Dr. Sullivan successfully defends dissertation, graduates from PEN

Sarabeth Sullivan smiling.
Sarabeth Sullivan

Please join us in congratulating Dr. SaraBeth Joy Sullivan, our latest graduate in our Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) Program, on her successful defense of her dissertation!


Dr. Sullivan's dissertation was on “Do expert signers recruit signed phonology processes while solving single digit multiplication problems?,” which was defended via a live webinar on November 22, 2021. Her dissertation focused on understanding the role and functionality of signed phonology processes for multiplication fact retrieval in Deaf native signers. Using an fMRI scanner, she assessed participants on small and large arithmetic, signed phonology, and numerical processes. Findings indicate that Deaf signers recruit the same phonological processing regions as hearing non-signers for signed phonology, and that multiplication processes recruit regions for signed phonology. A novel finding, recruitment of regions for signed phonology were modulated by problem size and correlated with ASL proficiency and math fluency. Together, these results clarify the role of signed phonology in arithmetic processing in Deaf signers and contribute to the establishment of the first neurocognitive model for multiplication processing in sign language users.


The members of Ms. Sullivan’s dissertation committee were Dr. Ilaria Berteletti, Program in Educational Neuroscience, chair of the dissertation committee; Dr. Lorna Quandt, Program in Educational Neuroscience; Dr. Julie Hochgesang, Department of Linguistics; and Dr. Daniel Ansari, Department of Psychology, Brain and Mind Institute, The University of Western Ontario.


Dr. Sullivan began her doctoral studies in 2017, coming to Gallaudet University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a Minor in Special Education from High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. She is currently working in the Numeracy & Educational Neuroscience (NENS) Lab with her advisor, Dr. Ilaria Berteletti. Ms. Sullivan has completed cognitive neuroscience summer rotations with Dr. Daniel Hyde at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and with Dr. Charles Nelson at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital. She has academic training in the areas of electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Her dissertation work focuses on how the use of a visual language such as American Sign Language (ASL) impacts the neural networks for multiplication fact retrieval. She has conducted behavioral, EEG and fMRI studies to further explore this topic, aiming to contribute to closing the gap of knowledge in numerical cognition in how deaf signers process arithmetic. She has served as a Research Intern with the Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise and has continued translational work with education-focused organizations to advocate for deaf students. She hopes to continue her translational work towards educational equity in her post-graduate endeavors. 


Once again, we congratulate Dr. SaraBeth Sullivan on her successful dissertation defense!