Dr. Brooke Ingersoll Named the 2023 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year

May 1, 2023 - Shelly DeJong

A close up shot of Brooke Ingersoll outside

Congratulations to Dr. Brooke Ingersoll, a clinical psychologist, on receiving the 2023 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year Award for Michigan State University. This award is presented annually and recognizes faculty who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers. 

The award is student-driven: only undergraduate student researchers can nominate a mentor and the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors choose the finalists. Honorees must demonstrate a commitment to undergraduate research, provide strong professional mentoring, and serve as role models in their field of study.  

"I feel so incredibly honored to receive this,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “I really do enjoy mentoring students and watching them grow as students and as researchers. I feel very lucky to have been nominated.” 

Dr. Ingersoll's research focuses on the development, evaluation, and dissemination of social communication interventions for people with autism. The MSU Autism Lab, led by Dr. Ingersoll, studies parent-mediated early interventions for children with social communication delays while also providing professional training and consultation through Project ImPACT, an evidence-based early intervention for the autism community.  

Dr. Ingersoll works to create an environment in her lab that allows for a multi-tiered mentorship between her, the grad students, and the undergrad students. This allows her students to gain leadership and research skills while also contributing to the broader work that is done in the lab. 

Graduating senior, Jessie Greatorex, has worked in the MSU Autism Lab for four years.  She credits her time in the lab and being mentored by Dr. Ingersoll for knowing what direction she wants to go in her career.  This inspired her to nominate Dr. Ingersoll for this award.  

“My mentor, Dr. Brooke Ingersoll has empowered me to explore my passions through research and inspired me to achieve goals I originally deemed unattainable,” wrote Greatorex. “Not only is she one of the most renowned autism intervention researchers in her field, but she inspires every one of her undergraduate researchers that it is possible to achieve their research and professional goals.” 

Recipients of the award receive a $1,000 honorarium that can be used for professional development. 

Impacting the Field of Autism Intervention 

Before academia, Dr. Ingersoll worked as a co-director of an autism program. While there, she and a colleague developed Project ImPACT to solve a community need. Now recognized as one of the most effective coaching programs for parents of young children with autism and related social communication delays, Project ImPACT teaches parents strategies they can use to help their child develop social, communication, imitation, and play skills during daily routines and activities. 

“Developing the program in the community was interesting for me as I came from a research background,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “I was trained to develop things in a lab and test them out to make sure it works before you move to the community. But we did the opposite. We took the best practices and developed them right in the community. What we ended up developing was something that fit very well for communities.” 

When Dr. Ingersoll came to Michigan State University in 2007, she was able to bring Project ImPACT into the lab to study how it was working, what the mechanisms were, and how to adapt it. This early experience has informed her work now to always keep the end user in mind even early in the process.  

“Parent coaching, particularly for parents of very young kids who have either early social communication challenges or whose children have an actual diagnosis of autism, is an incredibly important part of the development process and should be used alongside any kind of intervention,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “My goal is to make an available resource for all families in various intervention settings in which their child receives services.” 

In the autism intervention field, there are typically two approaches: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the developmental tradition. The newest approach is blending the two approaches. 

“By involving undergrads and graduate students in our research, we’re training the next group of individuals to think beyond the boundaries of both approaches,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “I feel really pleased that a lot of the people coming out of my lab are pushing this new blended approach, which I think is going to be much more effective and acceptable for the community." 

Dr. Ingersoll sees that there is still room for improvement in the field of autism intervention.  While they have taken great strides in improving the field, she knows that not everyone is being served with the current models.  

“The best way to change the field is to support people with new ideas,” said Dr. Ingersoll. “I think mentorship is important because it makes our research better by inviting new ideas in, but it also helps prepare folks in the field who are working with children and families in the community.”