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Principle Investigator

Kathleen Keller

Kathleen Keller

Kathleen received her B.S. in biology from Marquette University in 1995 and her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from Rutgers University in 2002. She completed a post-doc in pediatric obesity at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center and was an Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons before coming to Penn State in 2012 to join the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Food Science. She is the Director of the Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Laboratory at Penn State. Current studies in the laboratory involve understanding the effects of genes on children’s fat preferences and identifying neural pathways involved with overeating and obesity. In addition, she and her team are currently conducting home-based interventions to help children consume more vegetables. She hopes that one day this research will help develop new treatments for childhood obesity. Kathleen also enjoys teaching, reading, cooking, and watching movies with her husband.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Alaina Pearce

Alaina PearceAlaina Pearce received her B.A. in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in statistics in 2011 from the University of Minnesota Morris and her PhD in Psychology with an emphasis on Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience from Georgetown University in 2017. She is currently a post-doc in the lab. Her primary research interests center on understanding the reciprocal relationship between neurocognitive function and pediatric obesity by examining 1) feed-forward neurocognitive processes that confer risk or resiliency for obesogenic behaviors and pediatric obesity, and 2) feed-back effects of deleterious comorbidities of pediatric obesity on neurocognitive functioning. Her current projects examine the determinants of loss of control eating in children, the role of BMI and sex in the development of appetitive traits across childhood, and the role of familial obesity risk on neural processing of food cues.


Masterson, T. D., Bermudez, M.A., Austen, M., Lundquist, E., Pearce, A. L., Bruce, A. S., & Keller, K. L. (2019). Food Commercials Do Not Affect Energy Intake in a Laboratory Meal But Do Alter Brain Response to Visual Food Cues in Children. Appetite, 132, 154-165. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.10.010

Pearce, A. L., Leonhardt, C., & Vaidya, C. J. (2018). Executive Dysfunction in Pediatric Obesity: A Meta-Analysis. Childhood Obesity, 14(5), 265-279. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0351

Mackey, E., Jacobs, M., Nadler, E., Olson, A., Pearce, A. L., Cherry, JBC, & Vaidya, C. J., (2018). Cognitive Performance As Predictor and Outcome of Adolescent Bariatric Surgery: A Pilot Study. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 43(8), 916–927. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsy028

Pearce, A. L., Mackey, E., Nadler, E. P., & Vaidya, C. J. (2018). Sleep Health and Psychopathology Mediate Executive Deficits in Pediatric Obesity. Childhood Obesity, 14(3), 189-196. doi: 10.1089/chi.2017.0281

 Pearce, A. L., Mackey, E., Cherry, JBC., Olson, A., You, X., Magee, S. N., Mietus-Snyder, M., Nadler, E. P., & Vaidya, C. J., (2017). Effect of Adolescent Bariatric Surgery on the Brain and Cognition: A Pilot Study. Obesity, 25(11), 1852–1860. doi:10.1002/oby.22013
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Lab Manager & Research Coordinator

Terri L. Cravener

Terri received her B.S. (1986) in Animal Production and her M.S. (1988) in Nutrition from Penn State University. She has an extensive professional background in agricultural research and food production systems. As the Lab Manager and Research Coordinator, she is very interested in studies which induce children to eat healthier foods through marketing, branding and nutrition education. As an avid draft horse and hobby farmer, she has great interest in sustainable agricultural practices and local vegetable and fruit production in Pennsylvania.

View Terri Cravener's CV
View Terri Cravener's Publications

Research Coordinator

Kara Hickok

Kara Hickok

Kara Hickok received her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from Penn State in 2018, and is now the research coordinator of the Food and Brain Study on portion size determinations in relation to obesity and brain responses. She is currently studying for a Master of Public Health from West Chester University and in her free time, she volunteer coaches for State College High School’s cheerleading team.

Kathleen Keller and studentsThis group photo includes (left to right) Nicole Reigh (PhD Candidate), Dr. Kathleen Keller (Director), Bari Fuchs (PhD Candidate) and Alaina Pierce (Postdoctoral Scholar).

Graduate Students

Nicole Reigh

Nicole Reigh

Nicole Reigh received her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from Penn State in 2017, and is now a PhD Candidate working on a dual-title degree in Nutritional Sciences and Clinical & Translational Sciences. Her main research interest is understanding the development and improvement of children’s self-regulation of food intake. She is currently leading the Hunger and Fullness Study, a project that aims to teach children how to better identify and respond to internal cues of huger and fullness. Upon graduation, Nicole hopes to complete post-doctoral training before pursuing a career in the translation of research into policy and guidelines.

Bari Fuchs

Bari FuchsBari Fuchs received her B.S in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology from Emory University in 2015 and is now a Ph.D. Candidate in Nutritional Sciences.  Prior to joining the lab, she was a research assistant at the National Institute of Mental Health studying the effect of anxiety on reward processing and working memory.  Her research interests involve understanding the cognitive and decision-making processes that contribute to maladaptive eating behaviors, such as disinhibited eating.  Outside the lab, you can find Bari hiking, weightlifting, and frequenting coffee shops and farmers markets.

Nick Neuwald

Nick NeuwaldNick Neuwald received his M.S. in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from the University of Miami in 2019 and is now a Ph.D. student in Nutritional Sciences. At Miami, he served as a graduate assistant studying the relationships of processed diets on fat patterning. His main research interest involves understanding the effects of non-nutritive sweetener consumption on eating behavior and brain responses in children. He is also interested in discovering ways technology can improve childhood eating behaviors. Nick’s ultimate goal is to become a professor of nutrition and run his own research lab.

Undergraduate RAs

Siani Barbosa

Siani Barbosa

Carley Belko

Carly is an undergraduate student planning on majoring in Biobehavioral Health. She is currently a research assistant for the Decision-Making Study, but has also worked on different studies including the Energy Balance Study. Carly aspires to become a physician assistant focusing on clinical research.

View Carly Belko's Resume

Ashley Helsel


Ashley Helsel is a senior at Penn State University, pursuing a B.S. in BioBehavioral Health and a minor in Health Policy and Administration. Currently, she is a research assistant for both the Food and Brain Study and the Apple Study in the College of Health and Human Development. She has an interest in data analysis, statistics, healthcare, preventative research and hospital administration. 

Olivia Romano


Olivia is an undergraduate student majoring in Nutritional Sciences, with minors in French and Global Health. She is interested in applying her science background to the fields of global health and public health policy in the future. Olivia is currently a research assistant for the Food and Brain study, and received an undergraduate research grant through the College of Human Health and Development to do an independent research project related to this work.

Avital Rubinchik


Avital is an undergraduate student majoring in Nutritional Sciences and Health Policy Administration. She is currently a research assistant for the R01 Study. Avital aspires to become a Registered Dietician preparing for a career that combines Nutritional Sciences and Health Policy to gain exposure to Clinical Nutrition for high-risk patients.