“Being a part of a longitudinal study, I have had the chance to connect with local families and develop those community relationships over time,” said Schworer who will also miss her fellow lab members.

Schworer entered the doctoral program, having earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Richmond.  

“The opportunity to participate in intervention research specifically designed for children with neurogenetic syndromes brought me to CSU,” said Schworer.

Her interest in neurogenetic disorders began when she was an undergraduate and volunteered at a school for children with autism spectrum disorder. 

Those experiences led her to a research position at the University of South Carolina, where she worked with individuals with fragile X syndrome, and her interests in neurogenetic syndromes expanded from there. 

Over the past five years, she has taken advantage of every opportunity to expand her knowledge base. 

Throughout her time at CSU, Schworer has had advanced training in the science of early development in neurogenetic syndromes, advanced methodological training, and opportunities to be mentored in the publication and grant writing process in the behavioral sciences. 

“She is precisely the type of dedicated, next-generation scholar that the field of developmental disabilities research will rely upon to move the field forward in innovative and important ways,” said her advisor Deborah Fidler, professor and interim department head in Human Development and Family Studies. 

For her dissertation, Schworer has designed an original, innovative, and scientifically important study of the early development, executive function precursors in infants with Down syndrome. Executive function skills are the thinking skills we use for problem-solving and planning. 

The study compared the performance of infants with and without Down syndrome on four dimensions that are hypothesized precursors of executive function: attention shifting, sustained attention, early action planning, and processing speed. 

The results of the study showed that differences in executive function precursors are detectable during infancy in Down syndrome. Understanding the developmental origins of executive function in Down syndrome will help facilitate the identification of areas of early cognitive risk and inform future interventions.

“Emily’s dissertation research reflects the next step in an already very bright and extremely promising career path,” said Fidler. 

Her project is setting the stage for high-level transitional work, as she will use her training to identify targets for intervention and then develop creative new intervention approaches to foster more adaptive outcomes in the Down syndrome population. 

Schworer has had enriching clinical experiences related to diagnosing autism spectrum disorder, supervised by Susan Hepburn, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and teaching experiences with Ashely Harvey, associate professor in the department. 

Post-doctoral fellowship

The future is bright for Schworer. This summer, she will be starting a postdoctoral Developmental Disabilities Research Fellowship focused on children with Down syndrome at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. 

In her new postdoc position, she will contribute to research studies focused on cognitive and language outcomes in Down syndrome and also receive advanced training in working with individuals with developmental disabilities. 

“Graduate school is full of opportunities and challenges, but all of those experiences have helped prepare me for my next steps toward becoming an independent researcher,” said Schworer who is grateful for Fidler’s thoughtful mentoring and the opportunities she has had in the doctoral program. 

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.