Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship

The Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship supports the dissertation research of Harvard University doctoral students whose independent research aligns with the mission of the Center, which is to drive science-based innovation that achieves breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity. It provides a stipend and a series of thematic and skill-building workshops to help students grow both intellectually and professionally, with the goal of preparing the next generation of leaders to catalyze innovation that impacts the early childhood field. Award decisions are made in the Spring, and the fellowship begins the following Fall.

Introducing the 2017-2018 Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellows

CAMBRIDGE, MA – May 3, 2017 – The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the Novak Djokovic Foundation have awarded four Harvard students the inaugural Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship. Sonia Alves, Joshua Jeong, Rebecca Lebowitz, and Linda Zhao are all in doctoral programs across the university, and will each receive a grant during the 2017-18 academic year to support their independent dissertation research.

In 2016, the Center and the Novak Djokovic Foundation launched the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship. This partnership aims to create a new generation of leaders who will leverage science for innovation in early childhood practice and policy settings. The program will foster interdisciplinary collaboration and build each fellow’s capacity to design, conduct, and translate research to benefit children who face daily adversity.

The Fellowship feeds directly into the mission of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, where facilitating the very best in early childhood development and education is essential. In Serbia, a country where only one in two children has access to preschool education, the Foundation is focused on enabling children from disadvantaged communities to grow up, play, and develop in stimulating, creative, and safe settings.

Commenting on the announcement, Alberto Lidji, Global CEO, Novak Djokovic Foundation, said:

“I am delighted to have met with 2017 Djokovic Fellows and heard in detail about their fascinating research, personal backgrounds, and aspirations for the years ahead. I have no doubt their work will be highly consequential and will inform the body of knowledge in early childhood development. At the Foundation, our work is informed by academic thinking, and the Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship will help build on the body of science currently available.”

Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director, Center on the Developing Child, added:

“The Novak Djokovic Foundation knows that the world needs a pipeline of innovative leaders with deep knowledge about how adversity disrupts child development and what can be done about it. Together, we are investing in a new generation of champions for young children who will lead the way in driving science-based strategies to produce breakthrough impacts on the lives of those who are facing the enormous stresses of poverty, violence, and lack of opportunity.”

Applicants were prioritized where their work aligned with the Center’s mission, and the four Fellows will have access to a number of the Center’s services including: training in innovation methods and communicating science effectively, attendance at Center-sponsored events, and sessions on leadership and policy strategy.

2017-2018 Djokovic Fellows


Sonia Alves is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research examines the longitudinal associations of adverse experiences, specifically of childhood community violence exposure on children’s academic trajectories. Sonia’s research aims to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms and protective factors that can drive the strategic targeting of interventions to help youth manage their exposure to trauma, resulting in better outcomes overall. Sonia holds a B.A. in Psychology and Education & Child Study from Smith College. She expects to receive an Ed.M. in Prevention Science and Practice, Adolescent Counseling, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in May 2017. Her mentor will be Center-affiliated faculty member Stephanie M. Jones, Marie and Max Kargman Associate Professor in Human Development and Urban Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Joshua Jeong is a doctoral candidate in Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. His research seeks to understand how fathers’ parenting practices and paternal roles within families relate to children’s early development outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. His research aims to inform programs and policies that support both mothers and fathers and strengthen families for promoting early childhood development. Joshua holds a B.S. in Human Development and Psychology from Cornell University, and an M.P.H. in Global Health and Population from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. His mentor will be Aisha Yousafzai, Associate Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Read an interview with Joshua Jeong


Rebecca Lebowitz is a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Education department at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Rebecca’s research explores instructional coaching in early childhood education, particularly the development of adult capabilities through professional development, and the impact of such programs on caregiver and student outcomes. Her dissertation seeks to identify best practices in instructional coaching, and investigate the extent to which an instructional coach builds relationships with early childhood educators to facilitate adult learning. Rebecca seeks to identify innovative intervention strategies to enhance early childhood caregiving and integrate the findings to design effective professional learning interventions for early educators. She hopes to conduct and apply research with early childhood practitioners in order to promote system-level improvements in early childhood outcomes. Rebecca holds an A.B. in Urban Studies and Hispanic Studies from Brown University, and an Ed.M. in Education, Language and Literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her mentor will be Center-affiliated faculty member Dana Charles McCoy, Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Read an interview with Rebecca Lebowitz


Linda Zhao is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Linda’s research explores inequality in birth outcomes, including time-sensitive pathways that precede preterm birth, connecting individual risk factors, social environment, and biological indicators of preterm birth. Her research seeks to determine the extent to which neighborhoods are indicators or causes of low birth weight, and whether different neighborhood contexts might increase or diminish certain types of individual risk. Her research will further investigate whether different social risks translate to different types of pregnancy abnormalities leading up to preterm birth, helping to translate knowledge between sociology and clinical medicine. Her novel approach may help guide policymakers on specific actions or interventions to improve child health. Linda holds a B.A. in Economics from Princeton University, and expects to receive an A.M. in Statistics from Harvard University in 2017, while simultaneously pursuing her Ph.D. Her mentor will be Jason Beckfield, Professor in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University.

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