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New 2021-22 Faculty and Postdoctoral Scholars Bring Diverse Perspectives to Research


Photo of new faculty and postdoctoral scholars on a blue background



Nelson O. O. Zounlome, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational, School and Counseling PsychologyDr. Zounlome (he/him) is a first-generation college student, child of immigrants, and native of South Bend, Indiana. He is also a former McNair Scholar, Ford Foundation Fellow, Herman B. Wells Graduate Fellow, and Counseling Psychologist, and is Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky. His program of research focuses on examining the impact of intersectional oppression on groups with marginalized identities & creating culturally relevant interventions to enhance their well-being. Within this framework, he studies academic persistence, mental wellness, and sexual violence prevention to promote holistic healing among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). He earned Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology & Sociology, a Master’s degree in Learning Science-Educational Psychology Track, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Indiana University. Dr. Zounlome is dedicated to helping BIPOC communities liberate themselves and achieve their wildest dreams.
Thais Council, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Department of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Thais Council joined the University of Kentucky as an Assistant Professor of Literacy in the College of Education and a Faculty Affiliate of African American and Africana Studies in 2021 after nearly two decades as a reading specialist, literacy advocate, and teacher educator. Her scholarship focuses on how literacy policy and Black-led community-based practices can repair structural inequities and harm imposed upon historically marginalized urban schools and disenfranchised communities. She employs the Black Intellectual Tradition as a theoretical lens to privilege the lives and wisdom of Black people and participatory research methods as a methodological alternative to academic research conducted through a hegemonic gaze.
Amanda Lannan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education Experiencing first-hand how inequitable access and low expectations limits opportunities for individuals with visual impairments, Dr. Lannan is highly motivated to make direct and critical changes in the field of special education. Combining her 14 years of teaching experience with certifications in elementary education, special education, and visual impairments, Lannan specializes in the use of assistive technology and tactiles to provide equitable access to STEM education for students with visual impairments. Some of her projects include collaboration with the DIAGRAM Center to determine how tactiles impact learning. Her participation in code-sprints helped to develop innovative solutions for STEM education. Recently, Lannan conducted an analysis on the mathematical discourse in co-taught inclusive middle school mathematics classroom. Her work in teacher education closely explored the impact of mixed reality on teacher preparation and student learning. Selected as a 2021 fellow by the National Science Foundation for CADRE, (Community for Advancing Discovery Research and Education), Lannan joined nine early STEM researchers to focus on improving the diversity, equity, and inclusion of STEM disciplines in K-12 education.
Narmada Paul, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology Dr. Paul earned her Ph.D. in Educational Studies from the Ohio State University in 2018. Her research focuses on answering the following questions: What motivates students to learn argumentation skills? How can technology support motivation and collaborative argumentation? How do intersecting identities shape students’ experiences in collaborative discussions? Her recent work on students’ motivation to revise their argumentative writing has been featured in The Conversation. Her current work funded by Division C (Learning and Instruction) of the American Educational Research Association is centered on understanding the experiences of immigrant students in educational settings. At the University of Kentucky, she teaches graduate level courses in the following areas: cognitive development and research methods in education.
Melissa Merscham, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Health PromotionDr. Merscham is an associate professor in the department of Kinesiology and Health Promotions. She earned her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from the University of Texas at San Antonio under the guidance of Dr. Donovan Fogt. She went on to earn a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin under the supervision of Dr. Roger Farrar. Her Master’s thesis and dissertation examined regenerative therapies of volumetric skeletal muscle loss injuries utilizing porcine collagen scaffolds and mesenchymal stem cells. After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Merscham moved to Gainesville Florida to work for Dr. Lee Sweeney as a lab manager and research scientist in the University of Florida’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.While at UF, Dr. Merscham reflected on the various individuals she encountered and collaborated with along her academic journey and realized how few came from a similar background or life experience as her own. Growing up in a small, Texas border town, Dr. Merscham’s life was shaped by several adverse childhood experiences that many people from historically excluded populations go through. She went on to become the only member of her family to graduate from college, and often was the only Latina working in the research lab. After months of introspection, Dr. Merscham decided to use her lived experiences to help students from similar backgrounds as herself, who dreamt of a future in which they were never exposed or introduced.Dr. Merscham moved back to Texas to become a teacher; where she taught science at a Title I high school in Austin. In the classroom, she utilized a theoretical, hands-on approach to teaching, working to break down the stereotypical image of a scientist to students who were intimidated by science and mathematics. She introduced her students to scientists, who spoke about their experiences in college and beyond as a female and/or minority in a white-male dominated field. Dr. Merscham continues to work as a mentor for many of her students as she encourages them to pursue careers in STEM. As much as she loved working in the lab, it is as a teacher and mentor where Dr. Merscham has found her passion. Her interests include working with students from historically-excluded populations to encourage them to pursue a post-secondary education in a STEM field and to increase the graduation rates of first-generation college students.


Dr. Merscham joined the University of Kentucky in the Fall of 2021. She continues her work as a mentor in the Lexington community, working as an advocate and mentor for students from historically-excluded populations.

LeAnna T. Luney, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation Dr. Luney joined the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation as a Lyman T. Johnson Postdoctoral Fellow sponsored by the UNited In True racial Equity (UNITE) Research Priority Area. Her research interests analyze how Black womxn and femme organizers cope and care for themselves at historically and predominantly white universities. She hopes to advance research in which policymakers create systemic change and educational resources that center the demands of Black womxn and femme organizers to improve racially gendered experiences in academia.Dr. Luney received her Ph.D. in Comparative Ethnic Studies in 2021 from the University of Colorado Boulder, a M.A. in Pan-African Studies from the University of Louisville in 2018, a B.A. in Psychology from Berea College in 2016, and a B.A. in African and African American Studies from Berea College in 2016.
Sajjid Budhwani, Ph.D.
Post-Doctoral Research Scholar
Department of Educational Leadership Studies Dr. Budhwani holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Denver, Colorado, United States. His work undertakes transdisciplinary approach by leveraging traditional methods and statistics, innovative geospatial research methods and environmental factors to understand PK-12 and higher education system. His current research examines school facets through surrounding factors, interrogating spatial equity in distribution of social capital resources within neighborhoods, and communities that shape schools’ outcomes as well as influence students’ and families school choice decisions.Dr. Budhwani has spent significant years of his life in Mumbai, India wherein he owned and managed Montessori preschools. Leveraging his master’s degree in management from the University of Mumbai, he also provided business development and educational consultancy to other educational institutions. He was also associated with non-profits and community-based organizations for more than a decade. Prior to moving to Canada as a Permanent Resident, Dr. Budhwani lived in the United States to pursue his doctoral studies. During this time, he also did a year-long program in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as well as worked as with public and private schools, higher education, and social enterprise organizations. He has received several awards, including the prestigious Barbara L. Jackson Scholarship award.
Photo of David Dueber David Dueber, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Scholar
Department of Educational Leadership StudiesDr. Dueber holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative and Psychometric Methods from the University of Kentucky. His primary focus is supporting applied researchers to conduct high quality studies by partnering with them through all phases of the research: formulation of research questions, study design and sample size determination, data collection and management, analysis, and reporting. Additionally, he conducts methodological research concerning creating and providing validity evidence for educational and psychological measures and assessments. More specifically, he studies dimensionality, differential item functioning, item phrasing effects, design of studies intended to support a specific validity argument, and detecting and determining the consequences of assumption violations for psychometric models. Thanks in part to his own frustrations learning to apply recent methodological advances, Dr. Dueber creates free, easy to use, software implementing his research. At the University of Kentucky, he provides data engineering and basic statistical support to researchers studying early childhood intervention and assessment.