Dr. Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo had barely settled into her position as assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Special Education and Child Development when her research garnered the kind of attention many in her field can only dream about. A study in the journal "Pediatrics" authored by her and former colleagues from the Rand Corp. had caught the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama.
The investigation, one of the first to drill down on what happens to the children when a parent is deployed, concluded that they experience stress — which increases pediatric health care visits for anxiety, behavioral disorders and other mental health anxiety. At the time, the First Lady was in the process of fulfilling a campaign promise to assist the families of those in uniform. The report was particularly relevant to the mission of the Joining Forces initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to aid military families.
A few months later, Lara-Cinisomo was invited to attend a summit in Washington, D.C. hosted by the National Military Family Association, the study’s principle funder. In her keynote speech to the group, Obama commended the study authors for their "pioneering research, which has highlighted the resilience of our military children, but also how today’s war can be so very hard for them."
This high-profile moment also validated the significance of Lara-Cinisomo’s work and its ability to impact policy. "In addition to reaching the White House, our work on military families has helped other researchers develop studies and surveys designed to learn about the experience of children from military families," she said.
Before joining the UNC Charlotte faculty, Lara-Cinisomo spent seven years with Rand working on significant studies related to the well-being of military families, maternal depression among Latinos and preschooler school readiness / child-care learning settings. She currently teaches two or three undergraduate classes and a seminar with master’s students while continuing to research issues such as employment and mental health among military caregivers. Funded by a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant, her research often dovetails with her coursework.
"I teach child-development courses, which is basically human development focused on child and family well-being," she explained. "One of the things I emphasize is context. So, if you’re looking at kids growing up in a household, you have to figure out how that experience affects their development."
As she begins her fourth year on the UNC Charlotte faculty, Lara-Cinisomo continues to define her place in the department and the University as a whole. "I see my role here at the University as a researcher, teacher and representative of the University, and I take them all very seriously." She aspires to make the kind of difference in the lives of her students that her professors made for her, as well as to continue doing research that spotlights important issues that impact marginalized populations.