VCU Psychology Department

Do physicians’ racial biases affect clinical decision making?

Research has demonstrated that automatic, and sometimes unconscious, racial bias can affect how we make decisions about others. But can it influence something as important as a medical decision? read more...


What affects parenting in high-risk communities?

We know that living in high-risk communities is stressful for parents and youth. How does stress, including exposure to violence, affect parents’ management of their adolescents? read more...


How can we predict future rates of tobacco use?

Longitudinal population-based surveys of tobacco use can depict current prevalence levels as well as transitions over time, but how can they be used to forecast those in the future? read more...


Can coping skills help the bereaved bend but not break?

How do college students cope when a loved one dies? Bereavement is difficult at any time in life, but is coping with bereavement different for college undergraduates? read more...

school lunch

Why are VCU researchers dumpster diving?

If school cafeterias force children to take fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays, will students eat them? Will they like them more over time when fruits and vegetables are served regularly? read more...


Dr. Zewelanji Serpell

Associate Professor (tenured)

Developmental Psychology


PhD (2002), Howard University

Contact Information

Phone: 804-828-6364

Office: 808 W Franklin, rm 308


Research Interests

Broadly defined, my research interests center on school-based interventions for underperforming students. Specifically, I am interested in harnessing advances in cognitive science to develop and test interventions that target students' executive functioning. I have a collaborative project with Drs. Michelle Ellefson and Teresa Parr, funded by IES, exploring whether cognitive activities associated with playing chess improve executive functions, and whether these improvements boost academic performance in African American elementary school students. With funding from NSF, and in collaboration with faculty at Virginia State University and University of California San Diego, I have also been testing the efficacy of computer-based cognitive training with minority students from middle school to college. We study student engagement, motivation and affect during training, and use our discoveries to improve computer-based programs. In addition, I have an overarching commitment to promoting school mental health, particularly among students with disruptive behavior problems. I have co-edited two seminal books on school mental health, including Advances in School-Based Mental Health Interventions (2010) and the Handbook of Culturally Responsive School Mental Health: Advancing Research, Training, Practice, and Policy (2013).

Selected Publications

Graves, S. L., & Serpell, Z. (2013). Racial differences in medication use in a national sample of children with ADHD enrolled in special education. School Mental Health, 5, 2.

Harris, T., Sideris, J, Serpell, Z., Burchinal, P., & Pickett, C.  (in press). Domain specific cognitive stimulation and maternal sensitivity as predictors of early academic outcomes among low-income African American preschoolers. Journal of Negro Education.

Serpell, Z., & Mashburn, A. (2012). Family-school connectedness and children’s early social development. Social Development, 21, 21-46. 

Whitehill, J., Serpell, Z., Foster, A., Lin, Y., Pearson, B., Bartlett, M., & Movellan, J. (2011). Towards an optimal affect-sensitive instructional system of cognitive skills. Computer vision and pattern recognition workshop on human communicative behavior.

Serpell, Z., Hayling, C., Stevenson, H. & Kern, L. (2009). Cultural considerations in the development of school-based interventions for African American males with emotional behavioral concerns. Journal of Negro Education, 78, 321-332.

Recent Course
Recent Grants

Exploring the Malleability of Executive Control. Co-PI (PI: Michelle
Ellefson, University of Cambridge). 7/11 to 6/14. Institute of Education Sciences—R305A110932, $1,049,094.

Broadening Participation Research Grant: Improving Minority Student Mathematics Performance and Persistence in STEM Majors Through Cognitive Training.  Co-PI (PI: Oliver Hill, Jr., Virginia State University). 9/11 to 8/14. National Science Foundation—HRD-1137535, $342,795.

Affect in Socially-Mediated iPad-Based Cognitive Training. PI. 9/11 to 8/13. National Science Foundation through Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center—SMA-1041755. $83,222.