Dr. Vaala is a Research Associate at Vanderbilt University, where she is currently focused on developing mobile and internet tools to boost problem-solving skills among teens living with chronic illness. She completed her Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate student Sarah worked on an RTL-funded research team which examined young children’s television-viewing and language learning. She is interested in the diverse educational and health implications of media in the lives of children and adolescents, as well as the ways caregivers perceive and make decisions about their children’s media use. Sarah served as the 2011-2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center research fellow.
Sarah’s focus on children’s informal learning was first sparked while working as a deckhand and educational guide on an Erie Canal packet-boat. As a Psychology major at Davidson College, her focus narrowed in on the intersections between media and child development. Sarah’s passion for child-focused research was forged while working as an EEG research technician at Mt. Hope Family Center in Rochester, N.Y.