Lab Members

Principle Investigator

Brenda C.Straka

Dr. Brenda Straka is a social and developmental psychologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and director of the MOSAIC Lab. She first joined the department as a research fellow in the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Postdoctoral DRIVE Program and will start as an Assistant Professor at UIUC in Fall 2024. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in Social Psychology from Duke University and her B.A. in Psychology and Cognitive Science with a minor in English from the University of Virginia. CV

Her research focuses broadly on the ways people navigate exclusion and discrimination and also construct social identities across multiple group memberships. Her work aims to bring attention to identity-based exclusion experiences while simultaneously pushing for inclusivity and representation in social science research. Much of her research interests and path have been shaped by her experiences as a Multiracial Latina woman.

Outside of research, she also loves reading and running with her dog Luna.

Graduate Student

Mingjia (Sherlock) Liu

Hello there! My name is Mingjia (Sherlock) Liu; feel free to call me Sherlock! I received my B.A. in Psychology Major and Sociology Minor with high distinction from the University in British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. I’m currently a first-year student in the Master of Science in Psychological Science (MSPS) program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, working with Dr. Brenda Straka. My research interests primarily focus on the experience of people from historically marginalized populations like multicultural individuals.

Now I’m leading the Multiple Identity Mindset Study, in which participants think about their multiple identities and we see how they behave after a cross-race/interracial interaction. We also investigate whether the effects differ between monoracial and multiracial participants.

Some boring facts about me: I love Sherlock Holmes (obviously); my spirit animal is a platypus; I have a so-called “rotten fruits phobia”.

Research Assistants

Isabela Castilla

Hi! My name is Isabela Castilla. I’m a junior majoring in Social Psychology and minoring in Communication. My specific interests in Psychology are Multiculturalism/Multiracialism experiences, Language, and Education. I hope to attend graduate school and possibly obtain a PhD! Outside of the MOSAIC lab, I’m involved in the McNair Scholars Program, a federally-funded program for underrepresented students to prepare for their graduate school journey!

I’m also a research assistant for the Translational Research for Educational Equity (TREE) Lab in the department of Educational Psychology. Lastly, I serve on the marketing committee for the Japanese Student Association. Outside of the academic setting, I love to sing, cook/bake, travel, and go to cafes! 

Heaven Velez

Hello, my name is Heaven Velez. I am a junior majoring in Psychology (Clinical-Community concentration) and minoring in Business. My passion for Psychology has been fueled by my interest in the well-being of individuals, especially concerning their mental health. Simultaneously, I hold an interest in fostering equity and inclusion for underrepresented populations.

Looking ahead, I plan to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in Psychology to become a clinical psychologist! Beyond my academic career, I love to spend my time outdoors, traveling, with friends and family, and working out!

Teresa Huang

Hi, my name is Teresa Huang. I am a junior majoring in Developmental Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies. I am interested in topics like racial biases and discrimination in children. I hope to attend graduate school and get a Ph.D. to fulfill my dream of becoming a child psychologist. I love working with children and hope to be able to foster a safe space for queer youths! Outside of the academic setting, I enjoy listening to music and traveling.

Lilian Murdie

Hi, my name is Lilian Murdie. I am a junior majoring in Social Psychology on a pre-med track. I am interested in topics such as relationships, DEI, and bridging the gap between mental and physical health.

Outside of school, I enjoy hanging out with friends, enjoying nature, and reading books. I plan on going into medical school to work in neonatal neurology.

Abir Sun

Hi there! My name is Abir Sun and I am a junior studying Clinical-Community Psychology with hopes to eventually obtain a PhD in clinical psychology and become a therapist. In the field of psychology, I am quite interested in mental health and the overall well-being of people, as well as topics such as social groups, self-identity, relationships, racism/prejudice, and developmental psychology.

Aside from academics, I love to lift weights, play sports and video games, travel, and spend time outdoors and with friends! This is my first semester working in the MOSAIC Lab and I can’t wait to see what I will learn and experience.

Jon Mastrud

My name is Jon Mastrud and I am a senior majoring in Psychology with a Clinical/Community concentration with a business minor. I intend to pursue a graduate degree in the hopes to become a counselor or therapist. My experience being a research assistant in the Political Ideology and Groups Lab during the 22-23’ school year not only opened my eyes to research in general, but to Social Psychology and the importance of identity. I look forward to continuing this work with identity in the MOSAIC Lab.