"Children's oral literature, or storytelling, is the basis of adult narratives. Through narratives we share our life stories, we bond friendships - narratives are extremely important."
As an undergraduate at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, Gigliana Melzi majored in Spanish literature and psychology. "I was always fascinated by Latin American literature," she remembers, "but at the same time I liked the analytical tools that psychology gave me."
When she had to choose the subject for her doctoral dissertation in psychology, Melzi decided to pair the two interests: she would analyze the development of children's oral literature among Spanish-speaking pre-schoolers. "Children's oral literature, or storytelling, is the basis of adult narratives. Through narratives we share our life stories, we bond friendships - narratives are extremely important."
After receiving her PhD from Boston University in 1998, Melzi extended her research by examining mother-child conversation in Lima, Peru, where she was born. She has also completed similar research in the United States and is currently starting a project in Brazil, in order to compare the data between the three countries. Eventually, Melzi will also include data from Mexico.
Other current research involves looking at the use of diminutives in Spanish conversation, as well as collecting data on "internal state language," which is the intentional use of words that express emotional and mental states.
Melzi's research is supported by an NYU Goddard Research Award for Junior Faculty and an NYU Challenge Fund grant, as well as by a team of doctoral, masters and undergraduate students. "The students are involved in every aspect of the work - from the most menial to the most intellectual. And we all work together."
Melzi enjoys such a close collaboration with her students because she takes mentoring extremely seriously. "I had a mentor who went beyond the prescribed role of what a mentor should be, so I know how important it is for professors to give their all to their students."
Melzi's connection to the students is further strengthened by her role as Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Applied Psychology, the Department of Applied Psychology's undergraduate program. "I'm the liaison between the Department and the administration in relation to the undergraduate program. I meet with directors of other undergraduate programs to assess how things are going. I also develop new ideas and programs for the students."
Because Professor Melzi's work is grounded in three disciplines - psychology, linguistics, and anthropology - she looks forward to more collaboration between her department and others throughout Steinhardt. "I work with a group of scholars at Steinhardt's Center for Research on Culture, Development and Education. We all come from different areas of psychology as well as other disciplines and that kind of collaboration, especially in research, is exciting and enriching."
Melzi also hopes students can be more involved in places like the Center. "The Department offers its students excellent hands on experience, but I would love to give them even more in places like the Center, which offers a perfect setting for students to develop the research skills they really need."