Dr. Vaala completed her Ph.D. in Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. Sarah is interested in the 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.
While at the Annenberg School, she worked on an RTL-funded research team which examined young children’s television-viewing and language learning. Sarah’s dissertation investigates how mothers’ cognitions, life circumstances, and perceptions of early childhood brain development explain infants’ and toddlers’ exposure to foreground and background television.
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.