About the ECCEL Program


At the Early Childhood Cognition and Emotions Lab (ECCEL), we are dedicated to making sure all children grow up in cognitive and emotional environments that promote their flourishing. All children deserve the chance to learn fully about the world and to know they are loved and respected. Because children are part of families, schools, and communities, we are committed not only to children but to the people and systems that provide for their care, learning, and emotional well-being. We support the people who support children!

Children facing economic hardship represent our number one priority. All children come to the world ready to learn and take on challenges.  But poverty-related stress and trauma burdens many children’s lives, and economic hardship additionally leaves many children without the resources they need to learn well.  We support children who are facing economic hardship.

We believe early childhood is a key time for children’s positive growth. Parents deserve support to give their young ones a good start. Head Start and related preschool programs also deserve support in their efforts to help children develop well in the early years. We support parents and preschool programs through mechanisms like: Workshops on children’s cognitive and emotional development; Support groups for parents and teachers; Head Start volunteers to assist with classroom activities and give extra attention to children who need it; and Research on cutting-edge questions in child development.

Dr. Ellie Brown, of the Department of Psychology at West Chester University, is the founder and director of ECCEL. Dr. Brown is committed to seeing that all children have the chance to develop to their full potential. She is a licensed psychologist and has state-of-the-art training in child development. She has worked for many years with children and families in economically disadvantaged communities. She has authored and co-authored notable publications on poverty and child development and is a leading scholar in music and arts-based interventions for promoting the positive development of children facing economic hardship. Dr. Brown holds particular interest in using psychology tools toward advancing social justice, and leads national and international workshops on ending classism, racism, and related forms of intolerance.

If you are interested in learning more about ECCEL, please contact Dr. Brown: 610-436-3153 or ebrown@wcupa.edu.



Led by Dr. Ellie Brown, the ECCEL team includes WCU undergrad and grad students, as well as research staff. The ECCEL team offers experience with clinical psychology, child development, issues of classism and racism, counseling, research, and the process of working with children, families, and schools. By participating in ECCEL, you can contribute to the community, develop key skills, and gain preparation for psychology-related careers and graduate study.

ECCEL Research

All ECCEL team members contribute to our research on the impact of poverty-related stress and trauma, and programs that can make a difference, including Head Start preschool and supplemental interventions. Our current research focuses specifically on the impact of the arts and mindfulness interventions on children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physiological functioning.

ECCEL Experience

In the core ECCEL experience, students and staff receive training in current techniques for assessing and supporting children’s cognitive and emotional development, and spend approximately one day per week implementing these tools at Head Start preschools. The preschools are in Philadelphia and Coatesville, so access to a car is helpful, although carpools from WCU often can be arranged. Team members also support our research behind-the-scenes in our lab, where we organize, code, enter, and analyze data, review literature related to our work, and conduct telephone interviews with parents.

ECCEL Undergrad Students

Undergraduate students typically work with our lab for course credit. The PSY441/442 or 448/449 Field Experience in Psychology courses with ECCEL may be taken for 3 or 6 credits. Three credits requires two mornings until 1pm or one full day until 4pm free each week to travel to Head Start preschools and work with children and families. Six credits requires two full days. PSY410 Research is also available, for students most interested in research. These courses can fulfill the PSY applied experiences requirement or count as general or PSY electives.

ECCEL Grad Students

MA students can take PSY510 Research in Psychology as well as consider PSY600 Research Report and PSY610 Thesis. PSY510 Research can be taken for 6 credits and is a prerequisite in our lab for Research Report, which includes writing an intro and method section for a potential thesis project. PsyD students often have the opportunity for paid graduate assistantships (GAs) as well as dissertation projects with ECCEL. The PSY740 Research Practicum (6 credits) and PSY800 Dissertation (9 credits) courses support development of the dissertation projects.

ECCEL Involvement

There are no prereqs, but priority is given to students who have interest and experience working with children, those interested in the arts and mindfulness, and those interested in working to end poverty, classism, and racism. In addition to the time in the field, there is a Monday evening team meeting on campus. Students who have another required course that conflicts can potentially complete alternate assignments in place of the team meetings. Students interested in ECCEL involvement are encouraged to contact Dr. Brown at ebrown@wcupa.edu.

ECCEL Presentations and Publications

Students who make substantive and sustained contributions to ECCEL research often have the opportunity to be part of our research presentations and publications. Typically, these opportunities are offered to students who have worked with ECCEL for at least one day per week across multiple semesters.

Here are a few examples of recent publications (WCU students/alums in bold):

Brown, E.D., Holochwost, S.J., Laurenceau, J.P., Garnett, M.L., Anderson, K.E.  (2021). Deconstructing cumulative risk: Poverty and aspects of instability relate uniquely to young children’s basal cortisol. Child Development. https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cdev.13512

Brown, E.D., Anderson, K., Garnett, M.L., & Hill, E. (2019). Economic instability and household

chaos relate to cortisol for children in poverty. Journal of Family Psychology 33(6), 629–639. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31169392/

Brown, E.D., Garnett, M., Velazquez-Martin, B., & Mellor, T. (2018). The art of Head Start: Intensive arts integration associated with advantage in school readiness for economically disadvantaged children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 204-214. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885200617300443

Brown, E.D., Garnett, M., Anderson, K., & Laurenceau, J.P. (2017). Can the arts get under the skin? Arts and cortisol for economically disadvantaged children. Child Development, 88, 1368-1381.

Brown, E.D., Seyler, M.D., & Knorr, A.M., Garnett, M.L., & Laurenceau, J.P. (2016). Daily poverty-related stress and parents’ efforts to help children cope: Associations with child learned helplessness. Journal of Family Relations, 65, 591-602.

Here are a few examples of our research as highlighted in the popular press

What makes ECCEL unique?

There are a range of research opportunities available to WCU undergrad and grad students. Here are just some of the things that distinguish ECCEL:

  • Community engaged: Most ECCEL research is conducted in community and school settings as contrasted with in a traditional lab. This provides excellent opportunities for hands-on work with children, families, and schools and preparation for clinical, counseling, and school psychology. Students are trained to interface with community partners and often have the chance to be part of implementing psychology interventions. Travel time is counted as part of your expected ECCEL hours, but students are responsible for arranging and covering costs associated with their travel. ECCEL hours typically are completed during the school day (8am-4pm).

  • Grant funded: Much of our ECCEL research is funded by competitive grant awards from the federal government, local nonprofits, and private foundations or corporations. The opportunity to work on grant-funded research projects provides students with important experience and can offer an advantage for your future grant applications. Our research agenda is largely prescribed by the grant awards. One downside of that is limited flexibility for taking on completely new projects that may be of interest to students. However, the grant awards typically support rich research projects and datasets and students may develop individualized projects within the scope of this work. Typically our work is high profile, and well positioned to support respected presentations and publications.

  • Dynamic team: Led by Dr. Ellie Brown, ECCEL includes a large and dynamic team of students and staff, working with community partners to promote scientific advances and children’s positive development. Students on the team typically have a great experience and love the opportunity to bond with one another as well as with the children and families we serve. Interpersonal skills, however, are a must! As contrasted with labs where students might be just entering data, ECCEL students can expect to be building and negotiating interpersonal relationships with one another, with research staff, and with community partners. Grad students often mentor undergrads, which is mutually beneficial for development.

  • Social justice: ECCEL is committed to using psychology tools to promote social justice, and this focus is woven into our research, field work, and team meetings. Students and staff can expect to engage with issues of racism, classism, and other oppression, and will be asked to consider their own positionality and opportunities for using their educational and other privilege toward ending oppression. ECCEL operates based on the perspective that: All human beings are born with incredible potential; None are born carrying patterns of racism, internalized racism, or other oppression; All of us have been influenced by oppression; and All of us have the opportunity to reclaim our minds from patterns of oppression. We operate based on the assumption that all human beings, when the entire situation is taken into account, have done the best they could, and deserve our complete respect. At the same time, each of us can take responsibility for our actions, and choose future actions that promote justice and equity for all, as well as sustainability for the planet.

We welcome you to learn more about our team!

Website: https://www.wcupa.edu/sciences-mathematics/psychology/PsychologyDepartmentGrantSite/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAw1WJvwZjZGj50J02MPIvA