Doctoral student receives Doris Duke Fellowship to research childrens’ well-being

Piper Davis

Sarah Prendergast is one of 15 recipients of the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being. (Photo courtesy of Colorado State University publication SOURCE.)

Sarah Prendergast returned home one spring day and was surprised to see an email from the Doris Duke Fellowship program and a message on her phone from her faculty advisor.

Prendergast, a doctoral candidate at Colorado State University in the Applied Developmental Science program in the Department of Human and Development and Family Studies, was one of 15 students in the nation to receive the prestigious Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being and is the first student from a college or university in Colorado to receive the fellowship in its history.


“Before reading anything, I remember thinking, ‘Could it be?’” Prendergast said. “It was an incredible feeling to receive the fellowship.”

Prendergast is one of 15 students in the nation to receive the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being and is the first student from a college or university in Colorado to receive the fellowship.

According to Prendergast, to be considered for the fellowship, applicants must prepare a research proposal that addresses the topic of child maltreatment prevention and the promotion of child well-being. Applicants are also required to identify a policy mentor. Prendergast chose Rich Jones, the Director of Research and Policy at the Belly Policy Center in Denver.

Prendergast will receive $30,000 annually for up to two years to complete her dissertation and research at CSU.

The fellowship is awarded to students who are interested and dedicated to improving child development and nationally prevent all forms of child maltreatment by creating practices and policy initiatives, according to the official Doris Duke Fellowship website. Recipients of the award receive $30,000 annually for a maximum of two years to complete their dissertation and research.

“The purpose of the fellowship is to identify and develop a cohort of leaders to research and develop programs or policies that can promote child development and prevent maltreatment,” Prendergast said. “The fellowship provides an annual stipend for two years and the opportunity to collaborate with a cohort of 14 other fellows. Together, we will attend meetings, receive training, and work on projects related to our specific interest areas.”

Born and raised in Illinois, Prendergast received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prendergast moved to Fort Collins to receive her master’s, and now doctorate, degree because of the ADS program’s emphasis on using research to solve real-world problems.

Although Prendergast cannot determine exactly when she developed an interest in child development and well-being, it has always been present in her youth endeavors.

Prendergast spent much of her free time participating in humanitarian volunteering opportunities during her youth and throughout her college career, many of which involved working with individuals facing homelessness and families in crisis.

“In many cases, I remember wondering how some individuals seemingly ‘bounced-back’ from these situations, while others did not,” Prendergast said. “Working with my advisor, Dr. David MacPhee, and several other faculty in the HDFS department who also study this topic, I came to understand this as being ‘resilience.’”

Prendergast’s interest in this idea developed not only into a career path of studying psychology, but also a doctoral dissertation.

“Understanding families from this risk and resilience perspective can help us implement policies and programs that are more targeted to individual needs, rather than one-size-fits-all strategies,” Prendergast said.


The fellowship will allow Prendergast the opportunity to learn and collaborate with colleagues working on the same topic. In August, the fellowship will allow her to dedicate more time to work with the Bell Policy Center and work on her dissertation and other policy-relevant work.

“The fellowship provides me the chance to work on my dissertation while learning from leaders in the field at the Doris Duke Fellowship meetings and how this work could be applied to policies,” Prendergast said. “My biggest goal, following the fellowship and earning my doctorate degree, would be to find a position where I can use the skills I have gained in this program and fellowship to improve children’s and families’ lives.”

Collegian assistant news editor Piper Davis can be reached at or on Twitter @piperldavis.