The Rural Vitality Lab is led by faculty from the University of Maine and Colby College who work together to support graduate and undergraduate students at both institutions in conducting research on promoting healthy developmental ecologies for young people.

Senior Research Faculty

Catharine Biddle is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Maine. Cat’s research focuses on ways in which rural schools and communities respond to social and economic change in the 21st century. She is particularly interested in how schools can partner with community organizations or groups to address issues of social inequality and how non-traditional leaders—such as youth, parents and other community members—may lead or serve as partners in these efforts. Prior to joining the faculty at UMaine, she spent five years as a research affiliate with the Center on Rural Education and Communities at the Pennsylvania State University and two years as the managing editor of the Journal of Research in Rural Education. Cat also served as the executive director of the Nanubhai Education Foundation, an international education nonprofit working in rural India, and as an out of school time educator for the national nonprofit organization Citizen Schools.

Lyn Mikel Brown is Professor of Education Emeritus at Colby College. She began her research on child and adolescent development at the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development. She uses qualitative, voice-centered research methods to explore the intersections of culture, context, and development, with a particular focus on the conditions that inhibit or promote voice and youth engagement in schools and communities. As the founder of three youth-serving organizations, she’s developed a range of programs and curricula that support youth voice and civic engagement. Past projects include a 5-year longitudinal study of girls’ psychological and social development, an analysis of social class differences in girls’ experiences of schooling, and an exploration of the ways adults can effectively scaffold youth-driven social change work.

Mark Tappan is Professor of Education, Emeritus at Colby College, and Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of Southern Maine. He is a developmental and educational psychologist whose research and teaching interests focus on social and personality development, trauma-responsive schooling, boys’ development, and equity and social justice in education. As a Principal Investigator at the Rural Vitality Lab, Mark is especially interested in the ways in which educational interventions can support and encourage social and emotional development during childhood and adolescence. His early work focused on narrative and sociocultural approaches to identity development, moral development, and moral education.

Undergraduate Researchers

Elizabeth Marsh, ’22 is a Psychology and Education double major at Colby College. On campus, Elizabeth is a member of the college’s cross country and track teams, a SAT tutor for Let’s Get Ready, and a Colby Cares about Kids mentor. Off-campus, Elizabeth has spent a great deal of her time volunteering at elementary schools, working at an occupational therapy summer camp, and interning at a therapeutic nursery program for trauma-exposed children. Inspired by her work in Waterville, the greater D.C. area, and abroad, Elizabeth hopes to combine her passion for education and teaching with her background in psychology after graduating. Elizabeth is excited to continue learning about trauma-informed practices and rural education through her work with the Rural Vitality Lab as a research assistant. 

Past Rural Vitality Lab Affiliates:

  • Natalie Balter, Colby ’22
  • Sherry Pineau Brown, UMaine ’21 Ph.D.
  • Genesis Cazalez, Colby ’21 B.A.
  • Meg Charest, Colby ’20 B.A.
  • Jenny Flaumenhaft, Colby ’19 B.A.
  • Maria Frankland, UMaine ’20 Ph.D.
  • Jada Lamb, UMaine ’20 B.A.
  • Deanna Perez, Colby ’22