Who We Are
Thomas D. Lyon, J.D., Ph.D.
Thomas D. Lyon, J.D., Ph.D. is the Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Chair in Law and Psychology at the University of Southern California. His goal is to identify the most productive means of questioning children about abuse and violence. He is the Past-President of the American Psychological Association’s Section on Child Maltreatment (Division 37) and a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. His work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the United States Department of Justice, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, the California Endowment, and the Haynes Foundation.
Zsófia A. Szojka
Zsófia is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the USC Child Interviewing Lab. Her PhD research investigated the narrative coherence and credibility of children’s testimony elicited in multiple interviews. Zsófia’s current research interests include children’s concept of their own body, and the extent to which victims of child abuse provide elaborated accounts of their experiences in forensic interviews. Besides her work at the Child Interviewing Lab, Zsófia is also involved in research at the Lighthouse and Haven, an Investigative Interview Service in the United Kingdom designed on the basis of the Nordic Barnahus model.
Breanne E. Wylie
Breanne is a Banting Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Child Interviewing lab at USC. As a developmental psychologist, Breanne studies adult-child communication as it relates to children’s linguistic and socio-cognitive development. Specifically, she is interested in children’s developing ability to accurately report experiences of maltreatment when questioned by adults (e.g., lawyers, police officers, nurses). In addition to her postdoctoral work, Breanne is a Research Associate for the Canadian Child Interviewing Research Team; a national collaborative project that works with community partners to co-create evidence-based practices for obtaining honest and accurate reports from child witnesses.
Jordan Sargent graduated from USC in 2017 with a major in Psychology and a minor in Spanish. She became a Double Trojan (Fight on!) in 2021 when she graduated with her Masters of Social Work (MSW) with an emphasis in Children, Youth, and Families from the USC Suzanne Dworak Peck School of Social Work. Jordan focuses on clinical work in the lab by conducting forensic interviews with minors who have been sexually abused or commercially sexually exploited. Jordan’s research interests include what factors likely contribute to recantation and how to lower the risk of recant, how to effectively train helping professionals to ask non-leading, open-ended questions, and the impact of sexual abuse on a child’s mental health, including suicidality and suicidal ideation. As an undergraduate research assistant, Jordan conducted several studies at Edelman Children’s Court including Ask/Tell, IDK, Birthday 2.0, IDK 2.0, and Pseudotemporal studies. As Lab Director, she oversaw the undergraduate research assistants as well as the studies both at court and elementary schools. In the future, she hopes to help make the process of disclosing sexual abuse easier for children by providing mandated reporters and other helping professionals with the tools they need to conduct research-based interviews in a timely manner.
Cara Burditt graduated from USC in 2022 with B.A.s in Psychology and Anthropology. She first joined the lab as an undergraduate student, and discovered a passion for interviewing children in Dr. Lyon’s Child Interviewing Practicum. As a research assistant, Cara assisted with research examining the language in attorney and child interactions. Currently in the lab, Cara oversees the work of the undergraduate research assistants, and conducts and assists with forensic interviews of youth who’ve experienced sexual abuse. Cara’s research interest centers on child development following trauma, and she plans to pursue a PhD in Psychology. In her free time, Cara enjoys painting, baking, and kayaking.
Legal Services Coordinator
Mansi Gaur graduated from USC in 2023 with a B.A. in Cognitive Science and a minor in Law and Psychology. Early in her college career, she joined the lab as a research assistant to gain a more hands-on understanding of the intersection of law, child development, and advocacy. Currently, in the lab, Mansi oversees the work of research assistants and research projects regarding question-type coding. In the future, she hopes to attend law school to further her career as an advocate for children. Mansi enjoys watching Lakers games, exploring new coffee shops in Los Angeles, and binging T.V. shows in her downtime!
Legal Services Coordinator
Gabrielle Biersach graduated from USC in 2023 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Forensics & Criminality. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and loves spending time outdoors going to the beach and hiking. Gabrielle started at the lab as an undergraduate research assistant after learning about Dr. Lyon’s research in one of her law classes. She further deepened her interests in child interviewing after taking Dr. Lyon’s Child Interviewing Practicum. She is incredibly passionate about advocating for at-risk children and supporting those who have experienced trauma. Gabrielle plans to pursue a masters or PhD in forensic psychology and criminology in hopes of working in the criminal justice system to continue supporting children both in and out of the system. Currently in the lab, Gabrielle oversees research projects related to case management in court related manners, directly overseeing the undergraduate research assistants’ work, and serves as a liaison between the court and the lab. In her free time, she loves cooking, exercising, and thrifting.
Alex is a senior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Legal Studies. Born and raised in San Jose, California, he hopes to attend law school after finishing his undergraduate degree and pursue a career as a public defender in the Bay Area to provide legal counsel to those most in need of support. He joined the lab to help children who have braved traumatic experiences, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the criminal justice system. Outside of the lab, Alex is a member of USC’s Model United Nations and Moot Court teams, and loves mountain biking, hiking, watching movies, and playing piano.
Bryneé Evans is a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. She was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, but has always had a love for southern California. Bryneé is intrigued by how harmful media depictions inform the self-perception and social cognition of underrepresented youth. She joined the lab to deepen her understanding of children’s cognitive and emotional development amidst traumatic events and to learn how to properly interview children about such experiences. In the future, she hopes to attend graduate school and earn a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Outside the lab, Bryneé loves to explore nature and try out new restaurants. She also serves as the Director of Communication for the Black Psychology Student Association and Director of External Outreach for the USC Green Ribbon Club, a student-led cohort dedicated to extending mental health awareness and treatment.
Daisy is a junior double majoring in Psychology and Intelligence & Cyber Operations with a minor in Forensics & Criminality. She was born and raised in South Los Angeles, California, where she first stepped on USC grounds as part of USC’s Cadet Leadership Program. There, she was introduced to criminal law, social justice, and youth advocacy. Ultimately, this inspired her to pursue a career that intersects with victim-witness advocacy in the criminal justice system. Daisy joined the Lab to further her knowledge of how research on developmental psychology can play an imperative role in forensic interviewing, and to begin her journey of supporting communities in need of equitable mental health and at-risk youth services.
Dominique is a junior double majoring in Philosophy, Politics & Law and Psychology with a Forensics and Criminality minor. She was born and raised in Orange County, California. She joined the lab to gain a better understanding of the intersection of law and child psychology, wanting to apply the knowledge she learns to her future legal career. With the goal of pursuing a career in public interest law, specifically in juvenile justice or rehabilitation efforts, she hopes to become a well-informed child advocate. Outside of the lab, Dominique is the Co-President of Helenes, a community service and spirit organization on campus. In her free time, she loves to go thrifting, play tennis, and be outdoors.
Elizabeth Ochei is a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. With a sincere interest in the intersection of law and psychology, her passions include understanding human behavior and promoting social justice within the legal system. Elizabeth aspires to pursue a career as a clinical forensic psychologist and has set her sights on attending graduate school to further her knowledge in these fields. By joining a lab that bridges psychology and law, Elizabeth envisions bringing about positive change. She recognizes the potential to enhance the fairness effectiveness of the criminal justice system by integrating psychological insights into legal proceedings. Through research, she hopes to uncover new understandings of human cognition, decision-making, and behavior, with the aim of improving the evaluation and treatment of individuals involved in legal matters. Elizabeth sees her future role as a clinical forensic psychologist as a means to advocate for fairness and justice, particularly for marginalized populations who may face systemic biases. She dedicates her time as a college essay coach, helping fellow students craft compelling narratives for their applications. Her commitment to giving back extends to volunteering at her city’s food bank, where she provides assistance to individuals and families in need. Furthermore, Elizabeth is an engaged member of the KO Society, an organization that fosters growth and empowerment among young black women. She also enjoys board games, watching films/tv, and trying our new restaurants.
Henry is a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Applied Analytics. He has lived in Georgia, Ohio, and spent most of his life growing up in Tampa, Florida. In his free time Henry likes to spend his time outdoors, reading a good book, or exploring LA. Henry joined the interviewing lab because he is interested in pursuing higher education in either law or psychology. He is passionate about social media and how it can affect people’s day to day lives, as well as long term. He hopes to research more on how children’s lives are different by being brought up with social media.
Harshitha is a sophomore majoring in Political Science and Data Science. She was born in India and raised in the greater Los Angeles area. Harshitha joined the lab because she wants to learn how the legal system interacts with children who are victims of trauma. Specifically, she’s interested in how children react to various lines of questioning and their ability to be credible witnesses in court. Harshitha would eventually like to attend law school and pursue a career in public interest law. Outside the lab, Harshitha is a politics enthusiast, coffee addict, and nature lover.
Kyle Zheng is a junior studying Economics and minoring in Data Analytics. I was bornin Costa Rica but currently live in LA. I joined the lab after hearing more about he research from a friend which aligned with my interest in criminal cases involving childhood trauma. Outside of the lab, I like to cook, explore different parts of LA, and binge watch shows and movies.
Max Hartshorn is a senior transfer student studying Psychology, hoping to ultimately obtain his doctorate in school or counseling psychology. He was born and raised in San Jose, California, where he obtained his Associates Degree from De Anza College. It was here that Max found his love for psychology through his research in true altruism and empathy. After transferring to USC, Max found the Child Interviewing Lab to be a wonderful way to further explore his interest in adolescent mental health, allowing him to learn and support children through their experienced trauma. Outside of the lab, Max is also a Research Assistant at USC HEAL, where he is currently working on his personal research project concerning the cross-association of adolescent OCD symptoms and COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, he is also a Research Assistant at CHLA, Photo Team Lead at Innovative Design, and a Mentor at USC Pre-College. In his free time, Max enjoys playing guitar, practicing photography, and collecting vinyl records.
Natalie Bayan is a rising junior double majoring in Law, History, & Culture and Psychology. She is from Carson, California and regularly spends her time with her family, at the beach, and reading. Natalie excitedly joined the lab to explore the intersection between law and psychology — aspiring to gain experience in the field of child psychology. Outside of the lab, Natalie hosts volunteer events to serve the greater Los Angeles community as VP of Philanthropy of Alpha Lambda Delta Honors Society, and organizes a culturally enriching youth program as Director of Outreach for Troy Philippines. In addition to the lab, Natalie works for the USC Office of Orientation Programs where she helps acclimate incoming Trojans into college life.
Rachel Ramirez is a sophomore majoring in Cinema & Media Studies with a minor in Social Work & Juvenile Justice. It was after taking her first class for her minor, Adolescent Gang Intervention, when she became invested in learning more about youth development and justice, and applied to join the Child Interviewing Lab. In her junior year, she plans to apply for USC’s Progressive Degree Program in Social Work with a children, youth and families track, so that she will graduate with both her B.A. and M.S.W. at the same time. Rachel was born and raised in San Jose, California and always knew she wanted to move to an even bigger city for college. In her career, she hopes to combine both of her passions in filmmaking and social justice to create meaningful works that incite social change. Beyond the lab, she enjoys reading, hiking, going to the movie theaters, and spending time with friends and family.
Taryn Buford is a junior majoring in Psychology, from Indianapolis, Indiana. She is passionate about pursuing a career in forensic psychology to address the glaring gap in the representation of Black women working in the legal system. Taryn joined the lab to broaden her experience and help pinpoint her interests in forensic psychology. Outside the lab, Taryn loves to explore new places, try out new restaurants, and travel!
I am a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Mind-Body studies. I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I am passionate about encouraging the holistic well-being of individuals, especially that of children. I am interested in learning about the way children navigate their memories and emotions after experiencing trauma. Outside of the lab, I love to read, bird watch, and eat seafood! I also serve on the E-board of the Black Psychology Student Association.
Siena is a sophomore majoring in Psychology with a minor in Forensics and Criminality originally from San Jose, CA. She plans to pursue a career in Forensic Psychology and is passionate about educating and improving law enforcement and the justice system with regard to mental health and vulnerable populations. She joined the lab to learn more about unique and specialized topics in her future career field, specifically the process of interviewing child witnesses, and to discover possible research interests. In her free time, she enjoys crocheting, watching TV shows, and spending time with friends.
Valentina is a Junior double majoring in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as getting her Master’s in Literary Editing and Publishing through one of USC’s Progressive Degree Programs. She is interested in studying the ways that children’s identities, mindsets, and beliefs develop, especially in regard to their mental health. After graduating, she hopes to get her Ph.D. and become a clinical psychologist working with children and adolescents. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing and rock climbing!