Nicole Gardner-Neblett

Nicole Gardner-Neblett is an advanced research scientist with the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. She is also a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Her research focuses on investigating factors that promote children’s language and literacy development.

an African-American woman smiles at the camera as she poses for a photo on UNC's campusphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
January 3rd, 2018

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Talking makes kids better readers.”

A doctor living in New York — specifically on Park Avenue, with a French poodle.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

As an undergraduate, I volunteered to work on a research study led by a developmental psychologist investigating the link between children’s ethnic identity and academic achievement. I remember shopping for skin-colored paper to use in the study to assess children’s perception of their skin color as an element of their identity. I was fascinated by the idea of quantifying identity, making links from identity to achievement, interpreting the findings, and making recommendations to teachers and parents. After that, I knew that I wanted to study how children develop, and how to use what we learn to support their development through changes to policy and practice.

an African-American woman stands on a bridge with a pink and orange, patterned quilt she made

Gardner-Neblett proudly shows off a quilt she made as part of a virtual quilting bee last year.

Researchers are problem-solvers. Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

In December 2014, I learned about a grant competition that fit perfectly with my work. But the grant activities were restricted to a county that was about two hours away — and I knew no one who could help with data collection. The people in my department didn’t have any contacts there, so I conducted an Internet search of different agencies that might be potential partners and then started cold calling. After a few dead-ends, I reached the executive director of one of the agencies, and he was enthusiastic about partnering on the proposal. The staff and I came up with a collaborative proposal that helped us share the resources of the grant to achieve both of our goals. That cold-call led to a win-win solution, a funded grant, and a two-year-long collaboration. I learned to never be afraid to reach out to strangers — they might become my next best partner!

What are your passions outside of science? And why do you feel it’s important to have them?

I love to sew just about anything that involves fabric, needles, and thread. It is important for me to have a hobby that provides me with a creative outlet and a tangible end-product that is both useful and visually appealing. Plus, it gives me something over which I have absolute control!

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