Current BL2 Team

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto Founder and Scientific Director of the Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2)

Where is my heart from: Montreal, Canada and Abruzzo, Italy

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist. She conducts neuroimaging studies using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS / NIRx) and behavioral basic science studies to understand language acquisition, reading, bilingual language acquisition, and learning in all young children, particularly young deaf visual learners. She is the Science Director as well as the Co-Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2). Dr. Petitto is also the Founder and Scientific Director of her Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2). Further, Dr. Petitto is the lead founder, as well as Chair of the Steering Committee of the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) program at Gallaudet University, the first Ph.D. of its kind in the nation, where she is also Professor. For Gallaudet University, Dr. Petitto is Academic Co-Director and Steering Committee Member of “Creativity Way” (a 21st Century learning and discovery creative city being built on a section of Gallaudet University). Dr. Petitto is also a Professor in Psychology at Gallaudet University and an Affiliated Professor in Psychology at Georgetown University. Dr. Petitto is known for her work on the biological bases of language, especially involving early language acquisition. Her studies of this topic span 35 years, beginning in the 1970’s with her research at Columbia University in which she attempted to teach sign language to a baby chimpanzee (“Project Nim Chimpsky” named after Noam Chomsky); here, she pioneered discoveries that showed that chimpanzees, while intelligent, do not possess the linguistic capacities of humans. She is presently known for her discoveries concerning how young human children acquire language, be it spoken or signed. She has advanced new knowledge about how all young babies (4-10 months) detect highly specific rhythmic temporal patterns in the linguistic stream around them that makes possible their capacity to discover the phonetic syllabic units of their native from which they will build all the words and/or signs in language, a process that is vital to later healthy reading success. Babies who miss being exposed to natural languages during this critical developmental period—or have reduced language exposure at this time—can be at risk for language and cognitive delays. Consequently, Petitto and her collaborative research teams have invented a revolutionary learning tool prototype called “RAVE”— a Robot AVatar thermal Enhanced language learning tool (see RAVE link). Petitto’s career has been characterized by such innovations in technology, as she pushes technologies to advance fundamental questions in science for the benefit of society, including PET, MRI, fMRI, OPTOTRAK, functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS, NIRx; state-of-the-art brain-imaging techniques to study human higher cognition) that she and collaborators integrate with Thermal Infrared Imaging (measures changes in human emotion), inclusive of eye- and face-tracking and Motion Capture Technologies.


Interesting fact about me: I love red hats!


Cryss Padilla, Scientist Manager

Where is my heart from: Riverside, California.

I graduated high school at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside as the Class of 05. I received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology in 2014 then completed the Masters in American Sign Language Education and partial of Deaf Education in 2017. During graduate studies, I was a Graduate Research Assistant at the Petitto’s Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2). After testing the waters of teaching American Sign Language,  I decided to bring dedication and knowledge back to the BL2 laboratory as the Scientist Laboratory Assistant to Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto since June 2018. I am devoted to the lab as it includes all of the fields of study such as biology, American Sign Language, and Deaf Education into one place which enhances my interests in visual and bilingual research.

Interesting fact about me: I love spoilers...

Dr. Bradley E. White, Neuroimaging Scientist Manager

Where is my heart from: The Lone Star State

Dr. White received his Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience from Gallaudet University in 2019 and his BS (Hons) in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a minor in Psychology from The Honors College at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 2014. He also has academic and clinical training in the areas of speech-language pathology, audiology, and pharmacology.

Broadly speaking, Dr. White's work focuses on the neurocognitive and neurobiological systems for effortful listening and advances our understanding of language perception and comprehension in children and adults, especially those who use hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Interesting fact about me: I have a knack for gastronomy.


Grady Gallagher, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Where is my heart from: Las Vegas, Nevada.


Here are some answers to common questions I’m asked: No, I did not live in the casinos. Also, I am also a terrible poker player. 

I succeeded with a B.A. in Psychology from Gallaudet in ’11, then an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from California State University: Northridge (CSUN) in ’14. I came back to Gallaudet for my Ph.D. because I want to learn from experts who integrate the Deafhood perspective into the psychology profession. My focus is on providing individual therapy to adults who are living with mood disorders, though that interest is broadening the more I work with people. My view is that humans are funny creatures; each person is a universe of their own and filled with quirks and unique ways of interacting with the world. I enjoy learning about us as individuals, and I’m lucky that my passion happens to come with a career path. 

Interesting fact about me: Though I love clinical psychology, if there was a career path for simply reading fantasy/sci-fi novels, I’d probably be double majoring right now. I am a particular sucker for books that are a part of a huge series (looking at you, The Wheel of Time). 

Yeh Kim, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Sign Language Education and Linguistics

Where is my heart from: Seoul, South Korea.

In eight different states and countries, a variety of people from diverse backgrounds raised me. As a former oral student, I graduated from Marriotts Ridge High School in Maryland. I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with two degrees: Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems and Master of Science in Professional Studies specializing in Deaf Education and Human Resource Development. In the past two years, I taught math and science to students with hearing loss at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf (WSD). The deaf and hard-of-hearing populations also benefited from my remote interpretation services. Since I advocate for the use of signed language(s), I love my roles as an educator, linguist, translator, and researcher. Working with the Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2) at Petitto's University is a great honor. It allows me to use my experiences and studies to better my linguistic research.

Interesting fact about me: If I had to be trapped in a movie or a video game for a day, it would be Sword Art Online.


Kristina McKinnie, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Master's Deaf Culture Studies


Where is my heart from: Akron, Ohio

I am a graduate student at Gallaudet studying Deaf Cultural studies and will graduate in 2022. I am grateful to work at BL2 that gave me a lot of knowledge and skills! My first experience at a deaf school was when I attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). I also attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science in 2019. While at RIT, I had an internship at DOW Chemical company as a summer research assistant. I decided to pursue Deaf Cultural studies because I want to learn more about Deaf culture and pursue my career to work with deaf/hard of hearing children or become a deaf advocate to support the deaf community. This leads me to explore more about research fields to work at the BL2 lab.

Interesting fact about me: I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, the home of famous basketball player LeBron James. 

Joseph Palagano, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's History and minoring in Education


Where is my heart from: Villa Rica, Georgia

I was born on the western outskirts of Georgia, bordering Alabama. I am hearing and began my journey here at Gallaudet during the Fall semester of 2019 after an internship as a teaching assistant at the Georgia School for the Deaf. Since coming to Gallaudet, I have really been able to expand my horizons and grow as a person, thanks to my wonderful group of friends who are honestly more like family. I plan to pursue an advanced educational degree focusing on international pedagogical methodologies with a concentration in Deaf education. I love staying curious about the vastly unknown world around me, and that drive is what pushed me to be here at the BL2 Lab.   

Interesting fact about me: I have a tattoo of the ASL for coffee on my right arm :)  


Claudia Smistek, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's Neuroscience with a Pre-Med Track.


Where is my heart from: Buffalo, New York

I am a second-year undergraduate student at Gallaudet University. My pronouns are She/Her/Hers. I'm a neuroscience major with a pre-med track. I am a science geek, and I love learning about anything related to neuroscience. I am from Buffalo, New York. In my free time, I love to read dystopian books and go hiking. I also love to spend time with my pets! I am thrilled to be working with the amazing BL2 team! 

Interesting fact about me: I have six cats, four dogs, and a chicken. I recently adopted my first cat, Vader!

Nthabeleng MacDonald, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's Psychology with a Pre-Med Track 


Where is my heart from: Albuquerque, New Mexico

I am third-year psychology and pre-medical major at Gallaudet University. I am best known as an opportunity grabber or go-getter. I love traveling and am excited for my trip to Italy to shadow doctors as a fellow next summer! I am all about brains and am passionate about neuroscience and medicine! I aspire to become a physician-scientist with hopes of becoming a psychiatrist or neurologist, or something in between. I came to BL2 because I want to continue exploring the neuroscience field and learn about the different areas in that field! 

Interesting fact about me: I hate chocolate, but I love brownies!  


Sheila Maynard, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Clinical Psychology


Where is my heart from: Kalamazoo, MI

I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology then started my doctoral studies at Gallaudet in 2016. My clinical and research interests are working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adolescents, providing accessible services for families, and trauma-informed care. 

Interesting fact about me: I love Shih-Tzus and have a black-and-white one named Ellie.

Charles Harris, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's Biology and minor in Chemistry


Where is my heart from: Northampton, Massachusetts

I am a senior at Gallaudet University now. My major is in biology, and my minor is in Chemistry. I am an animal and nature lover. I grew up in Massachusetts for a long time. I went to three different Deaf schools (The Learning Center for the Deaf, New York School for the Deaf, and American School for the Deaf-that is where I graduated). I love to play sports. I have many hobbies. I always enjoy doing different hobbies. I love to read books, articles, news, etc. Also, I love to travel and watch different beautiful natures, including spaces. As my big dream is to become a biologist, veterinarian, scientist, or work with any living organisms. I always wanted to work with animals, botany, and helping the environment. Our beautiful earth is dying because of global warming, litter, overpopulation, and more. We need to take an action now to save our pulchritudinous planet.  

Interesting fact about me: I can't kill a bug with intention.